Review: Rawhead Rex
When Clive Barker says "F*ck it" and does it himself
Another week has passed, and yet again you Blood Suckers voted for which movie I had to watch this weekend. Fortunately for me, the bar was set pretty low after enduring Tusk. But despite the relatively easy task this week’s feature would have in being more entertaining than Justin Long flopping around in a walrus suit, it proved to be a lot of fun and featured something that may me go, “Huh! Well, look at that.” That’s right, this week we’re talking the Irish pagan demon flick, Rawhead Rex.
This one was distributed by Charles Band’s Empire International Pictures, the short-lived company that put out some exploitation classics during their 5-year-run from 1983-1988. Some of their greats include Ghoulies (1985), Re-Animator (1985), From Beyond (1986), Troll (1986), Assault of the Killer Bimbos (1988), and Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama (1988). So, like any of these other flicks, Rawhead Rex stays true to the Empire way: cheap and dirty.
There’s something about Clive
The first thing any horror fan will notice is that the screenplay was written by Clive Barker. Pretty heavy hitter we’re talking about here. This dude is responsible for the Hellraiser and Candyman franchises and just a whole lot of really awesome and not entirely family-friendly literature and art. The script for Rawhead Rex is based off one of the short stories in Clive’s Books of Blood series. This was only his second screenplay, his first one being Underworld (not the one with Kate Beckinsale in shiny leather), which I’m sure you’ll remember as the classic story of a subhuman species living beneath London that has to kidnap a high-dollar sex worker.
Well, both Underworld (released in the U.S. as Transmutations) and Rawhead were directed by a fella named George Pavlou. And now you know two of the three movies that make up his less than extensive filmography. He also directed 1993’s Little Devils: The Birth and then, disturbingly enough, produced some children’s television shows in England. And as it happens, Clive was not a fan of either attempt by Pavlou to translate his work to the big screen. In an interview he referred to the director as “a guy who had no flair whatsoever for … monster-making.” He goes on in this same interview to express his regrets about not having more little children killed in the movie.
But one thing you gotta give Clive Barker is he saw his first two scripts translated to the screen in a way that was less than successful, so he said “Fuck it!” and directed his third script himself and made Hellraiser in 1987. Not too shabby, considering Hellraiser is an all-time classic that Joe Bob Briggs himself called the “best gore flick of the ‘80s.” So, it seems like Clive Barker wasn’t just some whiney writer bitching about how a director fucked up his work. The dude went out and showed everyone how it’s supposed to be done.
OK, so what’s this about?
But enough of me telling you how awesome Clive Barker is. Let’s get back to Rawhead Rex. Here we have an ancient pagan demon rising out of the ground at the base of some ancient stone monolith in possibly the most metal intro of a monster of all time.
And of course, now that he is topside, he goes on a rampage across the Irish countryside menacing horny teenagers, a trailer park, small children, and the local clergy. This streak of terror happens to coincide with a visit to this sleepy village by an American writer, Howard Hallenbeck (played by David Dukes – no not the KKK assface), who is researching a book and has brought his family along for the ride.
After his son is kidnapped and slaughtered (offscreen), Howard decides to take care of the demon himself since the local law enforcement are pretty useless. This all leads to a climax that is what you would expect when a production runs out of money before shooting the climax. Now, if you are a fan of really cheesy, laser light-show effects, you’ll be satisfied. But basically, this demon is done in by an old statue with an overly-emphasized vagina. Yep, that’ll do it.
Who stars in this flick?
As far as the performances go, I thought Ronan Wilmot, who portrays a priest who is driven mad by the demon and becomes his henchman, was fucking awesome. He has the line of the movie when he is corralling Howard up a flight of stairs to deliver him to Rawhead, “Get upstairs fuckface! I can’t keep God waiting!” His sheer lunacy is a lot of fun to watch. And he gets peed on. You read that right, this priest drops down on his knees in front of Rawhead and rips his shirt open as he gets a demonic golden shower splashed all over his chest and face. And believe you me, I had to rewind this scene and call the wife in to watch. Just one of the perks of being married to a guy like me.
And as I mentioned before, Dukes plays the American writer, Howard. You probably remember him from his memorable role from All in the Family when he tried to rape Edith Bunker. Yeah, now you have that image in your head. He also had a seven-episode run on Dawson’s Creek and was in the classic Slappy and the Stinkers. Howard’s wife, Elaine, is played by Kelly Piper in the final role of her six-year career. She also appeared in Maniac and Vice Squad before ultimately landing her defining role where she wielded a vagina statue that shoots lasers at an Irish demon.
And finally, we have Rawhead himself, Heinrich van Schellendorf (I did not make that name up). Heinrich was a 19-year-old kid who randomly got this part after missing out on another role due to his English not being too great. He had to work out for five hours a day for two weeks at a hotel in Ireland. And as it happens, U2 were also guests at the hotel, and he ended up befriending them and became workout buddies with Adam Clayton. However, he said Bono was very aloof … fucking Bono.
Why it’s worth giving it a watch
Rawhead Rex is by no means a great flick. But it definitely beats a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. Clive Barker himself said that people who admire the film “like it as a sort of sixties movie make in the early eighties kind of deal.” That is pretty spot on. Sure, it’s cheesy. Are the creature effects any good? Fuck no. I mean this is the definition of a cheap rubber suit.
Rawhead has some nifty glowing red eyes that are more akin to the animatronic characters at Chuck-E-Cheese than anything else, but those fuckers are pretty creepy, so maybe I’m wrong about this whole thing. But I swear Rawhead blinks maybe three times the entire flick, so I suppose the cost of operating the mask’s eyelids was prohibitive, and they only had so many blinks in the budget. Clive Barker himself was pissed about the creature design as he wanted it to be more of a tall, thin phallus with teeth. That’s Clive for you.
Rawhead Rex is a decent flick with some good gore and even a breast or two. There’s one really good gag where a teenage girl is fleeing through the woods with her boyfriend and only notices he is gone when she reaches the trailer park and realizes she is only holding his severed hand. There’s another fun scene where a bunch of locals get barbequed by one of the demon’s hypnotized minions.
Definitely not a classic, but Rawhead Rex is worth a watch. The creature design is what it is; everyone would have been better served had there not been so many close-ups on the monster, or if it had been kept hidden in shadows more. But the ridiculousness of it all is part of what makes this one enjoyable.
Rawhead even does something similar to Leatherface’s Chainsaw Shimmy in Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, so he gets points for that. Good, not great, three stars. Check it out.
(Note: You can purchase Rawhead Rex on Amazon, and we’ll get a couple bucks in return. So please support your fellow Blood Sucking Geeks so we can keep doing this!)
Hell, this one's worth checking out if for no other reason than to see what made Clive Barker realize he could make movies out of his own stories better than anyone else could.