Right around the late 80’s the world quickly became aware of the genius of Clive Barker. At this time, theaters received steady doses of Barker’s sick and twisted horror. One of those films includes Rawhead Rex released in 1986. Fortunately for filmgoers, Clive Barker creates a very visual style of horror that should translate very well to screen. Simply put, Clive Barker creates great movie monsters. But, for whatever reason, Barker’s monsters often stumble as they transition to screen.
The Resurrection of a Celtic Pagan God
The story begins with a crew of men trying to remove a giant Celtic obelisk from the middle of a field in Ireland. Allen Hallenback, played by David Dukes, travels to the area to research ancient artifacts and ancient holy-sites. When lightning strikes the stone, the monument topples, releasing an ancient Celtic pagan god called named Rawhead Rex. Rawhead promptly leaves a wake of destruction across the Irish countryside.
Clive Barker, not a fan…
In a reoccurring theme, Clive Barker expressed concerns about this adaption and how it does not do the short-story justice. It seems that each screenplay lets him down in some way. Of course this eventually drives Clive Barker to direct Hellraiser in 1987. Barker voiced a specific penis related complaint about Rawhead Rex.
Malevolent Dark dug up the following quote from a secondary source. The quote reportedly came from issue #4 of “Nexus” magazine, 1987.
Monster on the rampage stories are about the phallic principle. Large males run around terrorizing women… Now, the gag only works if you understand the subtext. Otherwise, it’s about this dumb monster running around. I couldn’t get them to understand that the whole movie had to smell of sex. When this thing appeared you had to think it was a d**k, but they didn’t get the joke. And it was a joke, that was the point...
A story of a giant toothed penis
To meet the lofty journalistic expectations of legions of Malevolent Dark’s fans, we put in work acquiring Books of Blood: Volume 3 to see what all the fuss is about. This was not the first time reading the Books of Blood series, but it marked the first time digging into the Rawhead Rex short-story. To be honest, Barker’s arguments falls on deaf ears. What I read was a typical B-grade monster story. Quite frankly the penis metaphor just doesn’t, ahem, swing. Let’s be honest, we all love a bit of cerebral context with our horror, but Barker’s Fruedian spin fails to resonate.
Taming the beast with womanly virility
In the short-story, Rawhead refuses to shred a woman having her period. Somehow, her fertility puts him off. The movie effectively mirrors the same premise, but ditches the aversion to menstruation in favor of an aversion to active pregnancy. “Death goes in fear of what it can not be”. In the grand scheme of things it amounts to a minor tweak to a largely vacuous plot point. This theme also extends also to the final “weapon”, a stone carved into the form of a fertile woman.
The protagonist brings this rock to bear on Rawhead’s skull, killing him at the end of the written story. The movie takes this a step further. The stone, more than a bludgeon, carries magical powers when wielded by a woman. These powers drive the beast underground once more.
Clive Barker specifically calls out the following, “The whole movie had to smell of sex”. Quite frankly, I barely see sex being a major theme of either the short-story or the film. Back to the Fruedian subtext, one must squint really hard to see that in the underlying story. I suppose that the really kinky could consider Rawhead dousing Declan O’Brien with urine a kinky golden-shower fetish. I feel dirty even typing that…
Clive Barker covers familiar ground in Rawhead Rex by intertwining organized religion into his tales. More than once his story involves a man of the cloth forsaking vows and turning to a dark god of Barker’s creation. This occurred in other Barker monster tales like Nightbreed and its printed companion Cabal. When Rawhead Rex gives Declan O’Brian an un-holy baptism by urinating on him, O’Brien renounces his former god and pledges his devotion to Rawhead.
Children taste the best
One of the more disturbing parts of the short-story concern Rawhead’s weakness for the sweet delicacy of children. In on of the more horrifying passages, Barker describes Rawhead fumbling through a ‘soup’ of children’s innards and happening upon a ‘sweet’ kidney. The film goes no where near that level of horror. However, Rawhead does at least claim Howard Hallenbeck’s son as a victim. Without gore or visible rending of the body, the scene fails to reach the horror of the original text. Robbie’s murder is more circumstantial and never really articulates the beast’s preference for child-flesh.
This serves as good a place as any to mention the lackluster acting. The Hallenbeck’s made it difficult to discern whether they had lost a son to a murderous monster or rather lost a highly competitive game of horeshoes. Their emotionless recital to the police cemented this film as a B-grade creature feature and nothing more.
Behold the Celtic god of Latex
One of the standard complaints about Rawhead Rex deride the “man in a rubber” suit. The visual design of Rawhead is actually quite spectacular. Quite honestly, the physical manifestation of Rawhead easily surpasses any description in the short-story. Likewise, the beast looks awesome in stills. However, the execution suffers from a complete lack of facial articulation and expression. The monster’s eyes stare at a fixed point in space, sapping any realism that it might have had.
At the end of the day, the lack of expression really weighs down an otherwise solid design concept. The film spends ample time with Rawhead in full frame close-ups, exacerbating the lack of facial movement. Over the course of 90 minutes, it’s impossible not to see just a “man in a rubber suit”.
Rawhead Rex, not enough meat
The biggest issues that befalls Rawhead Rex is that the story simply lacks the substance necessary to carry a 90 minute film. Its downfall doesn’t lie in the adaptation, but rather the story itself. That’s not to say that Barker’s tale is necessarily bad, but it’s just a really short-story. This is a long movie. When coupled with ineffective monster effects and a dull screenplay, it mostly disappoints. Rawhead Rex the Celtic pagan god goes out with a toothy-penised whimper.
Rawhead Rex (1986) - Tale of a gigantic penis? - Malevolent Dark
Director: George Pavlou
Date Created: 1970-01-01 00:33