Rawhead Rex (15)
Director: George Pavlou
Writer: Clive Barker
Starring: David Dukes, Kelly Piper, Hugh O’Conor
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
Ah, Rawhead Rex, a guilty pleasure if ever there was one. Most people I know have never heard of this, and it would seem those who have seen it have no desire to do so again, so for that reason, I feel this fascinating little horror deserves a review and a recommendation. There’s a good chance you may not like it, but on a personal level, I adore it. Rawhead Rex was one of the first horrors I truly fell in love with, at an age where I hadn’t even reached by teens, I must’ve snuck it out of my Dad’s Video Rental shop without him knowing. I used to do that a lot, I would tell the staff that Dad had said I was allowed it, and when they went to call him, I would tell porky pies and claim Dad wasn’t at home (no such things as mobile phones back then you see). And so this was one of those films, made all the more exciting because I knew I was watching something I wasn’t allowed to, and something about Rawhead Rex just worked for me. Even now, more than twenty years later and after a million horror films, I still enjoyed this. Granted it is laughable in places, but it still holds up well and after multiple viewings, I still get plenty of enjoyment out of this Monster/Demon horror.
The good old days of no CGI and all bodysuits and bad electrical effects are very present here. Rawhead himself is played by Heinrich von Schellendorf (!!) and to be fair, whoever this Heinrich is, he is a BIG man. Yes, Rawheads facial expressions barely change, mouth hanging open and eyes with lightbulbs in, but that is the charm to this film, it does its best with what it has, and does it well. The intention is there to make a classic horror film, and as an old fashioned horror to bring a bit of nostalgia, it really works. I doubt todays gore hungry fans will find much to like, but if you grew up with 80’s horror, give it a go if you haven’t already. It is based on a story by Clive Barker, and that alone should excite even the casual horror fan, so you know roughly that this aint gonna be a pleasant trip. Shame that Barker didn’t direct too, but that job was left to George Pavlou, and this was only his second film and he only made one more after this.
The basic plot is a Demon is released from his underground tomb in a farmer’s field, and the Demon, or Rawhead Rex as he is better known, wrecks havoc on a poor country village somewhere in Ireland. The settings for this film is perfect, and actually makes the entire premise all the more horrific. The village is doomed from the minute He is released, and the panic that soon sets in is made all the more real by such a close community. The use of daylight for some of the attacks, and the heavy use of woods in the background also serve the horror well. The opening is cheesey, there is no doubt, as our main family drive through the country and at first you believe you have picked up the wrong film, this looks more like a family comedy than a horror. The family in question are made up of photographer Howard Hallenbeck (Dukes) his wife Elaine (Piper) and their two children Robbie and Minty. They have come to this quiet Irish village so Howard can photograph the local church in some study he is doing. He meets the Reverend Coot who is welcoming and friendly and even offers the chance to see the parish records. However, it is the other Church guy who is not so welcoming, Declan O’Brien, and he knows something and he is patiently waiting. He knows of the Rawhead and a unsettling glass painting shows the Demon buried in his tomb, but his eye is glowing red, a sign he is on his way! The rock which has buried the monster is wedged in an angry farmers field and he tries to remove it with some pals, but with no luck. His pals leave because their “tea is ready” and suddenly a storm brews and lightning strikes the rock, releasing the Demon in all his glory as he growls and starts his rampage.
The church alter lets off a creepy, backward birds singing type of sound, a sound that has haunted me for years and years. There is something about that sound that I just cannot seem to erase from memory. Anyway, a woman at the alter gets burned by it, and it would seem it is a key to Rawhead which is never fully explained. Declan goes up to it, places his hands on it and he gets burned and see’s what Rawhead see’s and now, more than ever, he is a follower, dedicated to serving his Master and from this point on he quite literally goes off the rails! The first proper piece of violence happens only about ten minutes in, and the way it is filmed and presented is actually quite creepy. A farmer goes to investigate why his barn door is still open while his wife cooks the dinner. Seeing huge claw marks on the door, he decides to go in and investigate, a stupid idea and after some excellent build up of tension, Rawhead bursts out from behind some boxes and rips with his claws, chasing he poor farmer. His wife witnesses as the beast bites into her husband and kills him. Terrified, she runs upstairs as the demon trashes the house, all this built up rage is coming out. In a clever move, the pregnant wife stops on the stairs crying, literally paralysed with fear, but she soon scarpers when Rawhead appears at the bottom of the stairs. The climax to this scene you will need to see for yourself, but Rawhead bellows a roar which causes birds to fly away, followed by a pan over the village to signal the impending doom, and then just as your nerves are shattered, the woman screams, ruining the entire scene, god dammit!
