Movie Mondays: Rawhead Rex

Rawhead Rex-poster 2.jpgTrista and I have always had a lot of fun going to the movies together. Whether we were writing for our Alamo Cinema Massacre column or not, we would often hit the cinema at least once a week, sometimes more. When she had to endure bed rest for the last several months of pregnancy, it of course put the kibosh on those trips. After the baby was born in 2017, the opportunity to go to the movies were not gone completely, but they were fewer and farther between than we expected. Such opportunities usually tagged up with visits from grandparents (both of whom lived out of state). On these opportunities, we would usually end up checking out the horror double feature at the Graveyard Shift film series.

Around August of 2017, we managed to catch a double feature of Charles Band productions together (in a sub-series for the summer dubbed Band Camp, showing features that appeared under Band’s Empire Pictures company in the wilder days of the ’80s). One of these was a slasher flick neither of us had heard of; Intruder (1989) was an odd little piece set in a grocery store. While it included some fun turns from Elizabeth Cox and Renee Estevez as well as Evil Dead alums Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi, and Dan Hicks. The flick also showcased some gruesome but effective gore effects, and a couple of laugh out loud moments it did not really give either Trista or myself enough of the warm fuzzies to want to write about it.

The flick paired up with Intruder, however, was one worth looking at. It was the second big screen adaptation of a Clive Barker property, the 4K resoration of Rawhead Rex (1986). What a glorious b-movie that is, terrible in some regards, inspired in others, unafraid to murder children in their beds or piss in the face of fallen preachers, and yet not so ballsy to give us a conclusion delivering on the memorable mayhem. It was a gory, ultimately silly little flick from the UK. We both had a fun old time watching the carnage, giggling at the creature design, wondering about the costuming and otherwise enjoying the hell out of our time away from our daughter, knowing she was safe under the care of my parents.

As this is appearing in the week of American Thanksgiving, it feels necessary to give a little thanks. Thank goodness for fun horror flicks. Thank goodness for understanding grandparents who don’t mind babysitting for a sleeping four-month-old. Thank goodness for a partner who does not agree with my warped view of life, art and cinema but who nevertheless enjoys going to the flicks to watch goofy monster romps. Our child might well be growing up in an Addams Family type house, but is that really a bad thing?

Needless to say, we had a ball writing about the ups and downs of that particular experience for our column. Art house horror at its . . . well, best is not the word the flick would want. “Most memorable” might be the way to go. This column appeared in August or September, coinciding with the film’s 4K release on home media.

We hope you enjoy this trip to the Irish countryside . . . Idyllic as it may seem, don’t be lulled. There’s soon to be a monster on the loose, and what a monster he is! From the mind of Clive Barker (and an early script), here comes Rawhead Rex!

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The Alamo Cinema Massacre Presents: Rawhead Rex

By: Daniel R. and Trista K. Robichaud

Synopsis: When lightning strikes a spooky standing stone, it releases an imprisoned demonic being of ancient legend upon the lovely Irish countryside. That demon is of course dedicated to ghoulish slaughter and degraded acts of perversion. A traveling family of Americans gets caught up in the small town hijinks that ensue, especially when the father (David Dukes) heads out for an evening walk and smoke only to see the hideous prosthetics and gleaming red eyes of this creature. Rawhead Rex is loose on the land and only a puzzle presented in stained glass housed in a remote church hold a clue as to how he can be stopped. From the imagination of Clive Barker (sort of) comes a George Pavlou film . . . Rawhead Rex (1986).

DANIEL’S TAKE

Ah, the old days . . . The time before Clive Barker exploded onto the horror scene with his six volume “Books of Blood”, his novella “Cabal”, his first novel “The Damnation Game”, or made a splash in film with his writer/director debut Hellraiser (1987) . . . Back before he made such an impact with these works, Barker was a screenwriter trying to make some scratch by giving the world some intriguing ideas. Of course, those ideas were snatched up by B-movie producers and then distributed by Empire Pictures, the brainchild of Charles Band who would go on to give birth to the still active Full Moon Entertainment. Somewhere in the mix, Barker’s ideas would be “improved” into Transmutations (1985) and the crazy yet fun pinnacle of pre-Hellraiser Clive Barker, Rawhead Rex.

