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Film / Hawk the Slayer

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"Then Voltan will see who is the lord of the dance!"

"I am no messenger, but I will give you a message. The message of death!"

Hawk the Slayer is a fine piece of nonsense set in the world of Dungeons & Dragons-inspired Heroic Fantasy, a place where longswords, short bows and daggers are swiftly drawn, leather, chainmail and a kind of cloth notable only for its brown-ness remain fashionable and there's always an evil one roaming about. The evil one in this adventure is Voltan (Jack Palance), who's so very evil on account of him bearing a scar on his face that, as we're told by a mysterious figure who lives within a mountain, will not heal. Quite whether the scar came before the willingness to do evil is something that Hawk the Slayer makes clear (Hawk's beloved stuck a torch in Voltan's face during a flashback) but he is quickly doing all manner of terrible things, all of which seem to involve murder. Indeed, the film opens with Voltan murdering his own father as well as the woman intended to be the wife of his brother.

That brother is Hawk (John Terry), who arrives too late to save his father but in time to hear the prophecy that he had been guarding and which had seen him slain by his own son. As he dies, Hawk's father gives him a magical sword (which Voltan had desired) and the two are set on a path that will see them face one another in battle. When Voltan breaks into a convent and kidnaps the Mother Superior, a one-handed man with an Automatic Crossbow seeks out Hawk. Hawk comes to the rescue of the Sisters of the Holy Word, promising not only that he will raise the two thousand pieces of gold but will defeat Voltan. Carrying his sword before him, Hawk sets out to gather a band of warriors...

The film, though not a big success when released in 1980, has become a Cult Classic since. Such attention has even has served as fuel in still continuing efforts to make a sequel. In 2022, a sequel comic was released in 2000 AD, written by Garth Ennis and drawn by Henry Flint.

The film received the RiffTrax treatment in Oct. 2014.

This movie has examples of:

  • Alternate DVD Commentary: Available from RiffTrax as a video-on-demand download.
  • Ambiguously Absent Parent: Voltan kills his and Hawk's father. Their mother is not mentioned.
  • And the Adventure Continues: The survivors ride off to seek further adventures. When the witch (played by Patricia Quinn, aka Magenta from The Rocky Horror Picture Show) appears to warn them the wizards are gathering in the south, they decide that south is a good place to go.
  • Arch-Enemy: Hawk has Voltan, his villainous brother who killed their father.
  • Artistic License – Physics: The pommel on the Mind Sword is way, way too big and would cause issues if Hawk used it the way he does in the film. The stone is about the size of an egg or a tennis ball, so it'd throw the balance off and could interfere enough to shatter the sword too.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Our heroes need money for the ransom, so they kill a gang of slave traders to get their gold.
    • Voltan and Drogo both murder a slaver each, and Voltan orders another to have his tongue cut out for mouthing off to him.
  • Automatic Crossbow: Ranulf's got one, because he only has one hand and this makes it easier for him.
  • Awesome McCoolname: When the Abbot says, "He is called . . . HAWK!!!" he seems to be actually expecting the Awesome Music to kick in as soon as he says it.
  • Backstab Backfire: This happens to a not-so-smart would-be witch-burning local who stays behind to fight Hawk.
  • Badass Boast:
    • Drogo will slay Hawk himself and claim the gold, and "then Voltan will see who is the lord of the dance!" Well, he seems to think it's badass anyway.
    • Drogo again, with "I am no messenger! But I will give you a message: a message of death!" If that line sounds familiar, you might recognize its use as a sample at the beginning of "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us" by The Darkness.
  • Big Bad: Voltan is the primary villain of the story.
  • Big Damn Heroes: When Hawk goes to recruit his old comrades, he catches them in the middle of scrapes. Baldin and Crow would likely be dead if Hawk didn't show up when he did.
  • Big Eater: Both Baldin and Gort seem at odds as to who the biggest eater is, including the requisite I'll Take Two Beers Too scene.
  • The Big Guy: Gort, the giant.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Voltan is defeated but Baldin and Ranulf are dead, Crow is wounded and Voltan may be resurrected by the Dark Wizards. Hawk and Gort ride off to their And the Adventure Continues ending, leaving the story open for continuation.
  • Blindfolded Vision: The witch always wears a blindfold marked with a symbolic 'third eye', though she's not a Blind Seer except of the Vagueness Is Coming kind.
  • Bloodless Carnage: No blood appears on the weapons used. Voltan is shown holding up his dagger right after stabbing someone to death for instance, and it's spotless.
