One from the to watch pile…
Rawhead Rex (1986)
Film: I don’t wish to sound pretentious or elitist, but if you are a horror fan who has never heard of Clive Barker, you should perhaps stop, re-assess and use a different term other than ‘horror fan’ to describe yourself.
Seriously. It’s like saying you don’t know who Stephen King or Richard Laymon are… ok, I’ll forgive it if you don’t know who Laymon is (he is the writer of several books that would be a FAR better source of new horror films rather than remakes and sequels: The Beasthouse trilogy would be an amazing franchise).
My first exposure to Barker though, was with the first Hellraiser film, and I became an avid reader of his works though that fandom did wind down the less horror and more fantasy entered his novels. So of course I watched the Hellraiser films and his other works but somehow, Rawhead Rex completely bypassed me. I knew it existed, as Fangoria back in the day had an epic front cover from the film, but I never had the opportunity to see it, and never actively sought it out either.
Thankfully though, Arrow films have presented us with an apparently uncut version of the film! Packed full, typically from Arrow, of supplemental features!
Rawhead Rex tells of a small Irish town that has a horrible secret, and when a farmer moves an obelisk from his property, it gets released back upon the town! It is the ancient beast Rawhead Rex (Heinrich Von Schellendorf), a pagan thing that wants nothing but carnage and to kill!
American historian Howard Hallenbeck (David Dukes), his wife Elaine (Kelly Piper) and their two children (Hugh O’Conner and Cora Venus Lunney) happen to be in the town taking in the sights when Rawhead is released, and get caught up in the hullabaloo that follows, especially when one of them is taken by the beast…
It is common knowledge that Clive Barker wasn’t a fan of this film (apparently a myth according to the director, George Pavlou on one of the extras), which caused him to take more of a role in the making of Hellraiser, based on his novella, The Hellbound Heart, and there is plenty not to like about it.
The costume of the creature is a pretty solid, big monster costume… for a Corman film from the 60s. It appears to be quite firm and fake, and the performers mouth can be quite obviously seen within the creatures own mouth on several close-ups. For a creature with such an impressive head design, the articulation is quite minimal. The noise that emanates from the creature is quite daft too.
Interesting, for a film which contains two kids, the children are not the source of unpleasant characterisation:Kelly Piper’s portrayal of Elaine makes her come across as the most bitchiest of bitches and you honestly pray that she’ll be taken next. Imagine Christine Baranski’s portrayal of Leonard’s mother in Big Bang Theory being played as a ‘real’ serious character in a horror film that is taking itself quite seriously.
The worst thing is the sloppy screenplay. Within the confines of the scene of the first murder, it is quite obvious why one of the potential victims isn’t taken (which obviously gives a massive hint as to how to kill the monster), and it is projected quite hamfistedly. Some of the dialogue has a set-up with no pay-off. Now seeing how Barker himself wrote the screenplay, I assume the direction is at fault, or their was a little bit of freestyling amongst the actors.
For the most part the film LOOKS quite solid, but tends to fall apart a bit under even the slightest scrutiny. It’s identity suffers because it looks like it was trying to be a bit gothic like a Hammer Film, but it’s a little too bloody to successfully do it.
Format: Rawhead Rex was reviewed on the Arrow UK release Bluray which runs for approximately 89 minutes and is presented in a fairly clean 1.85:1 image with a decent 2.0 audio track.
Extras: It’s an Arrow Bluray, so sure enough that means heaps of extras!
Call Me Rawhead is an interview with actor Heinrich von Bünau, and by actor, he’s been in this interview and Rawhead Rex. It’s a pretty long interview for someone who keeps claiming to have forgotten so much.
What the Devil Hath Wrought is an interview with Roman Wilmot, who is charming and has some amusing anecdotes.
Rawhead FX: A Cock and Bull Story sees Peter MacKenzie Litten, John Schroonraad, Gerry Johnson, Sean Corcoran and Rosie Blackmore talk about the effects of the film.
Growing Pains; the Children Of Rawhead is a brand new Interview with Hugh O’Conor and Cora Lundy who played the kids in the film.
Rawk ‘n’ Roll is an Interview with score composer Colin Towns, and what an intimidating score it is too!
Rawhead Rising is an interview with comics legend from Death Rattle, Taboo and The Saga Of The Swamp Thing, Steven R. Bissette talk about Barker’s work, and The never published Rawhead Rex comic.
Audio Interview with George Pavlou is, as the name suggests, an newly recorded audio interview with George Pavlou, played over a series of stills from the film, behind the scenes pics and merchandise from the film.
The is an image gallery which features monster design sketch art and behind the scenes pictures, played as a slideshow with the score playing over the top.
The is the original trailer.
There are two commentaries on the disc, one with George Pavlou, moderated by Nightmare USA author Stephen Thrower, and with with podcast favourites The Hysteria Continues.
The disc itself has a pretty cool reversible cover, one drawn by lowbrow artist Wes Benscoter and the other ordinal artwork, and a booklet featuring an essay about the film by Kat Ellinger.
WISIA: I’m glad I’ve seen it as it fills a hole in my watch-history, but I won’t see it again.
I was Barker-obsessed in the 90’s and I managed to track down a copy of this on crumbly ol’ VHS. All I remember of it is the ‘priest baptism’ scene. Perhaps the ONLY thing the movie is noteworthy for, really.
And shout-out to my homey Dick Laymon, the king of ‘high concept’ horror. Off the top of my head I could name ten of his books that would make classic movies if done well.
The closest we’ve really gotten is the Bustillo and Maury flick AMONG THE LIVING. I’d be very surprised if they weren’t fans of Laymon, since his books were most popular in France, the UK and Australia. Even the title is pure Laymon, and the scrumptous Chloe Coulloud is the classic Laymon hot chick; blonde, buxom and in a tank top and cut-off denim shorts. And the first shot is of her ‘rump’.
Man, I need to watch that again…