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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Rawhead Rex (1986) review

RAWHEAD REX 1986 (released in 1987)

David Dukes (Howard Hallenbeck), Kelly Piper (Elaine Hallenbeck), Cora Lunny (Minty Hallenbeck), Hugh O'Conor (Robbie Hallenbeck), Ronan Wilmot (Declan O'Brien), Niall Toibin (Reverend Coot), Heinrich Von Schellendorf (Rawhead Rex)

Directed by George Pavlou

The Short Version: Clive Barker's story from his volume three Books of Blood series is brought to visual life as a straight up monster movie, abandoning much of the religious subtext prevalent in Barker's story. The film, while generally lousy, is gory and operates primarily as a monster-on-the-rampage scenario. Dumb dialog and an ending that recalls the absurdity of THE MANITOU (1978) enhance the unintentional hilarity of the whole thing despite some offensive touches towards the end. Freudian disciples will have a field day with the phallic symbolism. Even the name, 'Rawhead' has sexual connotations, yet the film never massages the libidinous prospects inherent in the original material. For monster and bad movie buffs, and also for those who've ever wanted to hear a priest say "fuck" a lot.

An ancient, pre-Christian pagan god is released from his centuries old prison in a remote Irish village in Dublin. On vacation writing a book on neolithic fertility sites, an American author crosses paths with the rampaging, child-eating monster. Determined to find and slay the beast, the man learns what the creature is and tries to put some clues together that will reveal how to destroy it.

Themes of Christianity versus Paganism are all but lost amidst near endless scenes rife with blood, thunder and flashes of lightning that seem to follow the title creature around during daytime hours in this passionately stupid movie. Going by Barker's thoughts at the time, and over the years, very little of what he envisioned ended up in the final product. As bad as it is, Pavlou directs his monster sequences with a great deal of energy and frequency.

There are moments where RAWHEAD REX tinkers with the notion that it wants to be a good movie; that it wants to explore the dichotomy between pagan and christian religion, and local superstitions. Then it wimps out settling back into the comfortability of standard monster movie cliches, while retaining vague allusions to sexual effigies throughout.

Clive Barker wrote the screenplay, yet the film begins like we've missed act one, or something. During the first five minutes, a farmer is attempting to remove a gigantic obelisk style stone marker that juts skyward in the middle of his field. Obviously it's been there for quite some time, yet it's never mentioned why it's suddenly being removed now. It just serves as the tool that has kept Rawhead confined for millenia.

And any notion of keeping your monster in the dark for a while before a big reveal is thrown out the window before the film is ten minutes old. We get a rather spectacular introduction from two different angles heralding the arrival of this muscular monstrosity that bears a passing resemblance to Arnold Schwarzenegger. And we see lots of him throughout. Rawhead is never camera shy and the DP loves him; giving us, the viewer as much of the monsters visage as we can stand.

The monster itself is mightily impressive. He's about 8 or 9 feet tall, snarls a lot, has glowing, swirling red eyes, a massive build, retractable claws on its massive hands and a nasty set of teeth that resembles a cross between a shaved gorilla and a mutated razorback. He also runs like Arnold Schwarzenegger, so I am not totally convinced that it isn't the Terminator inside that costume. 

In addition, this mad monster on the loose has some Dracula powers he uses to hypnotize two people into doing his bidding; not that he would need them in the first place. The bulk of the film shows the monster as nothing but a rampaging force of nature, so the mind control aspect is pointless. The creatures near constant destruction of farms, homes, trailer parks, and large groups of people betrays his status as some demonic pre-Christian force threatening to plunge the world into chaos.  He's just another movie monster with some bible era jargon attached to him that goes nowhere.

The only time the film attempts to explore a biblical connection with its title character is at the end when the creature enters a church, destroys a cross and defiles the image of Christ using a priest under his control as a vassal. This recalls a similar plot device used in Freddie Francis's DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968). The film also aims for some last minute offensiveness when Rawhead "baptizes" the corrupted priest Declan, by pissing all over him. It would seem this is supposed to be edgy much like Linda Blair spewing pea soup on the cast and masturbating with a cross in THE EXORCIST (1973).

