It seems that not even the animal amok genre was safe from that crazed stable of movies from the merry old land of Oz, fittingly dubbed Ozploitation – but then, where better to base a killer animal flick than the country where 95% of the wildlife is lethal and actively wants you dead.
With this in mind, director Russell (Highlander) Mulcahy gave us Razorback, sort of a “Jaws with boars” that saw the outback terrorized by a huge, tusked porker that chows down on the occasional child or random American. However, while some movies that rode on Jaws’ tail fin were impressively smart (Alligator, Piranha) and some were dumber than a bag of rocks (Grizzly, Barracuda), Razorback kind of sits in a paddock all of it’s own as it weaves a bizarre, earthy, hallucinatory experience that feels more in line with Panos Cosmatos or Richard Stanley than Steven Spielberg. So buckle up for a killer animal movie quite unlike any you’ve ever seen as Mulcahy puts his years of experience directing music videos for the like of Elton John, Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet to good use as he make a silk purse out of a giant pig’s ear.
Grizzled Aussie Jake Cullen is busy babysitting his infant grandson when a rhino-sized giant boar (aka. a Razorback) ploughs through his living room wall and makes off which the child to snack on later. Despite being a place where such mad-libbed style creatures like the kangaroo and the koala live, no one believes Cullen’s story but due to a lack of evidence, the grieving man narrowly avoids doing jail time for his grand son’s murder.
Two years pass and American wildlife reporter Beth Winters travels to the outback to stick her microphone and camera in the faces of hunters who slaughter countless kangaroos in order to make cheap pet food that’s sold abroad, but she bites off a little more than she can chew when she incurs the wrath of Benny and Dicko Baker, two roo-hunters that look and fact like they’ve just stumbled of the set of Mad Max. However, before they can inflict more on the hapless reporter, they flee when the Razorback shows up to finish the job, digesting poor Beth as one would a fattening snack.
Travelling from the States in order to find out what actually happened to his wife, Carl Williams attempts to question the locals about Beth’s disappearance, but soon finds that the laws of the outback are far different to that of the city and despite getting aid from a bitter, boar-hunting Jake Cullen and pretty pig tagger Sarah Cameron, his questioning of Dicko and Benny goes about as well as you’d expect.
Of course, crazed Aussies are one thing, but there’s still a hefty, man-eating oinker out there with tusks the size of pick-axes that still needs to be introduced to the business end of a high powered rifle – can Carl survive long enough to be the one that makes this necessary intro?
It would be painfully easy to cast Razorback into the limbo realms of the Jaws also-rans whence it would never return, but while other movies leaned on gore or satire to try and successfully keep up with Spielberg’s toothy juggernaut, Mulcahy instead used his sizable music video career to come at the pulpy material in a way that’s utterly stunning visually that trades heavily in outback weirdness as Jaws did with Amity’s sense of everytown USA. Pre-dating the eccentric supporting cast of 1986’s Crocodile Dundee, but making some of them hauntingly unhinged, the movie realises that a giant, fanged pig might be scary, but it isn’t as scary as sun-baked lunatics and the brutal environment that they live in. Step forward Barry and Dicko, two gibbering, childlike maniac who slaughter roos for a living, indulging in attempted rape for fun and seem to be a genuine benchmark of Wolf Creek’s Mick Taylor. The Razorback may chew on children and wolf down wives, but despite Jake Cullen’s melodramatic insistence that “God and the devil couldn’t have created a more despicable species”, it’s just a huge animal and it’s the two cackling freaks that are the true villains of the piece.
That’s not to say that the titular, trottered terror is small potatoes as callously it rips off car doors and (in a direct parody of Jaws’ breakaway jetty moment) tears of entire corners of trailer homes and thanks to Mulcahy’s rapid fire editing and stylish shooting style, looks far better than any giant pig created with 80’s effects on an Australian budget have any right to be. It’s certainly light years better than Howling III…
If I’m being picky (and I guess I should be seeing as I’m playing critic), the two American lead characters are fairly bland compared to the clearly more robust Australian characters abs more than once you find yourself wondering why Bill Kerr’s crusty, Quint-like boar hunter isn’t taking point, but then I guess it would take away from Carl’s Lynchian walkabout that feels like someone’s dumped Blue Velvet and a Castlemaine XXXX advert into a telepod and pushed SEND. It’s essentially the high point of the film as the director, momentarily freed from the need to keep the piggy plot moving gets to really stretch his directorial legs as Carl hallucinations repaint the outback as a Lovecraftian landscape, full of jagged chasms and bizarre alien structures.
Some have understandably given Razorback a short shrift in the past for essentially containing less story than a blank pamphlet, yet its trippy approach at a well worn (even by the 80’s) sub-genre of movie is genuinely refreshing as the director blasts us with electric blue nights and searing days as his porcine leading man pops in and out at random. Yes, Gregory Harrison’s human lead may be vanilla as cheap ice cream – but conversely he’s a nice clean slate in order to unleash the full horrors of the outback upon, be it strapping himself to a weather in order to avoid being eaten alive overnight or getting his hands really dirty in canning plant set finale.
Stylishly mythical and utterly mental, Razorback mixture of death and drongos is far better than you’ve been led to believe as it takes it’s admittedly silly concept and sprinkles it with some LCD laced garnish. Twinning some stunning visuals with a couple of crackerjack jump scares (the double nightmare/boar-faced woman one is a belter), Razorback earns its place at the trough by pounding the “weird” button in order to leave killer animal fans as happy as a pig in shit.