Welcome to Missed Connections, a weekly column where I get to highlight films that are little known and/or unfairly maligned. I’ll be shining a light in two directions ‐ I hope to introduce you to movies you’ve never seen and possibly never heard of, and I’ll attempt to defend films that history, critical consensus, and maybe even your own memories haven’t been very kind to. In this entry, I explore the monster mash that is RawHead Rex
This week’s pick may not be a great movie — spoiler, it isn’t — but for fans of creature features, twisted tales from the mind of Clive Barker, and all things sacrilegious… it remains a fun monster flick. Hellraiser was of course the first big Barker adaptation (from his novella “The Hellbound Heart”) and the one that opened the door to Nightbreed and Candyman, but two feature films preceded it in the mid 80s. Both were directed by George Pavlou and neither are remembered all that fondly, but while the first (Underworld aka Transmutations) is something of a slog the second is an enjoyable latex and blood-filled romp through rural Ireland. That’s right.
I’m going to bat for RawHead Rex.
An American author visiting Ireland with his wife and two young kids is excited to discover a small village that may have once been home to previously unrecorded cultures. Howard’s (David Dukes) thrilled at the prospect of ancient burial sites, but his wife Elaine isn’t nearly as excited. Their time in town coincides with a local farmer’s effort to clear his fields of debris like trees and Neolithic (and phallic) stone markers, the latter of which reveals something living underneath. A large, humanoid being bursts from the earth with a hunger for human flesh and a mad respect for pregnant ladies, and soon the tiny village sees its population shrinking.
RawHead attacks a farm couple, killing the man and threatening the woman until he senses her extended belly contains a fetus — as much as Rex loves the taste of children’s blood and bones he has a reverence for the unborn. The town slowly comes to believe something monstrous is tearing apart the populace, and Howard catches a quick glance one night of RawHead on a hillside with a decapitated head in his clawed grip. He gets a closer look shortly thereafter when the beast snatches up young Robbie (Hugh O’Connor) and makes the boy a snack.
He eats the boy in front of daddy is what I’m saying.
Pavlou’s RawHead Rex, from a script by Barker himself, doesn’t go as deep into RawHead’s mythology and methodology as the original story does — we get the gist of his history as a monster king, but his connection to themes of fertility and femininity are given a quickie horror movie gloss — but it remains a rarity in that it’s an honest to god monster movie.
Too many horror movies are content focusing on ghosts (cheap), zombies (lazy), or psychos (even cheaper), and while they can still result in good to great movies, I’ll always be far more interested in monsters, creatures, and actual physical creations. RawHead Rex gets that. He’s an 8′ tall, Conan-like body-builder with claws, fangs, tusks, and glowing red eyes that mesmerize victims. Rex is a carnivorous bastard too eating men and kids with abandon, and his size and ferocity make for an impressive sight… within reason of course, as the effects-work on his head were clearly a result of budget limitations.
The body itself — a costume occupied by a 6’7″ non-actor — is mobile and threatening enough, but the head is a bit wooden at times. Close-ups reveal a head that moves and expresses via animatronic motors, but even knowing all of that the blood and saliva-drenched jaw works well enough to get the point across — he will tear you open and eat your flesh.
The film also hits two of my favorite taboos. One is the aforementioned death of a child — kids don’t die often enough in horror movies for my taste, especially the obnoxious ones — but the other is the corrupted priest’s baptism by monster piss. As a survivor of twelve years of Catholic school I’m an easy mark for all things sacrilegious, and the scene where the priest trades “gods” in the face of the monster never fails to make me smile.
As much as I enjoy RawHead Rex I’d be lying if I said it was a well-respected monster movie among horror audiences in general — which is why the news that the good folks at Kino Lorber were giving it a 4K restoration completely blew my mind. The new KL Studio Classics Blu-ray looks fantastic (and far better than my old VHS), and it comes loaded with more special features than a movie like this has any right to expect. Sadly, Barker himself is not a part of any of it, but there are still some interesting extras. In addition to a trailer, an animated behind-the-scenes image gallery, and a booklet essay the new disc includes the following supplements.
- Commentary with director George Pavlou and the ridiculously knowledgeable Stephen Thrower
- Call Me RawHead: An interview with actor Heinrich von Bunau [20:57] – The man inside the suit recalls being bored on set, having a bodyguard with him at all times to ensure the costume wasn’t damaged, and working out in the hotel gym with members of U2. He also remembers the topless woman he dragged out of a camper.
- What the Devil Hath Wrought: An interview with actor Ronan Wilmot [11:15] – The much older Wilmot recalls the production fondly from chatting with the monster between takes to being a professional actor during the notorious “wee” scene. He’s a huge fan of the film and speaks positively about the whole thing.
- RawHead FX: An interview with sfx/mu crew members [22:34] – They discuss the film’s effects work including how the original RawHead design resembled “an 8′ cock.” Barker wasn’t thrilled when they nixed his design and went more traditional instead for obvious reasons.
- RawHead Rising: An interview with comic book writer/artist Stephen R. Bissette [20:54] – Barker’s tale is among Bissette’s favorite monster stories, and he shares its appeal and how it translates into his work both on and off never-completed comic book adaptation. He offers some fascinating insight into the comic’s history too.
RawHead Rex is a fun, fast-moving creature feature from the 80s that features some bloody effects work, a kid getting eaten, and a priest enjoying a golden shower. It’s no classic, but not every monster movie needs to be.
Follow along every Monday with Missed Connections — my appreciation of movies that failed to find an audience for one reason or another.
Buy RawHead Rex on Blu-ray from Amazon.