Ah, the Irish. To quote Alan Partridge: "Leprechauns, shamrock,
Guinness, horses running through council estates, toothless simpletons,
people with eyebrows on their cheeks, badly tarmaced drives (in this
country), men in platform
shoes being arrested for bombings, lots of rocks, and Beamish.".
But who'd have thought they'd have a knack for producing comedy horror?
Not that Rawhead Rex was supposed to be funny - at least,
there's no indication of that in the way the film was made (unless the
makers had a very dry sense of humour indeed). But funny it is,
whether you're chuckling at the reactions of the victims, the paucity
of the effects, or just poor old Rex himself.
Yes, the self-styled king of pre-civilisation Ireland (about 1973, by
my reckoning) is one of the most laughable monsters in filmland - a nine-foot-tall
combination of rubbery claws, even more rubbery teeth, an astonishing
80s mullet hair-do and badly crossed glowing red eyes. If it wasn't for
the fact that he'd tear you limb from limb as soon as look at you, you'd
almost want to take him home and give him a good meal (and a haircut).
Author Clive Barker can't have been impressed with what the special effects
department made of the terrifying creature he'd conjured up on the printed
page - perhaps that's why he immediately went off and helped created Pinhead
and his cheerful Cenobite friends?
For those who don't know, Rawhead Rex is a little-known Irish horror
film which sees a farmer dig up a prehistoric monster in his potato field
(with the help of some handy lightning). The monster (the eponymous Rex)
then proceeds to ransack the nearby village and caravan park, expertly
gutting policemen, decapitating gipsies, eviscerating young boys
and, in the one of the film's most memorably exploitative moments, managing
to pull a screaming young lass through a window and out of her dress in
one fluid movement. That's what I call a classy monster.
This being based on a Barker story, there's also the almost obligatory
connection to the nearby church - with the altar glowing with power as
Rex is "re-born" from the ground (the one and only time he actually
comes across as a frightening foe, despite the rather painfully obvious
fact that his "leap from the grave" was achieved by having the
actor playing him - Heinrich Von Schellendorf, no less - hunch down in
a slight hole and then spring up to his full height). And talking of the
church, everyone could have saved themselves a lot of pain and grief if
they'd noticed the rather obvious stained glass window in there detailing
exactly how to kill this monster in their midst, but I digress.
As Rex starts munching his way through the local populace, we are introduced
to the obligatory American family, the Hallenbecks, who are in Ireland
investigating "the land of their forefathers". Pa Hallenbeck
is a low-rent Dustin Hoffman type, who spots Rex hard at work but takes
umbrage when the police don't believe his tale of a nine foot tall man
with burning red eyes (surprisingly). He decides to remove his family
from danger, but unfortunately drives them straight into it as his son
is stupidly left alone in the car at Rex's mercy (in the film's one and
only effective horror scene). Now he's mad and wants revenge
It's actually a shame that Rawhead Rex is such a mess, because
there's a good film trying to get out. Touches of Barker brilliance can
be seen throughout (Rex's refusal to kill a pregnant woman, the murder
of Hallenbeck's son, the idea of the local church containing a conduit
of Pagan power), but all of these, and several others, are smothered by
bad film making and terrible dialogue.
A girl, unaware that Rex has got her boyfriend, manages to run back home
unaware that she's still clutching his severed hand, a policeman dies
in the worst car crash ever filmed (the car sort of rolls gently up a
bank, slightly turns over, and we hear a muffled "argh!"), and
worst of the lot, is the verger.
Driven mad by some unseen power, the verger goes from slightly unpleasant
to a foul-mouthed nutter without any explanation, calling everyone "fuck-face"
and allowing himself to be "baptised" by Rex in the most unhygienic
way. This is the kind of thing that probably works well on paper, but
looks more than faintly daft on-screen, although it does provide the madly
over-acting loon with this choice piece of dialogue: "He was here
before Christ, before civilisation. He was king here! Rawhead, that's
what they called him! RAWHEAD! Get upstairs, fuckface - I can't keep god
And let us not forget this wonderful exchange between the press and the
Press: "Is there any connection between the murders?"
Police spokesman: "Yes, they're all dead!"
Rawhead Rex may be awful, but it is entertaining (I was crying
with laughter by the end). And at the end of the day, I'd settle for a
dozen Rexes over one Jeepers Creepers. Anyone for a sequel?