Rawhead Rex

Rawhead Rex ★★★½

I'm taking a momentary detour from my trip through 1990, as, after watching the first two Hellraisers, I decided to read/reread Clive Barker's early work to celebrate the spooky season and then make my way through the adaptations of same. It's been a very long while, but I read (most of) The Books of Blood many times over back in the day. They're right up there with King's Night Shift as a go-to recommendation for any budding horror fan looking for an undemanding-yet-rewarding introduction to modern fright fiction. 'Rawhead Rex' is among the short stories in that six-volume set (and if you've never read them and the length seems daunting, have no fear; I just blitzed my way through the lot of them in about two weeks), and it's properly horrific and anyone who's read it can see where it might make for a solid horror movie. Unfortunately, the director who ultimately made that happen seems to have seen things just a little bit, uhh...differently.

First, let's just address the elephant in the room: the Rawhead creature effects are very, very bad. Unforgivably bad. If they were going to put so little effort into making the titular monster look not-stupid, they could've at least had someone run down to the UK equivalent of a Spencer's Gifts and pick up an acceptably ooky Halloween mask for the performer to wear. Preferably one without spinny glowing googly red eyes, for fuck's sake. Yes, an off-the-shelf rubber mask would've been an improvement on the appearance of the monster in this movie. And, whereas the story presents a semi-sentient creature with cunning and purpose, he's basically just a big dumb shambling pro wrestler in this thing, 'RARR!'-ing like your half-drunk neighbor unsuccessfully trying to scare kids in his homemade haunted house. And really, pretty much all of the non-gore effects in this are cringeworthy (I'd forgotten just how stupid the ending 'battle' looks).

That said, much of this flick has the look and feel of a TV movie from nearly a decade earlier (a vibe that I love), so viewed in that context I actually can levy a little forgiveness towards the Spirit Halloween prop they built a whole film around. A little forgiveness. Not much. But pretending it was filmed on a mid-'70s network budget helps.

Ignoring the doof-ass look of the monster, this is actually a fairly interesting and serious-minded horror film. Barker wrote the script, which is a remix of the original story but one that hits most of the most pertinent beats. And to its credit, the movie mostly goes for it, with gore aplenty and children being eaten and golden shower baptisms, etc. The works, basically. The performances are mostly serviceable-to-solid (with a few, eh, special exceptions). It's all draped upon the bones of a bleak folk horror parable about pagan gods that won't stay buried.

I'd say this is in desperate need of a remake but I'm somehow even more apprehensive about a CGI Rawhead than I am about the crude hand puppet they used in this thing. At any rate, this isn't bad and is definitely worth at least one watch if you can kinda just squint or look away anytime Rawhead makes one of his embarrassing appearances. If nothing else, come appreciate the cultural significance of the movie that finally prompted Clive Barker to say, 'shit, even I can do better than this.' And he sure did!

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