Now, it is probably laughable of me to call Rawhead Rex the pinnacle of pre-Hellraiser Clive Barker, since the choices are two, right? Not so! Barker also created two short films in the 1970s, which are experimental and intriguing in their own right, but they are not quite the balls to the wall experience that Rawhead Rex turned out to be. A crowd pleaser that somehow manages to involve golden showers, the most foul mouthed priest ever filmed, child murder, Irish yokel slaughter, and the singular cinematic showcase of a relationship between the two people least likely to remain married long enough to squirt out two kids.

TRISTA’S TAKE

Seriously. I don’t think Clive wrote the wife’s dialogue . . . I suspect someone else was channeling their ex-wife onto the screen in all her pre-divorce, angry glory. The dialogue made me shudder more than the monster!

DANIEL

This movie, in short, has all we have come to expect from a Barker picture. Well, except erotic villainy and stunning visuals. However, despite these missing elements, Rawhead Rex has now somehow stumbled into receiving a 4k restoration, which Trista and I caught at the cinema. (Hooray for grandparent babysitters!)

The movie has never looked this good. Even in its first release, it never looked so good. Rawhead Rex has a crisp, clean print. Which unfortunately does nothing to hide the many unintentional laugh-out-loud moments slammed into the lean, mean running time of 89 minutes.

Before I get too much further . . . Trista, any opening salvos? Err. Thoughts?

TRISTA

Aside from the campy fun of Rawhead Rex, the 4k restoration shows us the beauty of Ireland with gorgeous middle-class houses and pastoral landscapes. The film shows color and light beautifully. There’s a section where an Irish housewife is making – wait for it – Irish stew that looked delicious enough to be on a cooking show. (Sadly, the stew was smashed before eating.)

DANIEL

That stew is like a visual metaphor for the whole movie. Lots of meat. Lots of red, red meat. And it just ends up everywhere when Rawhead shows up! Uhm. Spoiler Alert.

TRISTA

The sets are so low budget they had to be authentic – I’m sure the film crews just found a cool place, shot there, and moved on. I enjoyed the snapshot of an Ireland that might have been in the 80s.

We’re also treated to an interesting mix of costumes that I’m certain the actors owned to begin with – with the notable exception of the pre-divorceé American wife Elaine (Kelly Piper). Lovely cabled sweaters and tweeds abounded. The American wife looked like she got her wardrobe from the castoffs of Miami Vice (1984-1990), however. Either that or the costume people decided she was going to provide all the eye-bleeding contrast needed in the film’s wardrobe from the native’s gray/brown palette.

I mean, Claire Higgins’ Julia in Hellraiser pulled off ‘Loud yet professional 80s power wear’. Kelly Piper’s Elaine in Rawhead Rex is just . . . screaming, earsplittingly loud.

DANIEL

There are lasers pointers shining through a stained glass representation of the Rawhead Rex demon’s eyes. Those laser pointers are firing into a church. I imagine the set designer arguing for the poetry of this, and the producers agreeing that there is an inherent poetry in firing not one but two laser pointers at a priest (played with zeal by Ronan Wilmot) delivering off key notes during sing-song time the way up-and-coming standup comedians fire off dirty jokes. Yet there those little red dots are, lighting up the priest’s cheek the same way the hi-tech gun sight lit up Sarah Conner’s forehead in The Terminator (1984).

TRISTA

I kept waiting for his head to catch fire. (Spoiler alert: it didn’t.)

DANIEL

I can imagine the set designer having a hell of a lot of fun trashing the church for a later scene. Or the propsmaster making a fertility statue with a Videodrome (1983) vaginal slit in its stomach. I can imagine the hokey digital effects guys promising “Magic, dudes!” for the picture’s final battle between the American tourists and the big, bad demon whose poltroons resemble linebacker pads with a BDSM twist. And the magic looks like the blockbuster ending to an 8-bit Atari game.