  • Bottomless Magazines: The automatic crossbow and Crow's quiver. The latter is especially bad, since when not firing Crow clearly has less than a dozen arrows total.
  • Bows and Errors: By means of rapid Jump Cuts to condense shots and edit out the process of reloading, Crow and Ranulf use their medieval bow and automatic crossbow, respectively, as rapid-fire machine gun-like weapons, mowing down scores of enemies with a stream of arrows and quarrels shot more like an automatic rifle's bullets than anything else.
  • Burn the Witch!: Hawk rescues an older woman who's about to be burned as a witch over allegedly killing pigs with magic (she protests that she'd actually been trying to heal them).
  • Cain and Abel: Hawk and Voltan are brothers, despite the vast age gap between them.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Eliane's cross necklace, which she gave to Hawk for protection before Voltan murdered her. It turns out it has a hidden blade and Hawk uses it to free Gort in the finale, saving both him and the nuns.
  • Chewing the Scenery: Jack Palance is hamming it up to a degree that it honestly makes the film an unintentional comedy.
    Mike: (barely stifling laughter) Jesus, how does the scenery taste, Jack?
  • Cool Sword: Two of them — Hawk's sword has a magic stone in its pommel which allows him to call it to his hand and throw it accurately. Voltan's sword has no powers but its skull-shaped pommel and four-pronged guard are cool anyway.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: Despite it being set in a Dungeons & Dragons style world (with elves, dwarves, giants etc.) the religion shown is basically Catholicism (although not identified as such): there are nuns in a convent headed by an abbess, the cross is a holy icon, there's an abbot running a monastery, the Devil is mentioned, and people get absolution (though apparently in this world, female clergy can give it). God or a similar figure is not mentioned though, nor Jesus.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Two guys with automatic weapons and a powerful witch vs. ordinary medieval soldiers. Even without the guy with the magic sword (and the dwarf with the whip) it would have been a walkover.
  • Damsel in Distress: A good part of the movie involves Hawk and his gang rescuing the captured nun.
  • Dawson Casting: Invoked; Voltan, played by Jack Palance of all people, is the King's son, despite seeming to be about the same age, maybe even older. The Wizard gives it a handwave, saying that "a strange malady affects [his] face" that he cannot cure, causing Voltan's flesh to degrade while his injury worsens.
    Mike Nelson: Eldest son?! Did he have him when he was three?!
  • Death Seeker: Crow is implied to be this.
    "We have sat waiting like this many times before. Sometimes I tire of the fighting and killing. At night I can hear the call of my race. They wait for me. When I join them, we will be forgotten."
    • If this line sounds familiar, it might be because it was adapted, almost word-for-word note  into the song "Last Of Our Kind", again by The Darkness, who must be fans of this movie.
  • Distressed Dude: Our heroes are captured and it's the witch who sets them free.
  • The Dragon: Drogo, Voltan's son and lieutenant, tries to be this, but his attempt to prove his worth only gets him slayed by Hawk the Slayer.
  • Dramatic Unmask: Crow is first seen In the Hood, which he removes to reveal his Unusual Ears. Voltan wears a helmet that covers his facial scarring, which is only shown when he loses it during the final battle.
  • Dull Surprise: John Terry (Hawk) seldom cracks any sort of expression. Except at the end when he starts smirking.
  • Dwindling Party: Two of the party members are dead by the end, and one is grievously injured.
  • Easter Egg: As an affectionate nod to the Dungeons & Dragons game that inspired the film's cast structure and setting aesthetics, whenever Hawk's Party is gathered in a strategic meeting, there will always be three six sided dice (which are used in said game to generate your hero's statistics during character creation) clearly visible on the table, front and center of the frame.
  • Enchanted Forest: The Forest of Wier is filled with green cobwebs and creepy creatures. The Mindstone lights their way and our heroes just start galloping the moment things get vaguely menacing, so nothing really happens.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Despite threatening to kill him at one point, Voltan seems genuinely distraught at Drogo's death, even though Drogo isn't his biological son.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The closest thing to a name that the blind witch seems to have is "Woman".
  • Evil Cripple: Sped the hunchback is a slave trader.
  • Evil Is Hammy: Jack Palance is constantly shouting and chewing the scenery as the wicked Voltan. See Large Ham below.
  • Evil Is Petty: Voltan is a wanton murderer who burns whole villages to the ground and is implied to have been involved with wiping out the dwarves, but the main plot is him holding a nun hostage for an amount of gold the heroes secure by fighting one random gang. The Bishop thinks his actual goal is to establish a precedent, so it may be justified.
