“He was here before Christ, before civilization. He was king here! Rawhead, that’s what they called him! Rawhead!”
Rawhead Rex started life as one of many stories in a young Clive Barker’s published collection called The Books Of Blood. As a story it has been hailed by the likes of Stephen King as one of the best horror stories ever written. I’m not sure I would go anywhere near that far, but there’s little doubt it’s a well-crafted horror tale. I read it years ago and recall that I was quite impressed. The movie version of the story is something else entirely. It fails on really one important element, and that’s the design of Rawhead himself. It’s one of the worst-looking film monsters I’ve ever seen. It’s a cross between an ape and a clown without the colorful make-up, and the young actor that brought him to life did anything but. Still, there’s some atmosphere to be found here, and a few good performances. It’s one of those films where it might be so bad that it will always find something of a cult following. That’s exactly what Kino Lorber Studio Classics is counting on with a UHD Blu-ray release in 4K. You heard that correctly.
Howard Hallenbeck (Dukes) is taking his family on a kind of work/pleasure trip to a small town in Ireland to continue his study on religious artifacts and symbols. So he packs up the family car with wife Elaine (Piper) and their two kids Minty (Lunny) and Robbie (O’Conor). There he encounters a small church with rather odd stained-glass windows that depict a creature with lasers coming out of his eyes when the sunlight hits the glass just right. He enters the church where he is welcomed by the Reverend Coot (Toibin) but greeted with hostility by his assistant, Declan O’Brien (Wilmot). What none of them happens to be aware of is that a local farmer is trying to uproot a giant ancient monolith from his land so that he can farm it. What we discover is that there is a creature that has been held captive by the large stone. Once it is removed, Rawhead Rex is released in a fiery storm of lightning and thunder.
Most of the film now is spent with Rawhead on a rampage. He finds plenty of victims that he drags away to be eaten at his leisure. With all that’s going on, the Hallenbeck family decides to get out of Dodge before it’s too late. Unfortunately, when young Minty has to use the bathroom in the middle of nowhere, they stop so she can make use of some bushes in a field. She screams because she spots a dead rabbit, which brings the dutiful parents to her side. That’s not such a good thing for Robbie, who ends up attacked and dragged away by the creature. So Dad’s pissed off now. He decides to go after the creature, finding no help in the church where he realizes that O’Brien is protecting the creature and worships it. But the creature appears afraid of something in the altar. It’s a stone, but must be wielded by Elaine, not Howard. A crazy bad animated light show ensues and not only lasts too long but appears to destroy the creature. It doesn’t take long for us to discover it was a temporary solution to a long-term problem. A sequel is promised that, thank God, never materialized.
Clive Barker wrote the screenplay, and he trusted director George Pavlou because they had worked together before on Barker’s Transmutations, which ended up called Underworld, not to be confused with the Kate Beckinsale franchise. Although he really claims he was never happy with that film, I guess he still felt comfortable with Pavlou. So part of this does lie at the feet of Clive Barker himself. What made him think it would be better this time around? The film had limited resources, and it all hinged on a rather strangely designed creature that was never going to get on the screen. His phallic creature just wouldn’t be taken seriously on the film. Of course, the mess they did end up with couldn’t have really been worse. Barker did learn his lesson here. His next effort he would write and direct himself. The result was Hellraiser, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The film is not without some positives, however. Many of the performances are pretty good. Ronan Wilmot as the deranged reverend O’Brien is actually quite a compelling performance and likely the best part of the film. In the early moments of the film, there is actually some really nice atmosphere until the badly-crafted creature ruins it all. Now you’ll have a chance to see for yourself in 4K.
Rawhead Rex is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The ultra-high-definition image presentation is arrived at with an HEVC codec at an average of 50 mbps. The film was shot on 35mm so is native 4K. There has also been extensive HDR here, but I’m not sure how much of it shows. The low-budget nature of the source material means it offers some rather poor cinematography. There are early moments when we first arrive in town that we see a rather nice image, particularly the farmer trying to take down the large stone. Colors are really saturated and look consistent with the film stock of the time. Some grain has been retained, and black levels are at least average. The boost in detail and texture isn’t a plus for the creature, however. Now you can really see the flaws.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track isn’t going to show off the best of your system. The surrounds are purely for music cues and a few pieces of ear candy during lightning storms and creature attacks. Otherwise this is strictly serving the dialog, and that’s pretty much OK with me.
The extras are found one on the Blu-ray copy of the film.
Call Me Rawhead – An Interview With Heinrich von Schellendorf: (20:55) Working in the suit of Rawhead was this guy’s only credit. He was a kid they brought in from Germany, and he tells us how it all happened. The interview is in German with English subtitles.
Growing Pains – Interview With Hugh O’Conor & Cora Venus Lunny: (13:44) The two actors sit together at a kitchen table and talk about the experience.
What The Devil Hath Wrought – Interview With Ronan Wilmot: (11:34) Wilmot appears to take it all in stride. He reminds us it was just a gig, and you take it for the money. But the truth is he delivers some of the best stuff in the film.
Rawk & Roll – Interview with Colin Towns: (15:46) He was the composer on the film. It was his second film after spending most of his youth in a rock band. There are some stills from the orchestra recording sessions, and he gives us a good bit on his own process.
Rawhead F/X: This is a collection of interviews with the various members of the f/x team. You get behind-the-scenes pictures of the robotics and costume. Not any of their proudest moments, I’m sure.
Rawhead Rising – Interview With Stephen R. Bissette: (20:53) He was working on the comics adaptation of the story, and after spending a lot of time on how they designed this and that, you discover it never happened.
Clive Barker likes to disown both of his films from Pavlou, but you have to wonder about that definition of insanity that claims doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result is insane. The truth is that Barker, like Lovecraft, writes creatures and worlds that are pretty difficult to bring to a screen accurately. It’s better with CGI, and you have to believe that an attempt will be made to try this in that realm. The story is indeed a good one. Maybe technology just had to catch up. Maybe someone is working on it right now. “No, I don’t believe in the devil. But something started the rumor.”