Rawhead Rex (1986)

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 waiting!"

And let us not forget this wonderful exchange between the press and the police:

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?

Last updated: February 26, 2010

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Rawhead Rex 1986

Rawhead Rex 1986

Rawhead Rex 1986

Rawhead Rex 1986

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