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Rawhead Rex (1986)

Kino Lorber
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/17/2017

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/1/2017

Of the many things I miss from the 80s, one is that it was the age where horror authors were big stars. Stephen King ruled the bookstore, and it was common to see writers like Dean Koontz and John Saul with big displays. In the latter part of the decade, a new name burst onto the scene -- Clive Barker. While I wasn't as enamored with Barker as some, I did appreciate his enthusiasm for the genre and the fact that he didn't pull any punches. And with many other authors, with popularity came the calls from filmmakers. The result was some low-budget efforts based on Barker's works, one of which was Rawhead Rex. Can these films capture Barker's spirit?

Howard Hallenbeck (David Dukes) has come to the Irish countryside, along with his family, to research and photograph old churches. About this same time, a farmer is attempted to remove an oblong stone from his field. Suddenly, the stone shifts and a monster erupts from the Earth. The monster begins to rampage across the countryside, attacking and beheading some unfortunate locals. While on a midnight stroll, Howard catches a glimpse of the creature and finds himself pulled into the situation. As the police are baffled as to how to handle the murders, Howard realizes that some clues as to what the monster is may lie in his research.

As we all know, from the outset, Stephen King's books were made into movies. The results were a mixed-bag, but King could not be blamed, as it was several years before he became directly involved in the adaptations. (And even when he helped, they weren't always good.) Whether or not it was a conscious decision, Clive Barker seemed determined to avoid this fate, as he participated in bringing his stories to the screen from the beginning. The first was 1985's Underworld, which was then followed by Rawhead Rex, as Barker wrote or contributed to the screenplays for both.

So, I guess that Barker is partly to blame, as Rawhead Rex is not a very good movie, for many reasons. There is no character development here. We don't get any details on Hallenbeck's research, save for the fact that he's an American who is dragging his annoying family across Ireland to look at old things. The monster kills several people here, but most of them are nameless characters about which we know nothing. When Declan O'Brien's character goes crazy, we aren't told why. (I actually remember this part from the short story, and my recollection is that we are made privy to his thinking there.) And perhaps most importantly, we don't learn much about the monster, save for some vague ramblings about how he'd been imprisoned centuries before. The overall story suffers from all of this, so we basically watch a movie where people we don't know do things for reasons which are kept from us. Aside from that, this is very much a straight-forward monster movie in which a creature kills some people, the police are skeptical, and then the monster kills some more people. It all culminates in a finale which, believe it or not, is vague.

But, all of that pales in comparison to the film's biggest problem -- Rawhead Rex himself. At some point, a monster movie is only as good as its monster, and the one here is very, very poor indeed. Even the most naive of filmmakers knows that if the monster isn't photogenic, you keep it in the shadows until the finale. Clearly, Director George Pavlou didn't grasp this concept. Rawhead Rex looks like a surprised ape who is dressed for a heavy metal concert. The mask is particular questionable, as it's lifeless and it often looks as if it is simply a mask from the local Halloween store and that the mouth can't/won't close. The mouth does move on occasion, but it doesn't make the monster any more convincing. When the audience knows that it's just a guy in a suit, something must be done to make the monster look creepy, but all that we get here is something which looks like third-rate cosplay and it completely wrecks what is already a questionable movie. A few years later, Barker would show what he could do with Nightbreed, and for the fortunate one, Rawhead Rex would become a fading memory.

Rawhead Rex blows all of its budget on stained glass on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Kino Lorber. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, although some shots do show noticeable grain. (It's weird -- some shots are crystal clear, while others show the grain.) The colors look good, most notably greens and reds, and the image is never overly dark or bright. (Although, the film features some unrealistically bright nighttime shots.) The level of detail is OK, as the image is rarely soft. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.3 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track has the unmistakable sound of a re-constructed stereo track. The front and center channels are active throughout the movie and we get some mild bass effects. The surround sound effects are very subtle and don't provide much of an impact.

The Rawhead Rex Blu-ray Disc offers several extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director George Pavlou which is moderated by Author Stephen Thrower. We are then treated to a series of interviews with various participants from the film. "Actor Heinrich Von Bunau" (21 minutes) talks about what it was like to play the titular monster. His story is interesting, but it would have been helped by some on-set photos or footage of the creation of the suit. "Actor Roman Wilmot" (11 minutes), who played the creepy vicar, provides his recollections on this film in a modern-day talk. "Crew Members Peter MacKenze Litten, Gerry Johnston, Rosie Blackmore, John Schoonraad & Sean Corcoran (23 minutes) describe their work on the creature effects and make-up effects in separate interviews. We get a few on-set stills here, but still on behind-the-scenes footage. "Stephen R. Bissette" (21 minutes) allows the artist to talk his work, his reaction to Barker's work, and his visual concept of the Rawhead Rex character. We get a GALLERY of concept art and production stills. The final extra is a TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long