Monday, October 22, 2018

I’d Love To Turn You On At The Movies #203 - Rawhead Rex (1986, dir. George Pavlou)

            I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I feel as though I need to qualify this at the beginning of any article I write about a horror film… I give next to no shits about horror movies. I don’t really watch them, I don’t find them that enjoyable and most of the time, instead of getting scared by them, I just get pissed because I sat through another horror film. There are exceptions, obviously, but for the most part horror films are just too silly for me. So naturally, I’m going to discuss a horror film and try to convince you that it’s worth watching. Today, that film is the delightfully low-budget 1986 monster movie Rawhead Rex.
            I would have thought that Rawhead Rex would be pretty hated in horror circles, but most of the horror buffs I’ve talked to absolutely adore it. In fact, the person that turned me onto it is perhaps the biggest horror fan that I know. The film, directed by George Pavlou, is the second in a pair of hilariously disastrous attempts to adapt a Clive Barker short story into a full-length feature film (the first being Transmutations, which apparently was just as awful, though I’ve yet to see it). Clive Barker himself has notoriously disowned the film, calling the titular monster “Miss Piggy in battle fatigues.” He was so unhappy with Pavlou’s interpretations of his scripts that he decided from there on to direct his own screenplays, starting the following year with the first Hellraiser film.
            Although it couldn’t possibly matter less, the plot revolves around Howard (David Dukes) an American writer visiting Ireland with his family to do some research. While there a farmer, after a long and desperate struggle, uproots a giant, phallic-looking rock from his field so he can have a harvest and actually make a living. When he does this, lightning predictably strikes the rock, it falls down and out of the dirt crawls Rawhead (I don’t know where the “Rex” comes from because he’s never called that once), a “demon” that looks like a cross between a sentient patchwork quilt and a Cinco de Mayo parade float. The creature then tears off through the sleepy Irish village, brutally picking off its inhabitants one by one. After several botched attempts to stop the monster by the police, the church and the townsfolk, Howard decides to get involved, losing his son to the monster in the process.
            The original short story revolved around the awakening of a Pagan god that wreaks havoc through the countryside. While the film does explore the religious element of the story a bit by making Howard a researcher of artifacts and locations of religious significance and setting a good portion of the story in the local church, there just is no way to surmise this fact from the film. The script is utter nonsense and makes very little sense. If it sounds like I’m being negative about the film, I assure you I’m not. The film’s total lack of direction makes for moments of genuine hilarity. Besides, without a discernible plot, you are free to sit back and focus on all the things the film does excel at: gratuitous gore and blasphemy (in a downright sacri-LICIOUS scene, we are treated to the Verger of the church getting drenched in piss by Rawhead in a kind of weird, gross baptism).
            One thing that still stands out to me after all these years is the acting. The actors in the film are all surprisingly good, which is usually not the case in low budget horror films. The lead actor, David Dukes particularly shines in the “stranger in a strange land”-type situation. The rest of the largely unknown supporting cast all play their parts straight and to great dramatic effect - no easy task, I imagine, when you’re supposed to act terrified of an eight-foot pile of laundry with a wet Halloween mask on top. Plus the dialogue that many of the characters must perform can get downright absurd. The exception, perhaps, is the aforementioned church Verger, Declan O’Brien, played by Niall Toibin, who hams up his character’s actions to such ridiculous levels it borders on unbearable.
            Rex just recently got the 4K restoration treatment in the form of brand-new Blu-Ray and DVD releases. A strange choice for this kind of upgrade, but it actually does help sharpen up the picture, particularly if you’re used to watching a beat-up VHS copy with tracking problems. These new re-releases are loaded with fun extras too, including new commentaries, cast interviews and more. For the most part, Rawhead Rex is just a fun way to kill an hour and a half. It’s not a great film, by any means. Hell, it’s not even a good one. Don’t expect to be scared, because it is anything but scary. But I guarantee it will keep you entertained for its duration.
-         Jonathan Eagle

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