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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Rawhead Rex (Blu-ray)
Rawhead Rex (Blu-ray)
Kino // R // October 17, 2017 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted October 13, 2017 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

Rawhead Rex was directed by George Pavlou in 1986 from a screenplay by Clive Barker based on his own short story of the same name (which originally appeared in The Books Of Blood Volume Three published way back when in 1984. The movie was previously released on DVD years back by Pioneer Entertainment in a fullframe transfer and on a disc devoid of extra features. Kino Lorber, however, have gone back to the original negative to give this one a full-fledged special edition Blu-ray release.

The story revolves around Howard Hallenbeck (David Dukes), a historian/writer travelling the Irish countryside with his wife Elaine (Kelly Piper) and their two kids Robby (Hugh O'Conor) and Minty (Cora Lunny). Howard, when the film begins, is interested in meeting with Reverend Coot (Niall Toibin), the minister of an old church that happens to have a few unusual stained glass windows inside. Before he can get to Coot, however, he has to get through curmudgeonly Declan O'Brien (Ronan Wilmot) who, after Howard leaves, places his hands on the church altar and experiences a strange vision.

Nearby, some farmers remove a massive stone fixture from the middle of a field, unaware that by doing so they've unleashed an ancient monster referred to as Rawhead Rex (played by Heinrich von Schellendorf and a lot of prosthetic effects work). As a storm appears out of nowhere, one of the farmers, Dennis Nicholson (John Olohan) and his wife Jenny (Eleanor Feely), learn firsthand what this monster is capable of. Soon enough, Rawhead is on a killer spree across the county, with O'Brien, baptized by the beast, serving as his minion leaving Hallenbeck out to put a stop to all of this…

"He was here before Christ, before civilisation. He was king here!"

Rawhead Rex isn't as terrible as some would have you believe, but it has one main issue that, in the case of a horror film that you're asked as a viewer to take seriously, is hard to look past: the titular monster in this movie is goofy looking. He's big, he moves fast, he's vicious and he does horrible things to people whether they deserve them or not, but the creature design in this picture is not good. Barker himself has even spoken out about it on occasion. Half the time the creature looks cross-eyed, at other times it looks sort of like a giant cross between a pig and a man, with its upturned snout, huge gapping mouth and elongated forehead. It's just a really strange, dopey looking design that might have looked good on paper but which doesn't look so good when turned into a guy in a rubber suit up there on the silver screen. To be fair, Heinrich von Schellendorf is not at fault for this, he plays the part as well as a guy in a suit can, really throwing himself physically into the role and throwing his weight around with plenty of energy and enthusiasm. But regardless, it's hard to be frightened of this monster, and that takes a lot of the punch out of the film.

Having said that, there are aspects that work. The scenes involving an increasingly controlled O'Brien are done well, his baptism scene in particular is still pretty disturbing and genuinely unnerving. Ronan Wilmot is quite good in his part, bringing his character closer to complete insanity as the creature goes on its spree. David Dukes is a decent enough hero in the film, he's not your typical musclebound hunk but instead a completely believable ‘everyman' type concerned the most with keeping his family safe. He plays this part well. The cast of supporting actors are also fine.

The movie has some decent atmosphere, much of which stems from shooting on location in the United Kingdom and taking advantage of the countryside setting. Camerawork is decent as is the lighting, the film looks quite good. Add to this some impressive murder set pieces and better than average gore effects and horror fans should find something to appreciate here. Rawhead Rex is no unsung classic, but it's a decent enough hour and a half of entertainment, a popcorn film that could and should have been much scarier than it is but that still manages to hold our attention and provide a few cheap thrills along the way.

Video:

Rawhead Rex makes its Blu-ray debut in North America on a 50GB disc in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 widescreen in a transfer taken from a new 4k scan of the original negative. This is a really strong transfer. The image shows excellent detail not just in the foreground but the background as well, making the locations all the more interesting and atmospheric. Skin tones look spot on, black levels are nice and deep while the darker scenes thankfully avoid crush and compression issues. There's no noticeable edge enhancement or noise reduction, so we get a nice film-like image that shows a natural amount of film grain. At the same time, there's virtually no print damage here at all, barely a speck! It's hard to imagine the film looking much better than it does here.

Audio

Audio options are provided in DTS-HD 5.1 Surround Sound and 2.0 Stereo options with removable subtitles offered up in English only. The 5.1 mix is pretty solid, spreading out the effects nicely in the scenes where the movie calls for it and for the most part keeping the dialogue up front in the mix. The 2.0 track obviously doesn't do that, but both mixes are clean, clear and nicely balanced providing good atmosphere and treating the score nicely. Hiss and distortion are never a problem, dialogue stays clean, clear and concise.

Extras:

Kino has gone all out with the extras for this release, starting with an audio commentary featuring director George Pavlou and moderated by Stephen Thrower (he of Nightmare USA, Beyond Terror and Murderous Passions fame and a familiar name to anyone who watches extras on cult and horror movie releases these days. Thrower is very familiar with Clive Barker's work (his old band at one point composed the original unused soundtrack for Hellraiser) and he's obviously quite literate in the ways of filmmaking and genre pictures. As such, he's able to get Pavlou talking in quite a bit of detail about how he came to oversee the project, his thoughts on the film, shooting on location in Ireland, the effects work, the contributions of the different cast and crew members and loads more. the levels are a little low on the track so you might need to turn it up but it's a good listen, packed with information, facts, trivia and interesting stories about the production.

After that, be sure to check out the extensive selection of interviews starting with a twenty-one minute piece featuring Heinrich von Bünau, the man who played the monster in the film. Conducted in his native German (the rest of the interviews are in English), with subtitles provided in English, here he speaks about how he came to perform in the film, what it was like playing a monster, his thoughts on the picture and much more. Even without the makeup on it's interesting to see the resemblance his facial structure bears to the creature he played! Up next, an eleven minute sit down chat with Ronan Wilmot about his time spent in front of the camera. He speaks about his character, what it was like on set, working with Pavlou and more. The next featurette runs twenty-three minutes in length aind interviews special effects team members Gerry Johnston, Peter Mackenzie Litten, John Schoonraad and Rosie Blackmore. More technical in nature than the other interviews, here they cover what was involved in bringing Barker's demonic creation to life, the intricacies of certain makeup effects required for the film, challenges that they ran into adapting the source material in the way that they did and plenty of other related topics. The last interview is with Stephen R. Bissette, comic book artist, monster fan and instructor at the Center for Cartoon Studies. He speaks for just under twenty-one minutes about his thoughts on the book, the movie, the effects, the themes that the film deals with and more.

Rounding out the extras on the disc are a two minute long animated behind the scenes image gallery, the film's original theatrical trailer, animated menus and chapter selection.

In addition to what is include on the disc, this release also comes with a color insert booklet that contains an essay by Kat Ellinger that rightly makes the case for the film's inclusion in the ‘folk horror' subgenre. Some concept art showing off creature designs accompanies Ellinger's text. The cover sleeve insert features some nice reversible art and the Blu-ray case itself fits nicely inside a limited edition slipcase featuring new art by Sean Phillips.

Final Thoughts:

Rawhead Rex is far from a perfect movie, the monster is just too goofy looking for its own good, but it does have some nice atmosphere, some interesting effects work and some decent performances. More importantly, it tells a good story. Kino has gone all out on the Blu-ray release, stacking the disc with extras and presenting the film in beautiful shape. If you're a fan of the film, this release comes highly recommended. It's a pretty massive upgrade over the old fullframe DVD!

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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