Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Rawhead Rex (1986)

One day I went into town and bought an old copy of Fangoria magazine (you know, when it used to be good) and flicked through the endless pages of full colour gore, until I stumbled upon a small black and white “reader's letters” section. On that page staring back at me, was none other than the pagan powerhouse of the emerald isles himself….Rawhead Rex.

I love anything (and still do) with the monster - guy in a suit, created creatures and workshop FX. I immediately read the corresponding letter, frantically clutching the stapled rag until I knew what this image had come from and tried to make a mental note of the title. Now, back then (this must be about ‘96) my family didn’t have the internet or any fancy cable with reams of movie channels and DVDs were only in their infancy, so there was no way of getting my hands on this new discovery. I tried talking to a guy called Seb who worked at the local VHS store (which is now an Indian curry house), as they had stacks of gory home video delights down the bottom end and he knew his stuff. Alas, they didn’t have it and so, about nine years went by (memory somewhat fuzzy) before I waltzed into my nearby supermarket and the bastard was right there on the shelf – on DVD – for £3! A purchase was made that day, albeit the jury is still out on whether it was a good one, but nevertheless I had gained a form of closure.

Now, Rawhead Rex was originally a short story that made up volume three of horror novelist Clive Barker’s “Books of Blood”. From what I have read and including intended bits and bobs from the original screenplay, the finished film doesn’t stray too far from its source material. That is why I have difficulty with so much of the negativity directed towards this film and the comments Clive Barker himself has made. Firstly, it was only the second of his works to be transferred to the big screen (Transmutations being released the year before), secondly, it had a modest budget shall we say, and thirdly – George Pavlou was onboard again as director (both the former and “Rawhead Rex” being two of the three films he ever made!). Barker was so dissatisfied with the end product that it motivated him oversee the glorious Hellraiser (1987), which would evidently be his best known work as a filmmaker. Take into account then, that Clive Barker hasn’t really made that many movies, or any generally “good” movies. This is why Rawhead Rex to me is so criminally underrated as a monster movie - a competent, decent 80s monster movie!

So, it all begins with a farmer digging up the earth in a field (as farmers tend to do) and uh-oh! Holy bejeezus and a bucket of lucky charms! He unintentionally (with the help of some lightning for believability of course) unleashes a 9ft tall, ancient pagan demo-god from his underground prison. Meanwhile back in the dreary little Irish village that we must suffer for the next 89mins, an Irish-American photographer (Howard Hallenbeck, played by David Dukes) has dragged his family there to take snaps for a book. Most of the scenes where the family is conversing and Howard takes photos, talks to locals – I find extremely dull and tedious and there is a lot of this unfortunately.
Elsewhere, Rawhead is tearing up the village and killing locals one by one. In one early scene in particular, the film delivers probably it’s most genuinely creepy and frightening moment – Rex (from the viewers perspective to begin with) burst out from a barn, killing a farmer and then proceeds toward his house, where the farmer’s wife looks on in sheer terror. She is with child and struggles to clamber up the stairs, slamming doors behind her as Rex breaks into the kitchen. This scene is also quite humorous for a brief moment as Rawhead feels it important to mess all the shelves up, focusing mainly on cracking eggs, bashing some flour bags and spilling spaghetti everywhere. He then mounts the stairs, with the farmer’s wife trapped in a bedroom helpless to the evil that is approaching. Rawhead breaks through the door (and the effects look good here – with his matted hair, torn costume, pallid skin and glowing red eyes) to the brooding score and moves toward the woman, we then see that his attention is drawn to her womb and the scene cuts off….

After a few more kills, the police have been reluctantly convinced by Howard that it is a large beast – a monster, which is stalking the land and committing the grisly murders (one of which is Howard’s own young son). They track the monster to the local church where one of the priests (Declan O’Brien, played by Ronan Wilmot) is turning against his faith to worship and serve Rex, helping the beast to kill the reverend. Howard is there with the police, seeking vengeance for the loss of one of his children – to see Rawhead set the church on fire and sustain a barrage of bullets from the police motorcade. During these scenes there is a part where Rawhead urinates on father O’Brien, which is apparently an unorthodox baptism. It truly is, one of the downright coolest things I’ve witnessed in all my years so far of watching movies. I was stunned. Evetually Howard and his wife discover from a stained-glass window (handily featuring Rex being smote), that there is some weird Celtic stone used to vanquish such demons. The problem is that it is only a woman who can harness its true powers. So Howard’s wife holds the stone up in the middle of the churchyard and it causes Rex to be swallowed up into the earth and he decomposes into a skeletal state. The end.

I like this movie, although I will admit I have found it quite boring – it doesn’t hold up well after repeated viewings or if you are planning to watch it in the company of other, the sceptical and sarcastic amongst them will most likely find a lot of fault. It is flawed, the acting is bad - sometimes it's good - it's all hit and mi really. But, it has charm and is a solid monster movie that does offer something different. Yes, the end is a cop out and at times, the pacing is very slow with the creature effects also looking ropey from time to time – It’s worth a viewing I assure you, especially if you claim to be a retro-horror nutball….

Best Quote: "Get upstairs, fuckface! I can't keep God waiting!"




  1. Agreed. Not the greatest movie. But Rex himself is the shiznit! Looks like he takes demon-steroids.