The only one part of the crew I cannot imagine having fun is the creature designer, who was unlucky enough to have to design a walking, talking, growling, eye-glowing, snarling, sort-of-phallic monster and try to make him scary. The effect might not be the greatest, but this does nothing to stop the director giving us some loving, brightly lit close ups. So much more could have been accomplished with shadows and suggestion, but BAM there’s the rubber faced nasty with the beady, red eyes front and center.

TRISTA

I was promised an epic penis monster movie. I felt disappointed in the penis monster. I mean, he kinda looked like he started out as the monster from Harry and the Hendersons (1987), but the producer gave the props department notes to make him more penis-y. Rawhead – whose name is never explained – DOES do a great job of terrorizing the landscape.

DANIEL

Actually the name comes from an old British Isles legend or folktale. Rawhead and Bloody Bones. It’s a bogeyman type figure to frighten children, which dates back hundreds of years.

He does terrorize well, though, doesn’t he?

TRISTA

Compared to some of the bad CGI that comes from the SyFy network movies, watching Rawhead move around and do his thing is a feast of practical effects. Hats off to the crew for making this work as well as it does. Maybe that was why there wasn’t so much shadows and suggestion, Daniel. It was a penis monster and it was happy to see us, darn it!

DANIEL

It was really happy to be seen, too. The blasted demon mugs for the camera like no one else . . .

TRISTA

A side note. Humorously (to me), all its victims were men. Angry penis monster is apparently very chary of vagina dentata, in 9 year old girls or fertility statue belly labia.

DANIEL

Aren’t we all?

For heaven’s sake, why hasn’t this movie been remade?

TRISTA

I know, right? Imagine this movie with GOOD CGI. It would be amazing! We could set it in any rural population for fun and profit!

DANIEL

There is so much room to grow, so many things today’s filmmakers could wring from the concept. I’m betting it’s a rights issue. Whoever bought up Charlie Bands’ Empire Pictures must be sitting on a freaking gold mine of B-movies that could actually benefit from remakes. Rawhead Rex, Troll(1986), The Dungeonmaster (1984), Ghoulies (1984), Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared Syn (1983) . . . If there is a market for a 4k restoration of Rawhead Rex, then there has to be an audience for a remake.

TRISTA

Besides, the sequel potential! What about cross-overs?

Oooh, Oooh, imagine Rawhead Rex vs The Wicker Man! (The old, Christopher Lee Wicker Man from 1973) I’d go see that! But we’d need a really cool female villain to walk in during the last act. Maybe Scarlett Johannson from Under the Skin (2013)? Maybe that’s too Scottish. What do you think, Daniel?

DANIEL

I’d watch Scarlett Johannson going toe-to-toe with Rawhead Rex as villainess or heroine any day. Twice on Tuesdays, even.

For all I have teased this picture, I cannot deny it is a pleasure to watch. A goofy, gory, weird pleasure from the heart of excessive 80s horror.

The beer I was drinking at the time did not detract from the experience, either. Perhaps alcohol enhanced the pleasure I took from this piece.

TRISTA

Beer and escaping the baby does tend to give things a rosy glow, I must admit!

DANIEL

Still, I giggled while watching it and I am giggling now as I think about it. It’s silly, it’s strange, and some of the choices the filmmakers made are occasionally head scratching, but Rawhead Rex is worth a watch.

TRISTA

Seriously, though. This isn’t a great movie, but it is a fun campy movie. I enjoyed cheering on the monster’s rampage and watching the mystery unfold. I think the cast and crew had great fun making it. If you look closely, you can see Clive Barker pulling elements of this movie that worked well and reassembling them into Hellraiser. A fun flick, all told.

If you have a warm place in your heart for campy B monster movies, you’re cheating yourself by not watching Rawhead Rex.

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Rawhead Rex is available in DVD, Blu-ray, and streaming editions.

From all of us here at ConsideringStories, we hope our American readers (and anyone else celebrating the holiday) have a happy Thanksgiving!

“Movie Mondays: Rawhead Rex” is copyright © 2019 by Daniel R. and Trista K. Robichaud. It incorporates material from “The Alamo Cinema Massacre Presents: Rawhead Rex”, a review that first appeared on the Cinema Knife Fight site, copyright © 2017 by Daniel R. and Trista K. Robichaud. Poster and still image taken from IMDB.

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