Rawhead Rex ReviewJoe Shaffer
'It's just another monster on the loose story' used to be a viable criticism. Used to be... One day, a writer by the name of Clive Barker turned all of that around. He wrote what is probably the ultimate 'monster on the loose' fare: a short story called Rawhead Rex. This was a tale about a massive, phallic-shaped beast whom one the locals in Kent, UK accidentally set free. Rawhead was a primordial creature who lived in British Isles eons before humans. The early settlers of the Kingdom used powerful magic to subdue and contain the beast, placing a seal on his resting place. Once broken, the creature embarked on a rampage, killing a few adults, biting the head off a pony, and gobbling up a couple of children because young meat tasted the best.
What was stunning about the story was that the perspective occasionally shifted to Rawhead. Where you might be inclined to hate this baby-eater, you eventually learn that he and his brothers were just enjoying life when some humans showed up, killed his siblings, and enacting the aforementioned imprisoning ritual. Needless to say, Rawhead was still bitter after his release. It's at this point where readers enter an awkward phase in which they find themselves potentially sympathizing with
a monster an animal who sometimes happens to attack kids.
Of course, there's also allegoric brilliance, where some have argued that it's a commentary piece on the beginning of the death of misogyny in parts of Europe (remember, Rawhead is basically a walking penis with teeth), while others see it as a yarn about good old fashion human encroachment and how we only have ourselves to blame when wild animals "turn rogue" and off of our brethren. You'd think that such insights would make for a classic horror film.
The film adaptation Rawhead Rex is more straightforward. In effect, it's no different from your standard monster on the loose film from the '50 or '60s. There are few scenes from Rawhead's perspective, no flashbacks that give depth to the beast, and an all around lacking scare factor. There are attempts at frights, sure, but most of them pan out to inadvertent comedy in the end.
In other words, Rawhead Rex is a great B-movie, but not really much of a horror flick.
Did I mention that our beloved man-eater no longer looks like a wang? Yeah, somehow someone confused "phallic" with "looks like a demonic biker."
For one thing, the picture's visual effects are shoddy and often laughable. I tend to prefer practical monsters over CGI ones because the former looks more genuine than the latter, plus poorly done CGI monster movies play out like characters running away from cartoons or video game enemies. Sadly, practical monsters are not always spectacular. At some points, we see Rawhead's movement and it's downright creepy and almost realistic. Other times he appears to be the demonic equivalent of a mouth breather, thanks to his permanently slack jaws. Worse than that is his running. During one chaotic scene, he charges toward the camera with his knees lifted high like a gleeful child, his head cocked awkwardly upward as if the suit actor merely laid the mask on his face rather than wore it.
It also doesn't help that many of the antagonist's guttural noises are sloppy slobbers and dumb grunts, which might remind you of Ludo from Labyrinth. Needless to say, the similarities between Rawhead and a friendly muppet monster serve only to further dull the film's punch.
In most movies, this is where we would cringe and Rawhead would lose whatever dreadful effect he may hold over the audience. Here, though, the effect is hilarious, giving Rawhead the apperance of a bumbling monster who just happens to be victorious most of the time. It also doesn't help that the movie features a handful of other cheesy devices that play to the film's B-movie elements. For instance, Rawhead is hellbent on destroying a trailer park whilst leaving the rest of the rural regions alone. Why, exactly? During one attack, a woman just happens to lose her top. The last we see of her is in the clutches of the monster with her bosoms hanging out. Typically, I wouldn't call something like this comical, but the producers' need to feature pointless nudity in a horror film--something that occurred a lot in the '80s--brings the movie full circle into being an accidental parody of itself and its subgenre.
As expected, most of the scenes sport horrible acting and peculiar line readings. This flick isn't exactly a bad quote machine like The Room, but the movie does feature some memorably horrible dialogue. Father Declan, a priest corrputed by Rawhead, takes the title for most laughable line reading. Someone asks him, "When [Rawhead]'s finished with you, what will it do with you?" His response: "Kill me.... I HOOOOOOOO-OOOOOOPE!" Plus, there's a strange moment in which one of Niall Toibin's lines gets dubbed over with a stiff, "In the altar. FRADE!!!" While not quite so horrible, there's also David Duke's forced response to Rawhead murdering his son: a quick and not-pained-enough NOOOOOOOO! Look out, Darth Vader.
While Rawhead Rex suffers from a diminished fear factor, it does not lack for chaos. There's plenty of bloodletting, inexplicable lightning and strobe lights, screaming pedestrians, a decapitation, and even a scene where the antagonist urinates on a character. Granted, Rawhead Rex is a fun film, but it's all for the wrong reasons. This could have been a classic monster flick with some genuine chills and terrific creature effects. Instead, we're left with one of 1986's best unintentional comedies.
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