You wouldn't be far off if you called me a huge fan of Clive Barker. I pretty much love the guy's work whether it's written or being put to film. I loved Midnight Meat Train more than most, I still think Hellraiser is one of the creepiest movies ever, and I always find myself getting lost in whatever Barker book I stumble upon. One of the first books I read by Barker was the Books of Blood Volumes 1-3. There were several stories that stood out, but one of the main ones that has always stuck with me over the years was Rawhead Rex. It's powerful, it's engrossing, and it's considered to be one of Barker's best short stories. So a film version of one of Barker's best should already have enough momentum to at least be decent at the end of the day. Unfortunately that isn't the case. Somehow Rawhead Rex became incredibly lame and plagued by 80's cliches somewhere in between its transition from novel to film.
Did you ever used to watch "Doug"? The animated series on Nickelodeon with Porkchop, Quail Man, Roger Klotz, Patti Mayonnaise, and Skeeter? There was an episode called Nightmare on Jumbo Street where a horror movie hits the neighborhood where everyone in town sees it and is talking about it, but Doug closes his eyes and misses the ending. He stretches out seeing it again because he's scared, but when he finally gets around to seeing the ending he realizes you can see the zipper on the back of the monster's costume. That's kind of the way Rawhead Rex is except you basically see the metaphorical zipper as soon as Rawhead shows up. He looks terrible. It basically seems like a wrestler running around in a glorified ape costume. The mask looks like it's made of rubber except the facial features twitch occasionally, he's cross-eyed all the time, has two mouths in addition to one of those plastic sets of pecs and abs to make him look ripped, and his fingernails grow and shrink at will. Rawhead Rex basically looks like an ape raided Vernon Wells' leftover Road Warrior outfits and then decapitated and hollowed out the head of George, the King Kong-like character in the 1986 (made in the same year as the film) arcade game Rampage and wore that as a mask. Any of this sounding awesome yet? Oh, it's just getting started.
I'm about to spoil the hell out of this movie mostly because it's out of print and practically impossible to find. Nearly all of Rawhead's kills end in some sort of obviously fake appendage or mannequin being used. Low budget films can be incredible, but it's usually when they're able to hide the fact that they were made so cheap. Rawhead Rex decides to embrace this fact while saying, "Let's show Rawhead trying to bite this guy's neck even though his mouth doesn't open wide enough, it appears as if he's nibbling on the victim's cheek, and Rawhead looks like he's barfing blood on the guy rather than the blood coming from the victim's flesh wound." The monster is also territorial, which doesn't sound so bad until his territory is a trailer park. Rawhead not being creative with his kills doesn't really help matters either. It's pretty much all decapitations and claw swipes. One of the more bizarre moments in the film is when Rawhead Rex kills a man at his home and then goes after the man's wife. Rawhead destroys the inside of their home, but spares the woman when he realizes she's pregnant. The monster leaves and a friend of the couple shows up. When the friend finds the wife, he asks if she's alright. The woman clinches her fists and GROWLS at him before pausing for a moment and bursting into tears. That reaction should be used on unwelcome Jehovah's witnesses who come knocking at your door.
The last half of the film is even worse. A magic rock saves the day. It's kept in a glowing red box in the Ireland church. Once the rock is used to help stop the monster, it uses the cheesiest 80's special effects imaginable. "So if I'm a chick and I lift this rock over my head, I'll have a laser light show right in my own back yard? Righteous!" The stone makes an appearance in the original story as well, but it's at least used in a way that comes off slightly less ridiculous than a rock that shoots lasers. The film just plays out in the worst of ways. A man tries to save a woman that Rawhead is about to slaughter, but winds up tearing her dress instead and we get our only nudity shot in the film. She bumps into a tree and dies. She's supposed to be thrown, but the impact is about as rough as accidentally bumping into somebody in public. Rawhead Rex is nothing like the source material. I was surprised they kept the vicar's "baptism" scene in there.
Rawhead Rex is the type of film that gives horror a bad name; it's cliche, the monster is obviously a man in a rubber suit, it's predictable, and it's basically just meaningless gore. It's like the film tries to throw a little bit of the actual story in there near the end of the film, but it's too little too late. The damage has already been done. Rawhead Rex is pure cheese, but it's not even good cheese. It's like that hunk of cheese you've had in the fridge for a year and a half that's covered in three inch thick green mold. This film is out of print for a reason. Don't hunt it down unless you're a die hard Clive Barker or major horror fan. I implore you though to give the exceptional short story a read or to read it again if you have already.