  • Evil Overlord: Voltan lords it over a large group of bandits and terrorizes the countryside, with the implication that he wants more.
  • Evil Plan: Voltan kidnaps a convent's Mother Superior and holds her hostage for gold.
  • Exact Words: Voltan's excuse to betray people.
  • Eye Scream: Voltan's scar is apparently a result of his being stabbed in the eye with a piece of burning wood by Hawk's girlfriend. The wizard he gets magic pain relief from mentions that it inexplicably refuses to heal, and in fact the flesh seems to be melting.
  • Fan Disservice: Pallid and flabby men in loincloths are lined up to be sold down the River Shale, and there's not one buxom topless wench among them. The buyers the Hunchback is selling to aren't impressed either.
  • Flashback: Used to fill in the Hawk-Voltan backstory.
  • Flynning: The swordfights aren't the least bit realistic.
  • Good Witch Versus Bad Witch: The unnamed witch supports Hawk and his band, while Voltan's evil master serves as the movie's Greater-Scope Villain. They never fight directly, though.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Voltan's dark master. He never gets directly involved in the plot, but is clearly manipulating things behind the scenes. He's also shown to have great magical powers, including the ability to resurrect the dead.
  • Handicapped Badass: Losing a hand doesn't stop Ranulf from seeking revenge for his village, destroyed by Voltan's raiders. He just builds an automatic crossbow so he doesn't have to reload as often.
  • Hidden Weapons: Turns out that cross medallion that Hawk's Love Interest gave him has a hidden dagger. Not sure what message she was trying to send there...
  • Hobbits: Baldin is a dwarf, but he acts more like a typical fantasy Hobbit rogue — merry, sneaky and gluttonous. His choice in gross food (he eats a raw fish whole!) lines up more with traditional ideas of dwarves however.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The Hunchback is killed by the exact method by which he threatens Gort's life.
  • Holy Burns Evil: Implied. A flashback reveals that, as Voltan was about to kill Hawk, he was momentarily distracted by the light reflected from a cross worn by Hawk. Eliane took advantage of this to shove a torch into Voltan's face. The resulting wound never truly healed and causes constant pain. It is implied that this is due to Voltan's evil nature, and that the blinding may have been an act of divine intervention.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: The nuns are utterly convinced they can trust the Dark One at his word.
  • Human Sacrifice: Hawk rescues Baldin from a group of religious nutters who've tied him to a raft that they're trying to set alight with Arrows on Fire.
  • I Die Free: Baldin invokes it. He's the Last of His Kind, but he's still dying among his people.
  • Idiot Ball: The Abbess and nuns at the convent juggle a whole host of Idiot Balls, all based on the belief that Voltan isn't the Obviously Evil Chronic Backstabbing Disorder Shoot the Dog Bond villain that he is.
  • I'll Take Two Beers Too: The nuns put a big plate of food on the table, Gort pulls it towards himself and asks them to bring food for his companions as well.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Baldin might have been dead by the time Hawk got to him, if any of the zealots shooting flaming arrows at him had gotten even close to their target.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills:
    • Crow engages in a competition where he has to Shoot the Rope that's tied around a tree. After getting into an argument over who cut the rope first, he faces off with the other player and demonstrates his Quick Draw.
    • Despite virtually firing on full-auto Crow and Ranulf have no problem hitting their targets with every shot, unlike modern automatic weapons.
    • Hawk throws a dagger to cut Gort lose after he's tied up.
  • Improbable Weapon User: The witch uses a blowpipe-like device to smother a guard in green Silly String.
  • In the Back
    • The two men who challenge Crow to an archery contest are running a scam where one stabs the contestant while he's facing the target. Hawk turns up to make sure things are played fairly.
    • Blinded and in pain, Voltan looses off a wild shot with his crossbow and hits Eliane as she's fleeing in a Convenient Escape Boat.
    • After his son dies, an enraged Voltan decides to kill the two men who brought back his body, but allows them the chance to defend themselves. After the first is killed the other throws down his sword and flees, but Voltan just throws a spear into his back.
  • In the Hood: The Black Wizard never shows his face. Crow is introduced this way.
  • Jabba Table Manners: The Hunchback. His mouth gets him killed too, so it's Laser-Guided Karma.
    • Baldin, too, who swallows a live fish in his introductory scene.
  • Karmic Thief: Hawk needs 2000 gold pieces for the ransom, so he steals them from the hunchbacked slave trader.
