UK Release Date: 14th May 2018
Runtime: 86 minutes
Director: George Pavlou
Writer: Clive Barker
Starring: David Dukes, Kelly Piper, Ronan Wilmott, Niall O’Brien, Niall Toibin, Heinrich von Schellendorf
Synopsis: Chaos comes to a quiet Irish town when an ancient deity is awakened and begins to wreak murderous havoc on the residents, and a visiting American couple.
Clive Barker is best known for creating the original stories behind Hellraiser and Candyman, but his short stories have also driven a range of other scary movies. Rawhead Rex, which features an eight-foot tall pagan fertility god, has achieved cult success since its release in 1986 and it’s now on Blu-ray in the UK with a new 4K restoration overseen by director George Pavlou. It’s an enjoyable creature feature with some deliciously gruesome practical effects, but it’s definitely rough around the edges.
The plot itself seems slightly unfocused. The protagonist, as such, is Howard (David Dukes) – an American historian and writer who’s researching the history of churches, tracing their calendars back to the days before Christianity was at play. He has travelled to a small Irish village with his family after becoming intrigued by their church and its strange stained-glass windows. Soon after his arrival, a farmer inadvertently awakens the titular deity (Heinrich von Schellendorf), who wastes no time in ripping and tearing at everybody in his path.
The arrival of that creature is undoubtedly the highlight of the entire movie. From then on, there’s a distinctly ‘man in suit’ vibe to the character and he becomes considerably less scary as the story progresses. With that said, there’s a relish and delight to the way Pavlou depicts Rawhead’s violent attacks, with arterial spray all over the place thanks to the creature’s enormous fangs. The other major highlight is Ronan Wilmott as a church verger who becomes seduced by Rawhead and turns into his most loyal disciple on Earth, delivering flowery, villainous lines with unhinged eloquence.
He’s by far the most interesting character and that is bad news for David Dukes and Kelly Piper as the American couple who are nominally the lead players. They are absolute spare parts in the story and could have been cut out without having all that much impact to the narrative, but for a final revelation that doesn’t make nearly as much sense as it needs to anyway. It says a lot that the monster is far more interesting than the human beings in this movie.
But that’s what this film is, first and foremost – a showcase for the meticulous prosthetics work that went into creating its monster. It is made with a sense of self-aware silliness that allows its slightly creaky style and story to be charming and enjoyable rather than irritating and difficult. It’s not going to shoot to the top of anyone’s list of Clive Barker adaptations but, on a Halloween night with a room full of friends, there’s plenty to enjoy.
There’s a fairly handsome selection of interviews and featurettes here, including one in which a creature effects guy discusses Clive Barker’s desire for the creature to resemble “an eight-foot cock”, which is eye-opening to say the least.
Pop or Poop?
With a fanged face and enormous size, the titular creature in Rawhead Rex is a sight to behold when he first appears and there’s definitely a joy to watching him tear various people apart. However, the actual plot of the movie leaves a lot to be desired and the human characters are largely a waste of time. As a cult showcase for its effects work, though, there’s a lot to have fun with here.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
Rawhead Rex is available on Blu-ray in the UK now, courtesy of Arrow Video.