Rawhead Rex (1987)
Release Date: April 17th, 1987 MPAA Rating: R
Director: George Pavlou Actors: David Dukes, Kelly Piper, Niall Toibin, Ronan Wilmot, Niall O’Brien, Hugh O’Conor
ankee author Howard Hallenbeck (David Dukes), his wife Elaine (Kelly Piper), son Robbie (Hugh O’Conor), and daughter Minty (Cora Lunny) have just arrived in Rathmorne, Ireland, where Howard spends his initial time photographing an old church. He meets the stern, unfriendly verger Declan O’Brien (Ronan Wilmot), who coldly directs him back out into the rain to speak with Reverend Coot (Niall Toibin), a more cordial man who promises to give Howard what he’s after – access to the insides of the parish and its archives. Howard is studying various areas in Europe for what he calls the “persistence of sacred sites.” He’s interested in historical, Neolithic locations, which could provide fascinating academic material for his new book.
Meanwhile, farmer Dennis struggles tirelessly to fell a towering, ancient cement monolith. When his two helpers give up, he continues to work, until a lightning storm strikes the monument and unearths a roaring humanoid monstrosity. The creature is Rawhead Rex, a pagan beast (or devil incarnate) hellbent on slaughtering locals across the countryside and hypnotizing weak-minded individuals to do its bidding. As it carves up a bloody path of victims, police investigations turn up nothing but glimpses of a toothy behemoth.
There’s a surprising amount of kissing in the film, which oddly fills gaps of time and substitutes for more interesting character development. Even footage on TV shows smooching. But perhaps the most ridiculous moment comes when Rex pulls a woman through an RV window, inadvertently tearing her dress off to reveal some exceptionally gratuitous nudity. As if intentionally adding to the silliness, small characters are shot from an upward angle while taller roles noticeably utilize a downward pointing camera. It works adequately for Rex, but most of the first-person point-of-view imagery essentially detracts from the intensity. Religious implications and unexplained motives and solutions further stifle the effectiveness of other, more normal horror movie concepts.
Foggy, densely forested settings and eerie houses provide locations for Rex’s massacre, though the constantly bright cinematography, even when it’s supposed to be nighttime, sheds too much light on elements that would normally inspire scares. Glancing flashlights barely highlight the occasional bit of gore. “Darkness can be deceptive,” insists Detective Inspector Isaac Gissing (Niall O’Brien) as Howard chronicles his first sighting of the murderous culprit.
Rex himself is always seen so clearly, his glowing red eyes forever unable to peer through scenery because all the surroundings are visibly lit up. His figure is apparently never meant to be a secret. This is unfortunate, considering the creature effects by Peter Litten are a touch undignified (though a few details anticipate the following year’s “Predator”) and would greatly benefit from obscurity. Like a sinewy werewolf, the fiend wears tattered clothing and leathery armor, sports a tuft of coarse black hair in a mohawk fashion, drools, and has a notably rubbery face. Sadly, it’s little more than a man in an elaborate Halloween costume. Screenwriter Clive Barker (whose short story from “Books of Blood: Volume 3” provided the basis) wasn’t thrilled with the result either. In the end, “Rawhead Rex” is a largely mediocre monster movie, sporting uninspired ideas and, to top it all off, a hopelessly generic final scene.
– Mike Massie