  • Large Ham: Jack Palance as Voltan.
    Mike Nelson: "Jeez... how does that scenery taste, Jack?"
  • Last of His Kind: Gort, Crow and Baldin are said to be the last members of the giant, elf, and dwarf races, respectively.
  • Lawful Stupid: Sister Monica, above and beyond the other nuns. To the point where she actively betrays Hawk and the others to Voltan, in the foolish belief he'll honor his word. And is immediately killed by Voltan for her trouble
  • Leitmotif: The pan flute cue every time Hawk is about to do something.
  • Love Triangle: Voltan's grudge against Hawk goes back to when the girl he fancied (they were Just Friends, according to her) fell for his younger brother while Voltan was away at the wars. Voltan decides to take her back by force and kill his brother in revenge. It ends with Voltan permanently disfigured, the girl shot In the Back by Voltan as she's fleeing, and both brothers blaming the other and swearing vengeance.
  • The Magnificent Seven Samurai: There are only five of them (six if you count the sorceress), but it's pretty overt. A few of the recruitment scenes are even fantasy takes on the ones from The Magnificent Seven.
  • Mauve Shirt: Ranulf looks like a typical expendable Red Shirt, but he actually gets some characterisation and proves handy in a fight. He does get killed, but only towards the end of the movie.
  • Milking the Giant Cow: Voltan appealing to his dark lord.
    Voltan: You promised me ALL, in retuuurn for myyyyyyy.... SWORD ARRRRMMM!
  • Misplaced Wildlife: To show the sinister nature of the Enchanted Forest, a reticulated python is shown freezing its scales off in an English forest.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: If you're named Voltan, the Dark One, you probably don't get too many invitations to tea.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer mentions "two armies", "Voltan's army - the Devil's army, and Hawk's". In the actual movie, Hawk's "army" consists of exactly six people, while Voltan's "army" is in no way satanical and has nothing to do with The Legions of Hell - it's a band of some 100 or so normal human bandits.
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: Hawk gets the Mindsword and his father explains that it'll come to him if he wills it. But when he and Ranulf travel through a haunted forest, he somehow knows the light it sheds will keep them protected from evil spirits?
  • Obviously Evil: Voltan. Wears black robes, talks in a raspy voice, has a horribly scarred face that he hides under an evil-looking helmet, etc., etc.
  • Ominous Fog: In said British forest. The witch creates one as a smoke screen when they're attacking Voltan's camp.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: In one or two cases Hawk changes his standard Dull Surprise expression and threatens to kill Voltan. This is the cue that Voltan has really crossed the line.
  • Our Dwarves Are All the Same: Averted; Baldin doesn't have a long beard, and he uses a whip instead of an axe.
  • Our Elves Are Different: Crow speaks like a Vulcan from Star Trek, but otherwise fits the classic Elf archetype very well — aloof and taciturn, exceptional archer, lithe and athletic, etc.
  • Our Giants Are Bigger: Gort is said to be the last of the race of giants. Though in truth he just looks like a normal human, albeit on the tall and heavy side. He's played by the same actor who was the cyclops in Krull, interestingly enough.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Jack Palance's half-hearted cry of anguish ("Drogoooooo!") as Voltan mourns his son is one of the movie's iconic moments.
  • Overshadowed by Awesome: While Hawk and Gort are very capable fighters, they're completely overshadowed by Crow's superhuman archery - he takes down far more enemies than the rest of the heroes combined.
  • Patricide: When his father denies his right to their Ancestral Weapon because he's now working for an evil wizard, Voltan murders pa in retaliation. Later after he slaps down Drogo and his humiliated son starts to draw a dagger, Voltan warns him against trying the same.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: "The end truly justifies the means!" Uh, sure...
  • Protagonist Title + Role Called: His name is Hawk and he slays people. Well so does everyone else except the nuns.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Let's see — we have a heroic swordsman with a Cool Sword, a dwarf thief, a Big Guy with a big hammer, an elf that talks like Spock, a blind magic user that uses glowing magic balls, and a one-armed man with a automatic crossbow.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Well, Voltan offs the nun who betrayed Hawk, but he's such a Bad Boss you really can't say he treated her any differently than his own henchmen.
  • Robo Speak: Even though Crow isn't a robot, he speaks like one.
  • Say My Name: Done as a Big "NO!" after Voltan's son dies. "DROGOOOOOO!"
