This movie holds a special place in my heart. I asked for and received it as a birthday gift back in 2004 (it wasn’t easy to find), and that very night I watched it for the first time in 24 years. I’ve watched it about once a year since then, and it never fails to give me a happy by letting me remember the days when sword and sorcery fantasy was new to me. Watching it now brings back memories of first playing Basic Dungeons & Dragons with my friends, all of us around 13 years old, sitting at a kitchen table.
This was the first fantasy film I saw (on Showtime) after starting to play D&D in 1980. (It’s the first fantasy film I have any memory of.) It has a weak script, uninspired acting, cheap effects, etc., but it was like Dungeons & Dragons on TV! Heck, our D&D play was “written,” “performed,” and “described” by barely teenaged boys –- the movie’s quality matched our own game play quality.
(The official Dungeons & Dragons movie, released in 2000 is utter crap – it’s nothing like the D&D game.)
“Hawk the Slayer” is an awesome name for a sword-wielding fantasy hero, but there was nothing hawkish (or even bird related) about this main hero. And although he did kill several bad guys in battle during the movie (as did all the other characters), calling him a “slayer” is stretching the adjective.
Hawk the Slayer has a party of adventurers: the human hero, an elf, a dwarf, a giant (all of 6’3″), and a witch. It has a magic sword, a scary forest, a chest full of gold, and Jack Palance as the big bad guy. Just like in a D&D adventure, the hero team works together to stop the evil bad guy. Just like with our early D&D games, the plot is simple, the characters are simple (and poorly played), and not every character survives the story.
And although I could rag on this film mercilessly for its low quality in most all areas, it better represents what I like about sword and sorcery fantasy than many other films of its day, and of today. Lord of the Rings may be epic and fancy, but Hawk the Slayer is more D&Dish.
This is one of those movies that unless you have fond memories of it from your youth, I really don’t recommend watching it. Only warm nostalgia can make this enjoyable. But watching it makes me happy – in the same way that playing with old Matchbox cars and a GI Joe action figure can make me happy.