If you ever wondered what galvanized author Clive Barker into rolling up his sleeves and personally directing adaptations of his writings himself then you have to look no further than Rawhead Rex. Arguably the standout story in Barker’s celebrated Books Of Blood anthology series, the film version simply did not live up to the author’s vision of what the film could have been which was more of a kick in the teeth than usual considering old Clive himself wrote the screenplay. Complaining that the effects and monster design wasn’t up to scratch (Rawhead has been described his creator in the past as a 9 foot phallus with teeth), Barker went on to decry the movie and has openly discussed an interest in remaking it some time in the future. But even though it’s titular Pagan god isn’t portrayed as a towering, bloodthirsty cock-monster, is Rawhead Rex really that bad? Well, yes… but it’s still admittedly fun.
In a small, rural town in Ireland, a farmer works hard to uproot a large, stone monolith located in one of his fields but upon success he inadvertently awakens Rawhead, a ‘roided out elder god with the bite radius of a gorilla and the mohawk of a bass player from an 80’s metal band. After generations of being imprisoned underground, Rawhead is understandably keen to stretch his legs and indulge in a bit of a nibble and so goes on a vicious rampage across the countryside, imposing his violent urges on unwitting townsfolk. In conjunction with Rawhead’s bloody comeback, the rector at the local church suffers horrifying visions when he touches an alter which destroys his sanity (Rector? I hardly knew her?) and makes him utterly subservient to the pagan beserker.
Meanwhile, an American historian in the area on a working holiday with his family becomes fascinated with images of Rawhead in the church’s stained glass windows but soon gets an unwelcome audience with the monster himself when he commits the sizable faux par of eating his young son alive. As the local police flounder horribly with the task of bringing a being to justice who can comfortably bite the head off a bulldog, the historian starts trying to desperately unlock the history of this monstrous creature in some hope of finding some way to kill it and the secret may lay within that mysterious alter. But devoted Rawhead groupie, rector O’Brien, isn’t about to let that happen as he anxiously awaits his master’s arrival and it even seems that the entire police force isn’t going to be enough to halt the rampage of the mighty Rawhead Rex.
When watching Rawhead Rex nowadays it’s obvious that the film has slightly more pressing problems than having a villain who doesn’t have a head shaped like a giant, circumcised penis, but Barker initially does have a point. As Rawhead is vehemently a very brutishly dominating male (even his name evokes crass sexual slang) who can only be bested by a woman wielding an idol that looks like a fertility statue, having him have a vaguely phallic appearance would compliment the story’s themes rather nicely but instead we just have to settle for the GWAR reject we actually got. With that being said, I have to admit I’m strangely fond of the monster suit that looks as rubbery as an explosion in a Durex testing site and it’s imposingly filled by the majestically named Henrich Von Schellendorf to an acceptable degree considering all he does wave his arms about and bellow.
Slightly floppy monster aside (not another dick joke, I swear), far bigger problems lie is with the production’s direction, which provides exactly zero tension during the movie’s entirety and has the odd habit of occasionally having victims scream directly into the camera when it isn’t a POV shot from the monster. The lack of budget doesn’t help much either, leaving the supposedly all-powerful rage of Rawhead to be realised by him smashing a few plates and overturning a table in someone’s kitchen, but later the movie allows him to tip over a caravan and rip a few heads off, so that’s nice. But arguably worst of all is the performances which are all over the fucking shop which aren’t helped any by some bewildering bad dialogue usually delivered in a thick, Irish brogue. “Are there any connections between the murders?” enquires a reporter at one point, trying to glean vital information for his readers “Yes. They’re all dead.” comes the unhelpful reply.
But as you wade through the wildly varying performances, deeply contrasting accents and frequent dips into all out melodrama, you start to wonder if the film may actually be set on Craggy Island from Father Ted. All the women over 40 sound like Mrs Doyle and the villainous rector, Declan O’Brien – whose awkward outburts of random insane laughter mixed with some truly strange dialogue (“Get upstairs, fuckface! I can’t keep God waiting!”) – could very well be a nightmarish origin story for Father Jack. After all, it’s not everyday you get to witness an ancient hulking creature with the dental records of a Bengal tiger give a gibbering rector a piss baptism as he laughs with joy.
Anyone who felt the need to re-read that previous paragraph may wonder where the hell casual a mention of a golden shower came from and it helpfully ties into one of the few things Rawhead Rex actually gets right and that’s suprisingly realising the more nastier parts of Barker’s short story that, besides featuring full on urolagnia, also features an attack on a pregnant woman and the off-screen consumption of the lead character’s child. It’s these off-beat moments that help the film scrape by from being a run-of-the-mill creature on the loose movie to being quite an intriguing curiosity that hints of maybe a greater version of the tale somewhere down the line. In fact, in the pantheons of dodgy 80’s horror movies, Rawhead Rex stands raw-head and raw-shoulders above it’s peers for being deserving of a healthy budgeted remake from someone better versed at rural horror like maybe Corin Hardy, The Ritual’s David Bruckner or even (imagine it) Robert Eggers or Ari Aster.
Thankfully Barker finally proved the old adage that if you want something done right, you do it your bloody self and gave us the peerless Hellraiser only a year later (with Bernard Rose also giving us the magnificent Candyman in ’92) but until then, fans of the author’s work would find themselves decidedly Rawhead vexed…