In a land long ago the wicked ruler Voltan (Jack Palance) confronts his father to seize the secret of the Mindsword from him, but his father refuses to hand it over, believing Voltan's brother Hawk (John Terry) to be a more worthy recipient of the blade. And so it is that Voltan fulfils his father's prophecy and runs him through with his sword, then races away before Hawk arrives to find his mortally wounded father, who gives him the Mindsword before expiring. Now Hawk has to destroy his brother because of his evil ways and in revenge for a traumatic incident in both their pasts, but it's not going to be easy and he will have to assemble a small band of warriors to assist him in his quest...
Hawk the Slayer was an early example of the sword and sorcery cycle that arrived to very little welcome in the early nineteen-eighties. It was written by the producer Harry Robertson and the director Terry Marcel and sees the familiar pattern already in place, that is, the hero's quest to restore order to a kingdom torn apart by the rule of the corrupt, and picking up a group of helpers along the way. The expected beautiful princess, however, is dead before the film begins, having been shot with a crossbow by Voltan as she was helping Hawk escape him - we find this out in flashback. The filmmakers seem to be taking all this nonsense very seriously indeed, which only serves to bring out the unintentional comedy in the presentation.
Poor old Ranulph (Morgan Sheppard). He may have the unluckiest first fifteen minutes of any movie character ever, short of actually dying. He has his wounded hand amputated when he seeks refuge at a church run by nuns (headed by Annette Crosbie), then when Voltan and his heavies turn up to kidnap the head abbess he gets a knife stuck in him. Recovering from that, he sets out to find someone to get the nun back only to be ambushed by bandits - but wait! His luck is about to change as Hawk hoves into view and kills off the assailants. When he finds out Ranulph's dilemma, Hawk knows that this is his chance to claim vengeance and a witch he has previously saved (Patricia Quinn) guides him to find three others to increase his party to five.
There is Gort the giant (Bernard Bresslaw, not the robot from The Day the Earth Stood Still), Crow the elf (Ray Charleson, and if you can't believe your ears when you hear the dialogue, you won't believe Crow's ears either) and Baldin the dwarf (Peter O'Farrell). Together they agree to rescue the head nun and are welcomed into the church. Voltan and his men all the while are causing havoc, and Palance is overacting ludicrously; it's already a stretch to accept that he's playing Terry's brother looking, as he does, more like his grandfather, but his pseudo Darth Vader helmet and cloak don't do him any favours. With a tendency to shout for presumed impact ("This place shall be wiped from the face of the LAAAAAAND!") he's a big screen version of a pantomime villain, slicing the odd loaf of bread for emphasis.
The guest stars rush by, perhaps grateful for a day's work in a damp forest, and if you ever wanted to see Palance share a scene with Roy Kinnear, then this is the film for you. The whole thing looks as if it was cold, draughty and uncomfortable to film, and feels a bit like that to watch, too. Attempts to jazz up the action see Crow firing arrows at lightning speed and a musical score from Robertson that sounds as if a few too many listens to Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds had been undertaken, but it's all for naught. The sheer pomposity of the script, which has very little to be proud of, hampers what might have worked if a little self-conscious humour had been introduced (you can't take lines like, "The hunchback will have something to say about this!" seriously). As it is, you tend to laugh at it rather than with it as it plods along, oblivious to its absurdity.
[Network have released a Blu-ray of this title, leaving it looking the best it ever has, and with such extras as a vintage episode of Clapperboard on the making of the movie, and interviews and behind the scenes featurettes from the location.]