Clive Barker’s Monstrous Story of the Rampaging Male Id Emerges Anew
DIRECTED BY GEORGE PAVLOU / 1986
STREET DATE: OCTOBER 17, 2017/KINO LORBER STUDIO CLASSICS
Hailing from author Clive Barker’s legendary Books of Blood anthology, the tale of Rawhead Rex is considered by horror hounds and experts to among the masterpieces of the series. Described by artist and comic book notable Stephen Bissette (on a great video interview included in the voluminous extras) as a tale of rampaging pure male id, energy and libido, terrifyingly unleashed in a quaint if contemporary setting.
As a kid just coming into contemporary horror movie monsters of the era – Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, et cetera, I’d never heard of any of that. I recall the day my friend came to school claiming to have seen a new gory monster movie, Rawhead Rex. He spoke like it was something different from the others, although likely gave few details. (I remember none described). “Rawhead Rex? You made that up.” Years later, inevitably, I found out that Rawhead Rex is indeed a real thing. Now, finally seeing it, I find that it is also indeed something different.
Kino Lorber Studio Classics, knowing what they’ve got, has gone all out with this Blu-Ray release.
But going beyond the movie, just how “real” are we talking? The printed essay, by Kat Ellinger, included with the film, focuses almost completely on the folkloric origins of writer Clive Barker’s original short story on which this is based. While the film transplants the tale from a village outside of London to a small country farming community in Ireland, the rural environment – a must for the “folk horror” designation for Ellinger – pushes the picture firmly into that emergent sub-genre.
The bodycount and nature of the victims in Rawhead Rex is an element that extends well beyond the pale of most horror movies. Young children come into peril, sometimes meeting gruesome fates. Though director George Pavlou spares showing the graphic savagery of these attacks, they are rightly sickening all the same. It all works to render Rawhead Rex as a genuinely unnerving experience; one particularly unexpected considering that the titular creature is a plastic-headed hunk of phony baloney.
When the towering ancient pagan monster is awakened by a farmer’s removal of a large phallic stone in his field, it must be said that the actual emergence of Rawhead Rex is cinematically realized just so-so, shot in imposing slo-mo, but failing to communicate the sheer height and mass of the beast. It’s not only an indication of the time and budgetary restraints that Pavlou and company were up against, but also the underlying power of what works within the film that such shortcomings are ultimately transcended.
The story follows the pursuits of Howard Hallenbeck (David Dukes) an American husband and father of two young children on a research trip with his family to a quiet Irish town where all hell literally breaks loose. All across the countryside, the nine foot-plus Rawhead Rex, with cock-like cranium, glowing red eyes, retractible claws, and Road Warrior outfit, arbitrarily brutalizing whomever he comes across.
With many scenes taking place in and around a humble local church, complete with corruptible and confounded clergy, there’s an underlying theme of “the old gods” coming back to reclaim what territories and customs that cultural Christianity have so successfully appropriated over the centuries. The alter above Rawhead’s former lair pulsates with burning heat. A priest becomes terrifyingly possessed, complete with with a later “baptism” by urine. A stained glass window, depicting a faceless victor triumphing over Rawhead, ominously “lasers” lines of light from the monster’s red eyes. (A fine “how’d they do that??” moment early in the film).
With the current wave of exposure, admission, conversation, and long-overdue condemnation of sexual liberties and assault taken by powerful men (most notably the sudden, crashing fall of modern film mogul Harvey Weinstein), there’s something altogether appropriate about this film re-emerging now. As many will point out, the dehumanizing mentality behind sexual assault culture and mindset is deeply rooted in a global history of inappropriate male entitlement.
It all works to render Rawhead Rex as a genuinely unnerving experience; one particularly unexpected considering that the titular creature is a plastic-headed hunk of phony baloney.
Barker, in his original short story which this film is based upon, is said to be right in keeping with not only this issue, but it’s weakness and conquerer, the feminine strength on the world. That the conqueror is portrayed as faceless on the church’s all-important stained glass window, leading the protagonist to research whom the victorious figure represents, speaks to the longstanding patriarchal suppression of women in religion. This too is an ongoing matter in certain real-world circles.
The film plays it all in very broad strokes, an approach entirely acceptable and even expected for metaphors at the heart of monster movie horror. But for a film that is mostly made up of male characters, Rawhead Rex proves be, if not “feminist” (there’s one hopelessly pointless striping of an attractive female victim), then a strongly female empowering outing – one that was ahead of its time in terms of its handing of that aspect. All the same, all of the film’s factors , positive and negative, makes it prime remake material. The themes are still, if not more relevant, and visual effects possibilities and Clive Barker’s name recognition have only increased.
Kino Lorber Studio Classics, knowing what they’ve got, has gone all out with this Blu-Ray release. Scores of new interviews have been procured, resulting in several twenty-plus minute bonus features (all bound to be of interest to fans new and old), as well as a feature length commentary track conversation with director George Pavlou. The new 4K restoration of Rawhead Rex ought to impress anyone whether or not they’ve previously encountered the film via VHS, cable TV, or whatever else. From the slipcase, to the reversible cover art, to the glossy insert – both featuring new artwork from renowned comics artist Sean Philips – this is an a full package that hits on all cylinders.
Even with the film’s budgetary shortcomings and unwillingness to go nearly the whole nine yards that Barker did in his short story, Rawhead Rex stands bloody tall and proud as one of the most forward-thinking and stealthily enduring horror films of the 1980s. Rawhead Rex… is real.
The images in this review are not representative of the actual DVD’s image quality, and are included only to represent the film itself.