RAWHEAD REX ***
Directed by George Pavlou. Starring David Dukes, Kelly Piper, Hugh O’Connor, Niall Tobin, Heinrich Von Schellendorf, Ronan Wilmot. Ireland / UK / USA 1986 89 mins Certificate: 15
Released on Blu-Ray by Arrow Video on May 14th 2018
“Jesus Christ, it’s a bloody massacre!” Long regarded as a cinematic embarrassment that prompted novelist / screenwriter Clive Barker to direct his own BOOKS OF BLOOD adaptation (HELLRAISER was just one year away) for the screen, the unloved RAWHEAD REX was his second and last collaboration with filmmaker George Pavlou following the equally frosty reception afforded to UNDERWORLD (1985). Never knowingly understated and boundless in its enthusiasm to deliver as much monster action as possible, it’s among the most consistently enjoyable home-grown horror movies of the late 80’s - the wintry, mist-enshrouded Irish backdrop lending much ambience to an abundance of unintended camp and audacious moments.
Rawhead himself is memorably played by a 19-year-old actor named Heinrich Von Schellendorf, whose name along could instil fear in the heart of man. Sporting an impressively ripped torso, a wild mane of black hair, glowing hypnotic red eyes and permanently fresh drool dripping from huge jaws, the eight foot tall humanoid creature bursts on to screen in the first few minutes and, it transpires, was around before civilisation itself: “He was King here!” Given the entertainment value generated by his first and only cinematic venture, it’s something of a shame that Rawhead – who looks like offspring spawned by a disturbing sexual union between The Rock and Predator - was never allowed the further screen adventures suggested by this film’s fashionable open-ended coda in which, true to 1980’s form, someone says “It’s all over…” right before…oh, you guessed it.
David Dukes is the obligatory imported American hero, a historian researching the persistence of sacred sites in the Irish countryside, much to the chagrin of his bratty kids and his annoying wife (Kelly Piper), who just wants to go shopping in Dublin. A typical exchange between him and his loved ones runs thusly: “This is the land of your forefathers!” / “Yeah, and they left!” In a sequence that looks like a clip from a 1986 hair metal music video, a workman inadvertently unleashes the long-buried Rawhead, and soon the beast is slaughtering the obligatory pair of amorous young lovers in the woods, while Dukes has to convince the coppers of the threat and locals tell their own monster yarns over a pint. A crazy, oft-ranting Priest, played to the hilt and beyond by Niall Tobin, knows a lot about the creature and, after being pissed on by Rawhead (still an astonishing moment), relishes perhaps the greatest line of dialogue in any 1980’s genre movie : “Get upstairs fuckface, I can’t keep God waiting!”
Eager to please and pivoting around an admirably sincere performance by Dukes, RAWHEAD REX deserves kudos for a number of reasons, starting with the evocative cinematography by low budget horror regular John Metcalfe, who also shot the estimable sci-fi splatter fests INSEMINOID and XTRO. High on anyone’s scenes-we’d-like-to-see list is the moment in which the hero’s grating pre-pubescent son is munched on by the monster, though, typical of the film’s enthusiasm, you also get (for no extra charge) the best Irish caravan park massacre in cinema history, a set piece capped by shamelessly gratuitous blouse-ripping. The rousing climax involves the typical 80’s decimation of a small town police force, plus full-body burns and a heavily contrived resolution in which Kelly Piper, who has been totally useless for the entire movie, suddenly (and unconvincingly) is required to do something extremely important.
Extras - For those who never felt guilty about loving this movie from nostalgic experiences via Vestron Video, Arrow’s Blu-ray release gives it a handsome 4k resolution beyond our wildest expectations. The extras are plentiful, too, with Rawhead himself – who got the part after original choice Peter Mayhew proved too expensive - recalling with great enthusiasm experiences of his one and only feature film, complete with U2 anecdote. A 22-minute featurette with the FX crew is particularly engaging, chewing over the many challenges of a freezing cold, fast-paced, low-budget shoot, and the very specific need to redesign Clive Barker’s original conception of Rawhead Rex as an eight foot erect cock! The film’s grown-up child actors share their memories, composer Colin Towns gets some long overdue love and two audio commentaries provide all the trivia you will ever need : a track with the Hysteria Continues team is particularly informative, highlighting the major differences to the Barker story and pondering over what a different movie it would have been had the writer (somehow) been allowed control.
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