Speaking of Declan, once he becomes an apostate of Rawhead (who is also referred to as the devil; I guess this is a spin on how Jesus can be three people at once), he gets free with his language, tossing F-Bombs around with increased frequency as the film draws to its conclusion. And how seriously can you take a man of the cloth (even a possessed one) who says lines like, "Get upstairs, fuck face! I can't keep God waiting!" 

The main character Howard -- while it's not stated -- is apparently an atheist, and has no qualms uttering "Goddamn" a lot; even inside the church. Instead of expanding the themes the film barely teases the viewer with, it opts instead to shock us with cheap religious slurs.

The ending in the church graveyard is a doozy, and the point where the film revels in its badness. After wiping out a cadre of cops carrying high powered weaponry, our main protagonist attempts to send big Rex back to hell with a holy stone carved in the shape of a pregnant woman. But it doesn't work for him. As the beast chases him, his wife (who has shown up out of nowhere) feels the spirit and lifts the rock above her head when flashy optical effects begin zapping out of it. Images of a naked Susan Strasberg (during the dumbfoundingly stupid finale of THE MANITOU [1978]) having a laser light show in outer space with that films demon are resurrected just for this occasion.

This creature (stated to have been on Earth before Christ) represents man in all his dark, primal, savage glory and apparently, the only thing that can keep him in line is the purity of womanhood. This unholy beast fears the female form, although this movie never makes this blatantly known. In fact, outside of one scene where he tosses a woman aside, the beast never kills a single woman, choosing instead to be a literal man-eater. According to the book, the beast fears the blood of a woman, or one that is menstruating. Yet again, another dichotomy is presented -- the death and destruction of man vs. the life born through a woman -- but is cast out in favor of gory mayhem.

There's been talk of a remake, although anything would undoubtedly be an improvement. Even taken as a straight monster movie, RAWHEAD REX is a peculiarly braindead presentation, but entertaining and spiced up with an occasionally striking visual sense and plentiful attack scenes. The tall actor playing the creature is obviously enjoying himself a great deal under the costume.

There's potential here for a particularly nasty Armageddon style horror-monster picture, but the filmmakers squander it for the sake of cheap, bloody thrills. On that alone, RAWHEAD REX excels. But it also excels and surpasses its chances at being taken seriously with a high level of cinematic retardation. This stupidity explodes like the electric bolts shooting forth from the statue that only a woman can use against this musclebound, and quite male monster.

This review is representative of the Quadrifoglio SRL Italian PAL region 0 DVD.


Franco Macabro said...

Agree with ya, stupid to the max, as you mentioned, it sometimes displays Barker's recurrent interest in exploring religion (actually more like bashing it)but it never really gets there. Still, the ideas are suggested that christianity is something that at one time did not exist, and that other religions existed before it, but thats about as far as that goes.

Barker always enjoys deminishing christianity somehow, I remember in Nightbreed there was also a priest who goes crazy and ends up being one of the monsters.

I like the gore in the movie and the make up effects, even if the monster does seem to have the same expression all the time! ha ha...

Interesting how you mention the monster prefers men to women, when we take in consideration that Barker's gay, then that makes a whole lot of sense!

Maynard Morrissey said...

omg such a hilariously stupid flick! :D

I remember seeing the cover of the German VHS, thinking: "Wow, this must be awesome!" Then I saw it and I was like "WTF?"
Agree with you on the ending: Manitou to the max! :)

At least, it's not as bad as the director's previous borefest "Underworld".

venoms5 said...

I thought the gore and monster make up were quite good, too, Fran. There's some facial contortions here and there, which were a nice touch.

I am assuming the reason he doesn't kill women (in the story) results from their menstruation cycle leaving the blood distasteful to him. Apparently, raping them isn't off limits, though!

venoms5 said...

Harry, I steered away from UNDERWORLD at the time when RAWHEAD REX was coming out. At least the reviews were very unkind to it. I do hope a new version of RR is made and that it's faithful to the source material. I think then it would still be a monster movie, but one of a different sort that we're used to seeing.

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