  • Schizo Tech: Generally a typical medieval fantasy setting, but Ranulf inexplicably carries an automatic crossbow that would be impressive even in the modern world.
  • Sequel Hook: Voltan's body gets taken by the dark wizard at the end so he can be resurrected.
  • Slipping a Mickey: Sister Monica drugs our heroes booze so Voltan can take over the abbey.
  • Slow Motion: Crow running and Hawk riding through the woods.
  • The Stoic: Nearly everyone, due to bad, bad acting, but Hawk and his elf buddy rarely show any expression other than "intense staring". Gort, Baldin and Voltan are pretty much the only exceptions, since they can actually act somewhat.
    • Even Ranulf, who's played by an accomplished actor, and is helping Hawk to get revenge on Voltan, does little more than smirk.
  • Stop Trick: The automatic crossbow and elf's bow are so fast the camera can't keep up so it looks just like they repeat the same short scenes of them firing.
  • Summon to Hand: Hawk can make his Mindstone Blade fly into his hand by thought alone. Well, not fly, exactly. Slowly float.
  • Supernaturally Marked Grave: The witch erects a forcefield dome over Baldin's grave to keep predators away from his corpse.
  • Teleportation: The first person Hawk saves is a witch, who has him sit between a couple of spinning rings that somehow teleport him where the others are, either just as someone is about to kill them or they're about to kill someone else.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works:
    • Voltan actually specializes in throwing daggers (not throwing knives). When forced into an actual sword fight (after this fails against Hawk) he clearly has no idea what he's doing.
    • Hawk also manages an effective throw of his Mindstone Blade against the bandits that held Ranulf hostage. Though this may be part of the Mindstone's summoning power.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The nun who betrays Hawk and the warriors in order to get the abbess back. Despite each of these seasoned warriors who have personally dealt with Voltan telling her it's not going to happen, she blindly believes he will simply return the abbess once he has the gold ransom. Guess what? He doesn't give her back, kills the foolish nun, and Baldin.
  • Two-Faced: In a subversion, it's achieved via an open-face helmet with the Facial Horror covered by a visor and cheekpiece on one side.
  • Ungrateful Bastard
    • Hawk rescues the witch from a couple of locals who want to burn her for cursing their hogs. She was actually trying to cure them, but they're not in the mood to listen.
    • Gort helps a merchant put the wheel back on his cart, only to be refused payment. So he breaks the wheel again, whereupon some nearby soldiers attack him on the irate merchant's say-so. He makes short work of them, but Hawk turns up before Gort can finish off the merchant.
      Gort: Consider this the luckiest day of your life, toad!
    • The sisters in the nunnery complain constantly of our heroes attempts to resolve the situation, refusing to accept that Voltan is not simply going to hand over their Mother Superior even if he's paid. Eventually one of them drugs our heroes and hands them over to the Big Bad all tied up.
    • Drogo kills the man who informs him of Hawk raiding the slaver camp, presumably to stop him informing his father as well. Then when a nun drugs the heroes to hand them over to Voltan she is Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves, not on principle but simply For the Evulz.
    • Voltan's grudge is that while he was away fighting alongside their father, his little brother pinched the girl he left behind.
  • Weapon-Based Characterization: Hawk has the Mindstone Blade, Gort his hammer, Crow his bow, Baldin a whip (he can even use it to catch fish!), and Ranulf his self-loading crossbow.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Drogo wants to take a force to raid the northern lords, but Voltan just slaps him down and threatens his life. On finding that Hawk has stolen the gold for the ransom from the slavers, Drogo sets off with his men to get it for himself so he can prove himself to his father.
  • What Did I Do Last Night?: Baldin complains that he was knocked out during a Bar Brawl and woke up tied to a raft as a Human Sacrifice.
  • Wound That Will Not Heal: Voltan is serving his dark master partially because he's the only one who can offer him temporary relief from the pain of his facial injury. The Mother Superior offers to use her healing arts, but Voltan rejects this because his master has told him there is no permanent cure. It never occurs to Voltan to question this, and it's implied that it's Voltan's evil that's preventing him from healing, as the cause of the injury itself was not magical.
  • Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: The script attempts Medieval English patois, but fails miserably.
  • Younger Than They Look: This might be the intention with Voltan, who's been in constant agony from his injuries for years, and really, really evil as well.
  • You Talk Too Much!: When the hunchback slaver keeps snarling death threats at him, Gort suspends the man's spiked club above his head with a rope, the other end between his teeth. When Gort announces that they're walking off with all his gold, he can't help shouting his outrage...oops!