Cast: David Dukes, Kelly Piper, and Ronan Wilmott
Director: George Pavlou
90 minutes (15) 1986
Arrow Blu-ray region B
Review by Ian Shutter
Written by Clive Barker, and based upon his own short story, this monster-movie set in quaint Ireland kicks off at the Neolithic site of a sacred pagan fertility cult, where a local church’s un-heavenly chorus of hallelujah, is purposely inter-cut with exterior scenes, just as a stone column is toppled over by a lightning strike on the ill-fated farmer’s field. The imprisoned Rawhead becomes a stomping ogre, pursued by the vengeful American hero Howard Hallenbeck (David Dukes), asking a doomed police detective, “animal, vegetable, or mineral?” Practically unstoppable, looking like a cursed heavy-metal band’s over-sized mascot, the blarney beast cometh and goeth in modern gothic rage, roaring like thunder.
Although one pregnant housewife survives an early home-invasion assault, there seems to be some definitely edgy proclivity for the monster to stalk and attack courting couples, and so big Rex fulfills any typical slasher movie’s sensationalism for the subgenre’s have-sex-and-die horribly trope, notable here during the enraged creature’s demonic rampage.
No, my editor insisted, you can’t re-interpret Rawhead Rex as a Brexit metaphor about Irish border controls. Really? But, but... Creepy images of a “God Almighty!” variety now infest the pretty countryside locations while the storyline unfolds upon fierce horror cues that contrast moments of tragic drama with the equally unsubtle conventions of outright black comedy. Rawhead tips over a mobile home while he’s terrorising and tearing apart a caravan site.
Elsewhere, the almighty Rex leaves a trail of burning cars and mutilated corpses. In twisted dementia, corrupted verger Declan (Ronan Wilmot) helpfully explains the dark mystery of ancient Celtic horror: “He was here before Christ, before civilisation. He was king here!” Police are useless against the onslaught and only add to the body-count. However, in the magical climax, centred on a graveyard’s standing-stone circle, incurious tourist Mrs Hallenbeck (Kelly Piper) becomes the movie’s unsuspecting heroine.
Magnificently restored to a 4K standard, this grisly fantasy seems iconic today. Although it's not a classic Barker story, and far from being the finest movie adapting anything he wrote, Rawhead Rex succeeds on its own terms as an Irish supernatural horror with good shocks in both night and daylight settings, where the ugly and brutal slayer crashes through some of the otherwise beautiful rural scenes. As a formidable clash of a dark past against the fragility of a supposedly enlightened present, Rex’s monstrous intrusion upon an idyllic landscape remains something of a gritty tour de force, it's overall effect amusingly akin to the climactic sequence of genre classic Night Of The Demon (1957).