Colin Timothy Gagnon (sacredspud) wrote,
Colin Timothy Gagnon

31 Days of Halloween: Rawhead Rex

I believe there's a very low-level conspiracy to raise awareness of the movie Rawhead Rex. It's not a malicious conspiracy and it's not exciting to talk about, but I listen to quite a few movie podcasts, and nearly all of them have at least one vocal and persistent listener who wants the hosts to check it out.

This vocal listener is always from the United Kingdom--often from Ireland, which is no surprise since the movie was substantially filmed there, and takes place there. What other horror movies has Ireland got? Wikipedia has the answers, but they're mostly films I haven't seen. Grabbers is glorious, but it's also much newer. Perhaps the cult following of Rawhead Rex is damage control for the Leprechaun series.

Based on a short story by Clive Barker, with whose works I have an acknowledge/ignore relationship. I don't actually dislike Mr. Barker's works, but I'm not crazy about them either, for the most part. In my experience, Barker's books translate well to film; he's good at describing the kind of horror images that work so well onscreen. Hellraiser is based on Barker's novella The Hellbound Heart, and at least the first couple of entries of the Hellraiser series are (if not great films) full of indelible images. The rest of Barker's stuff I can take or leave; I've read an anthology or two and seen a few of his movies, and his style of horror isn't mine. People tell me I should see (and read) Midnight Meat Train, but I am repelled by its sensationalist title; I know what it's about, but I keep imagining it as a combination of Saw and Speed 2 set on a bus.

But. Back to Rawhead Rex. The movie opens on a farmer attempting to remove move a large, stone monolith from a field. Clearly, the monolith has been there for some time, and why the farmer is only just removing it now, or why his ancestors didn't move it first is not addressed. At any rate, lightning strikes the monolith, electrocuting him, and then it topples onto him just for good measure. This is not our main character. Neither is the monster who pops out of the ground, though, as you can probably guess, this monster is our titular Rawhead. We'll talk about him later.

Our main character is an American author, Howard Hallenbeck (David Dukes), who has come to the UK with his family to research pagan worship practices. Hallenbeck is particularly interested in the local church which predates Christian worship in the area. After admiring a stained glass depiction of the defeat of a slavering monster, Hallenbeck speaks with the unfriendly verger, Declan O'Brien, and to the Reverend Coot. They make an appointment later for Hallenbeck to examine the parish records. On his return, Hallenbeck is told by the crestfallen Coot that the records have been stolen.

Meanwhile, the aforementioned Rawhead is stretching his legs and cracking his joints (after all, he's been asleep for a long time), and murdering people. He goes on a bloody rampage through the countryside and eventually kills Hallenbeck's son, at which point Things Get Real. Hallenbeck first invokes the impotent local police, then returns to the church where he studies the stained glass window. Having witnessed the murder, he is certain that it depicts the same creature, and he leaves in search of the holy relic that defeated Rawhead in the picture. After he leaves, Rawhead descends on the church, and baptizes O'Brien with his urine. Rev. Coot discovers that O'Brien has hidden the parish records, which chronicle the long, bloody rule of tyranny by the monster, who apparently has the ability to control people via telepathy.

Look, it's not as stupid as it sounds, but it's not as good as the filmmakers wanted it to be, either. I'll avoid details about the ending, not because there's a big surprise, but because it plods along the same path monster movies always take: our hero figures out how to defeat the beast, there's a Big Supernatural Showdown at the end, and a final sting before the credits. There are a few surprises, but nothing to set this apart from any of the other monster movies of the '80s.

I did not dislike Rawhead Rex, but I imagine it works much better on paper. I haven't read the short story, but I'm imagining that there's some ambiguity, up to a point, as to whether the monster even exists. That's the right way to tell this kind of story. Revealing the monster in the first ten minutes usually is not, and in the case of Rawhead Rex that's the misstep that turns people against the film. Rawhead himself looks like an assemblage of cheap, rubber prosthetics on top of a gorilla suit. If I asked you to build me a monster costume by tomorrow with the money you had on you, the end result would probably be a lot like Rawhead. The fact that he was put together by professionals does not speak well of the film. Barker himself described the monster as a "9-foot phallus with teeth" (thanks, Wikipedia!).

On the other hand, I paused to check the Wikipedia entry after writing that paragraph, and I see that Barker is credited with the screenplay, so he gets the blame for showing us the monster too early. In other respects, this is a pretty average movie horror movie, by the standards of 1986. It's not that bad, it's just not very good. Director George Pavlou has three feature directing credits to his name, and Underworld is another Barker collaboration. I'm not compelled to seek it out.

I feel bad telling you to skip Rawhead Rex, but there's just nothing special to recommend it. Clocking in at just 86 minutes it's not a big investment of time, but you've seen other, better rubber suit monsters, and (unless you like watching clergy get peed on) there's really nothing to recommend it. It's free on YouTube (until someone pulls it down, at least), but you'd be better off watching Grabbers.

Here's the trailer.
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