Are you curious about the film that made Clive Barker throw up his hands and start directing his own story adaptations? Rawhead Rex is that film.
Written by Barker from his short story of the same name (one that appears in Books Of Blood Volume III), Rawhead Rex is the tale of a large demonic figure that escapes from his ancient imprisonment to wreak bloody havoc across the Irish countryside, near the town of Zeal.
Rawhead Rex has a bad reputation, which is partly deserved, but also mostly overblown. The film has often been out of print during the 31 years since its release and isn’t streaming anywhere. Most people know about the film because of the aforementioned short story, which lead to Barker directing Hellraiser himself.
The main criticisms leveled at the film involve the so-so ending and the title character’s rubber mask. They aren’t unwarranted. The film ends very differently from the story (I’m guessing due to budget constraints) and Rex in closeup is a bit silly, with his unblinking eyes and static mouth. He certainly looks better from afar or in shadowy scenes, but the camera gets right up there in closeup over and over again until the flaws just beat you over the head. In the story, Rex is essentially a nine-foot cock with teeth that eats children. The film is very much toned down, though still satisfyingly gory.
Aside from those two marks against it, Rawhead Rex is still a very good and effective horror film. It has a lean 85-minute run time, wastes no time introducing Rex, and sports a very good cast that seem authentically of the area in which it takes place. The film was shot on location in the County Wicklow, on the western shore of Ireland; this provides a beautiful and moody backdrop for Rex’s murder spree.
The main protagonists, Howard and Elaine Hallenbeck (played by David Dukes and Kelly Piper) and their children Robbie (Hugh O’Connor) and Minty (Cora Lunny), are on a research trip. Howard is studying the pre-Roman history of the land when a farmer innocently trying to clear a massive stone from his land accidently unleashes Rawhead Rex from his prison beneath the stone. From there the County Wicklow becomes a buffet for our hungry and pissed off beast. Howard is one of the only people to see Rex without dying afterwards, but the police don’t buy his description of the massive monster with burning red eyes. Meanwhile, the bodies are adding up.
I first became aware of Rawhead Rex from a clip I saw on TV. I have no recollection of what I was watching exactly, but it was a show about horror films and it showed a couple of minutes from the trailer park massacre. The sight of Rex walking through the burning wreckage of the park was amazing and terrifying. I eagerly sought out the film and found a delightfully gory creature feature that was creepy and even shocking. Sure Rex didn’t look great, but that never stopped many Godzilla films from being entertaining or the aliens from The Deadly Spawn from being a gory delight. Rawhead Rex was a low budget film with a lot of strengths that have been overshadowed by the completely forgivable flaws.
Hopefully Rawhead Rex will gain a bit more respectability with the new 4K restoration from Kino Lorber. The film will be playing in select theaters followed by a Blu-ray release planned for Halloween.. I’ve seen the new transfer and it looks great! Even watching on my laptop, the picture and sound are really good.
Unfortunately for me, it won’t be playing in any theaters nearby my town , but I’m excited to get my hands on the Blu-ray so I can retire my VHS. Kino Lorber deserve a big round of applause for rescuing this cult horror curiosity from the dustbin of history. The new poster for the theatrical run is drop dead gorgeous and will be available for sale through their shop.
Hexploitation Film Festival: Hamilton ON / August 25, 2017
Gateway Film Center: Columbus OH / August 25 – August 27, 2017
Alamo Drafthouse Charlottesville: Charlottesville VA / September 6, 2017
Hollywood Theatre: Portland OR / September 23, 2017
American Cinematheque – Egyptian Theatre: Hollywood AR / Coming in October
Alamo Drafthouse Chandler: Chandler AZ / October 19, 2017
Coolidge Corner Theatre: Brookline MA / October 20 – October 21, 2017
Landmark Esquire Theatre: Denver CO / October 20 – October 21, 2017
Capitol Theater Cleveland: Cleveland OH / October 21, 2017
Carolina Theatre – Durham: Durham NC / October 25 – October 26, 2017