As the stupid police investigate, we move on to caravan park in the middle of the woods, the Rawheads next target. “Little Neil” is playing in the woods at night after being kicked out of his caravan, probably for being too annoying and he witnesses Rawhead tear open his earlier victim who is hanging from a tree. He runs back to his caravan scared to death, he knocks on someone’s door and the woman see’s him saying “aww, it’s little Neil”and suddenly everyone from the camp site appears “what the Hell is going on??” They take him in and you understand that this scared to death, annoying little kid is wearing a terrible bright green jumper that states “muscle power” on its front. Seeing him almost crying, and reading the jumper offers up one of many of the films unintentional laughs. A couple making out in the woods become the next victim and in a highly original scene but one which has been used over and over, the woman runs holding her partners hand, arriving at the caravan park screaming, the locals all appear again and she looks back screaming “Andy” and finds just his hand with the rest of his body missing. Rawhead appears and wrecks havoc in a glorious scene that see’s the camp site destroyed. Locals attempt to fight the beast and are met with a grisly death one after the other. Granted it is tame by todays standards but is fun to watch. After such carnage, we are met with one of the films most quiet and disturbing scenes. The photographer has gone for a walk in the woods at night, as you do, and is having a cigarette. He looks up on a hill and there is Rawhead, just stood motionless, a mountain of beast and to be perfectly honest, it is terrifying. The police are clueless, sating “Jesus Christ, its a bloody massacre!” and when Howard tells police what he saw, he is laughed at and so they decide to leave the poor village for good.
A superb attack on Howards family in broad daylight on the edge of a filed is expertly put together to deliver maximum fear and the anguish of a Father. It is a powerful scene actually, and one which causes Howard to head back to the village and have his revenge. Howard heads back to the church and meets an even more insane Declan who argues with Howard about the Rawhead. Howard cleverly points at the glass painting of the Demon and declares “it’s not human that thing!!” well duh, you just need to look at it to understand it is not human, blimey! So it’s fair to say the script does have its moments, whether that be cheesiness (Oh look, it’s Little Neil) or just plain daftness (Jesus Christ, its a bloody massacre) but the script even now and then throws up moments of greatness. Witness this exchange between the Reverend and his more and more insane helper Declan as Rawhead threatens to enter the Church. Declan wants to go a greet the monster while the Reverend tries to stop him “What will it do with you?” asks the Reverend, this is met by a very enthusiastic hands in the air Declan “Kill me, I hope!!” ah, classic. Eventually Declan forces the Reverend out of his hiding place with quite possibly the best line of the film “Get upstairs fuck face!!” It’s moments like these that remind you that horror doesn’t always have to be serious and you can actually have some fun with it.
Yes, Rawhead Rex borders on silly, but thats its charm, it tests how far it can take the viewer and just as we’re about to laugh and say “this is stupid”, it offers up another classic kill or moment that re-establish the films credibility. The film is actually slightly cut in its region 2 form also, allowing for a 15 certificate but from what I remember from the VHS copy I had, there’s not a lot missing and if you didn’t know it was there then you won’t miss it. I just find this film fun, littered with the odd scare or gruesome moment and its also great seeing locals worship this monster who just wants to destroy their quiet, peaceful town “For you!! For you!!!” shouts one follower as he pours petrol over himself and sets himself on fire, we also bare witness to Rawhead pissing on another follower. Sounds like a great role model! The tagline on the box read “He’s pure evil, pure terror” can’t argue with that as he clearly doesn’t give a shit about anyone! Enjoy Rawhead Rex, if you please, for what it is a good bit of Friday Night fun. Have some drinks to enhance your enjoyment and hopefully this lost in time minor classic will gain some new friends.