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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Razorback (1984) review


Gregory Harrison (Carl Winters), Arkie Whiteley (Sarah Cameron), Bill Kerr (Jake Cullen), Chris Haywood (Benny Baker), David Argue (Dicko Baker), Judy Morris (Beth Winters)

Directed by Russell Mulcahy

"There's something about blasting the shit out of a razorback that brightens up my whole day"--Jake Cullen played by Bill Kerr

The hunter finds his quarry

Out in the expanse of the Australian outback a gigantic razorback terrorizes the people in the isolated hamlet of Gamulla. A young NY doctor searches for his wife, a reporter who went missing there while doing a story on kangaroo poachers. He meets an old hunter who is tracking the wild beast after it ate his grandson two years earlier.

Just one of so many exhaustively surreal compositions in this visual buffet

Having finally been able to see this movie in widescreen format via the Australian extras packed DVD, I have a far greater appreciation for the film than I did initially. RAZORBACK is a beautifully macabre feast for the eyes. There's barely a scene that goes by that isn't rich with atmosphere, or shot in an unusual fashion rife with music video style editing. That being Mulcahy's forte, it's put to good use here. The monster might be the star of the show, but the cinematography and overall look of the film plays just as much a major role.

This was the directors first movie just prior to directing one of the most popular cult movies ever made with HIGHLANDER (1986). Mulcahy was primarily a music video director who shot videos for such huge bands like Duran Duran and Queen. While Mulcahy's giant killer pig movie has the look of a big budget studio production, the filmmakers made the most of their modest finances. It's truly one of the most striking films of its kind. Having been compared with JAWS since its release, Steven Spielberg is a big fan of this outback monster movie.

The psychotic Baker boys

Not only does RAZORBACK bear all the traditional marks of a 'Killer Animal' movie, it also embraces the concepts seen in the post apocalyptic genre which officially began with the violent excess of George Miller's MAD MAX (1979). The wild, unkempt kangaroo killers seen in the film prove to be just as villainous as the giant pig monster itself. Even the natural locations give the impression of a vista bereft of life; barren, sun scorched landscapes that seem to go on forever. The night scenes, enshrouded in an unholy fog, often give off a dank, isolated and hellish otherworldy image.

Yet another fantastic photographic sequence from Mulcahy's "post apocalyptic" monster movie

One awe inspiring shot sees Harrison running through the outback amidst a dense fog and what appears to be two moons in the sky. A tree supports the weight of a car trapped atop its branches. A scene later in the film confirms how it could have gotten there. Another interesting bit is a nightmare sequence wherein the protagonist finds himself lost in an ever changing, perpetual wasteland.

The killer razorback seen in the film was an intricate and elaborate creation that cost a quarter of a million dollars. Like other similar extravagant contraptions (KING KONG '76 being an example), it's barely utilized in the film at all. An equally detailed and incredibly lifelike giant pig head was used in much of the film. The filmmakers also used what was the largest pig recorded at that time. Making an already gargantuan porker bigger, the filmmakers covered it in a suit to give it even more size. This real "monster" is seen in the film notably just prior to the reporters death scene.

Beth Winters dies violently in her car near the beginning of RAZORBACK

Mulcahy's movie is also quite gory and violent in several places. Some of the cast die in spectacularly grisly fashion. The movie was heavily edited of a lot of the more nasty shots for its theatrical release. The death of Beth Winters, the reporter killed in her car, is a bit longer.

Jake, the hunter pursuing the giant razorback that ran off with his grandson, is seriously injured by the Baker brothers. Helpless, the rampaging pig corners Jake in an old shack where he meets his grim fate.

Jake's last scene is one of the more gruesome kills in the film. His face is literally chewed off before being devoured. Dicko Baker's death is probably the longest and deservedly so for such a despicable character. What's interesting about the death scenes is that not once does the monster eat a person that isn't important to the film in some way. RAZORBACK doesn't have a huge body count, but the deaths all mean something.

Carl lures the razorback onto a conveyor which houses a large, rotating, bone crushing blade at the end

When it came time for the big finale and the demise of the monster, the production had run out of both time and money, so a quick solution was figured out. Some of the participants were notably dissatisfied with the conclusion, but it does offer a more creative death scene for its monster than the standard "blow it up" motif seen in so many similar movies.

