Blu-Ray Review – Rawhead Rex

This film is probably best known for the fact that afterwards Clive Barker became very picky about adaptations of his work, so much so that he wrote and directed the next one, Hellraiser (since then there have been many sequels of course). The reason is clear when you see Rawhead Rex: it’s a terrible movie.

It was the second adaptation by director George Bablou, who had also done Barker’s Underworld. By the time the second feature was done, he and Barker were no longer friends. In this one there is an ancient demon who is a pagan god/werewolf (the “Rawhead Rex” of the title) who start killing people in the Irish countryside, with some of the worst special effects makeup ever seen. It’s based on a story from his well-respected “Books of Blood” series. Howard Hallenbeck is the hero who has to put them Rawhead in the ground.

It’s got all the critical stuff about the Catholic Church that you expect from Barker (who surprisingly was not a Catholic schoolboy), a gay writer who wrestled with a Christian upbringing, as is reflected in his stories. There’s no real sense of menace and that’s a shame, as although I have not read the original short story, it’s supposed to be absolutely brilliant (and the kind of story that would be hard to translate onto film). Thanks to the bad makeup, the ‘monster’ just ends up looking like someone in a Halloween mask.

While the press release trumpets the fact that audiences who remember seeing the film on a grainy VHS cassette can now see it on a “gorgeous”  4K transfer made from the original film negative, that’s actually part of the problem—the quality of what’s on screen doesn’t look better for being crisp and clear, it actually loses any fear factor. In the end, it’s a not very good monster movie with bad special effects.

The disc has the usual extras that you expect: commentary, interviews with cast and crew, etc. Probably the most interesting is an interview with Stephen R. Bissette about his aborted graphic novel adaptation of Rawhead Rex (it was eventually adapted, but not by Bissette).

Ian Schultz

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