The Underbelly: Rawhead Rex
October 03, 2018

The Underbelly #2
Rawhead Rex
1986
Director: George Pavlau
Premise: A big, man-eating monster that looks nothing like his source material runs amok in a small Irish community. Bad visual effects ensue...


If you see a mysterious stone monument on your property, likely left there by druids, DON'T TOUCH IT.

If you want to adapt a short horror story by a prominent author, and decide to make changes to key elements of said story, DON'T BOTHER SHOOTING IT.

Rawhead Rex was Clive Barker's monster-on-the-loose tale that ostensibly involved an anthropomorphic penis who was sore about losing his territory to human invaders in ancient times. There's a narrative about sexism or masculinity somewhere in there... Druids couldn't kill the beast, and thus sealed him using a monolith of sorts. Farmland sprouted up around the seal, and a farmer decided one day to take the thing down because it's bothersome. Surprise! The monster springs out and kills him, then terrorizes the countryside.

The film moved the action from England to Ireland, and transformed the titular demon into what I could best describe as "bad King Kong-cum-biker from hell." They gave the creature a hybrid mohawk/mullet, stuck some leather and other adornments onto his body and he looked downright silly. The suit also had a constantly open mouth, which painted him as a rather dopey villain and not a wives' tale come to life.

Rawhead's suit actor didn't help the creature's cause, either. He ran with this awkward gait, where his knees gleefully rose near to his chest, while his arms sometimes swayed as if he were holding invisible ski poles. Meanwhile, his rubber head cocked upward. It was unintentionally cartoony, and unfortunately hilarious. Other segments and line readings exacerbated the effect, including unnecessary dubbing ("In the altar. FRADE!!!") and awful acting ("Kill me, I HOOOOOOOO-OOOOOOPE!"). Even Rawhead has a few chuckle-worthy vocalizations, including one segment where he "OOOO-OOOOO"s at actor David Dukes and stands there holding a disembodied head, like a child showing dad's friend his new toy.

Never mind that Rawhead kills a kid about mid-movie, because the scene's punch is rendered ineffective by the cringeworthy sections preceding it. The short story did a terrific job of painting the antagonist as some kind of bed or closet monster that loved to devour children. Barker's description of a tear-streaked doll face being fed between rows of teeth has stuck with me for ages. The movie tries to communicate this with the death of the protagonist's son, but it all comes off as phoned-in, run of the mill horror content. Even David Dukes couldn't put the segment over powerfully, but then again how does one act both horrified and heartbroken when they've watched a life-sized version of the one of the creatures from Munchies kill their kid.

JoeTheDestroyer's imageJoeTheDestroyer's image

Left: Munchies; Right: Rawhead Rex


During the final showdown, David Dukes drunkenly muses that only a woman could kill Rawhead. His wife holds an idol aloft while '80s music video effects spew from it, physically aging the creature before literally sending it to the grave. In completely unexpected '80s monster movie fashion, the flick ends with Rawhead popping up out of the ground and roaring into the camera, a stark departure from Clive Barker's original ending that involved Dukes' character bashing the monster's skull in with the idol and killing it once and for all.

In other words, Rawhead Rex is one of the best comedies to come out of 1986. I don't know that you can expect much more than that from '80s monster flicks, but Barker's story deserved better. Maybe one day we'll see a proper remake, but I wouldn't bet on it anytime soon. The studio behind this mishap still holds the film rights, and have told Barker that they aren't interested in doing a remake. Barker offered to helm one, and it would be awesome with the right crew on board.

At least the 1986 film gave us this gem: A lousy VHS cover that featured Rawhead stepping out of a columned temple built out of his own face. I mean, this totally smacks of Masters of the Universe.

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"Castle Grayskull will be mine! But first I must eat some children."

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