Investigating his wife's death, Carl ingratiates himself upon the demented and brutal Baker brothers

RAZORBACK (1984) did little business in either America or, amazingly, in Australia during it release. Considering how much hype and confidence there was during the films production, it was puzzling why it didn't catch on especially in its own country. It bears the same kinetic energy seen in the best of the Aussie action thrillers of the time. The filmmakers state that the negative stereotypes of the outback people turned a lot of the audience off. Warner Brothers reportedly showed great interest in the film, but seemingly dumped it rather quietly where it died quickly. However, RAZORBACK found an audience on video and cable television (which is where I first saw it) where it has more or less survived as a cult item.

Gregory Harrison awakens after a hellish night out in the middle of nowhere

Director Mulcahy utilized the same style of unique editing melded with striking visual sequences for his next movie, the huge cult favorite, HIGHLANDER. Both movies are very similar. There main difference is that one features a rampaging, maniacal, sword wielding decapitator and the other features a rampaging, filthy, gigantic, flesh eating pig. Mulcahy returns to killer creature territory with the upcoming horror movie, BAIT (2010), about a group of individuals trapped inside a flooded supermarket surrounded by hungry tiger sharks after a devastating Tsunami.

Warner Brothers recently released RAZORBACK (1984) as part of their 'Archive Collection', an 'On Demand' style label done as high quality DVD-R releases. The Australian release is more respectable. It's an extras packed edition including a 70 minute making of documentary and the cut gore scenes among other features. RAZORBACK (1984), as its makers attest, was well ahead of its time. It's a frightfully engaging horror film from down under and it's high time it was re-discovered for the modest horror classic it truly is.

This review is representative of the Australian Umbrella all region special edition DVD


R.D. Penning said...

So you finally watched it?! It is an awesome movie, and rarely anyone knows about it. One of my favorites, even made my top 50.

venoms5 said...

I'd seen it years ago on HBO and on the old Warner VHS. I only thought it was average at that time. Finally seeing it in widescreen gave me a greater appreciation of the film. The Aussie DVD is one of the best discs I've purchased recently. A shame its flimsy Warner DVD-R isn't afforded a similar release.

Oddly, Mulcahy's movies after this one and HIGHLANDER seemed to be missing that same raw, kinetic energy, at least to me. I'm anxious to see this new monster film he's doing, too, R.D.

Aaron said...

Nice! I remember Razorback from when I was a kid. Haven't seen it since then but the fact that I even remember it and find myself thinking about it on occasion probably means I enjoyed it. Did you get this as a standalone DVD? I found an Ozploitation box set online that had Razorback included, along with some other obscure Ozploitation films.

venoms5 said...

Yeah, it was the Umbrella DVD. I was going to buy it from xploitedcinema a while back, but when he sold his stock, he wasn't getting any more of them. He was selling his for $30. I got the same disc brand new from amazon for $10. Amazon itself sells it for just under $20.

Here's the link, Aaron. I'd stay away from the recent Warner Archive Collection DVD-R, though. It's far more expensive and has none of the exhaustive extras of the Aussie DVD...

J. Astro said...

I actually got the Warner Archive version of RAZORBACK you warned Aaron against on this one... agreed on the pricey-ness, but I truly wanted to own the flick, and didn't feel like chasing after used/new vendors and eBay auctions to get it.

Fantastic killer beastie flick, though, especially the night-time hunting scenes and the finale.

venoms5 said...

It only took me a couple of days to receive the legit Aussie disc from there. I can't remember which seller it was. The two I have used most often are importCDs in CA and moviemars here in NC. The 70 minute doc as well as the cut gore scenes is more than worth the $10 I paid for it. I think a double dip is in order, J!

R.D. Penning said...

Did you check out the details on Mulcahy's Bait? It sounds incredible, and I can't wait!

venoms5 said...

Yeah, I am really stoked to see how this turns out, R.D. Hopefully it will be good and not another Sci Fi Channel...I mean Syfy Channel original.

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