RAWHEAD REX (1986) Blu-ray
Director: George Pavlou
Kino Lorber Studio Classics

RAWHEAD REX "lives again to feed again" on Kino Lorber's special edition Blu-ray.

Visiting the Irish village of Rathorne in search of Neolithic sites, American writer Howard Hallenbeck (David Dukes, GODS AND MONSTERS) – traveling with wife Elaine (Kelly Piper, VICE SQUAD), son Robbie (Hugh O'Connor, THE YOUNG POISONER'S HANDBOOK), and daughter Minty (Cora Lunny) – takes interest in a small church with a stained glass window depicting the vanquishing of a demon but the Reverend Coot (Niall Toibin, THE SLEEP OF DEATH) is ignorant of the whereabouts of parish records and the verger Declan O'Brien (Ronan Wilmot, TAFFIN) is unhelpful to say the least. Nearby, farmer Garron (Donal McGann, HIGH SPIRITS) attempts to shift a pagan phallic pillar from his field unleashes a vicious man-eating beast that lays waste to the town. While Inspector Gissing (Niall O'Brien, EXCALIBUR) and the local constabulary are investigating revenge killings and wild animals, Hallenbeck attempts to discover how the pagans were able to defeat what the unhinged verger believes to be the devil himself.

Based on one of Clive Barker's best short stories from his six volume BOOKS OF BLOOD series, RAWHEAD REX is a gory eighties take on the British "folk horror" film tradition of the sixties and seventies – represented primarily by the likes of BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW and THE WICKER MAN but also encompassing a number of television plays – that has since seen a resurgence with Ben Wheatley's KILL LIST and A FIELD IN ENGLAND, Hammer's WAKEWOOD, and (to a lesser extend) THE WICKER TREE. Besides the rural Irish setting, whisperings of paganism, and an ancient evil that may be god or beast conflated with the Christian devil, RAWHEAD REX has its basis in actual British folk mythology as one of the many beasties used to scare children into staying in their beds at night. Barker's short story is gruesome and upfront in its representation of Rawhead as the destructive male id that wants only to eat and fuck (as opposed to breed) in that the creature in the story is described as a giant "rampaging phallus". The script by Barker as directed by George Pavlou (LITTLE DEVILS), who had previously directed the Barker-penned TRANSMUTATIONS, not only understandably downplays much of the story's content but also fails to translate much else. Rawhead is reduced to a standard monster lurching out of the dark to kill farmers, necking couples, and children rather than the beast who thinks himself a god and the people in his path the invaders on his age-old hunting grounds, while the Irish-isms of the locals are just as heavy-handed as the American-isms of the protagonist and his family. Dukes and Toibin just get by with his dignity while Wilmot gives the only truly inspired performance chewing the scenery and making one wish the creature (as designed by PROMETHEUS' Peter Catling and realized by SLAUGHTER HIGH's Peter Litten and crew) were worthier of his devotion or the majesty of Colin Towns' (THE HAUNTING OF JULIA) orchestral score. Hampered by a similarly low budget, Barker himself would show them how it was done the following year with more ingenuity and ambition in HELLRAISER.

Released theatrically by Empire Pictures and on home video by Vestron and laserdisc by Image, RAWHEAD REX was released on DVD in 2002 by Pioneer Entertainment in a barebones, open matte fullscreen transfer. Derived from a new 4K scan of the original camera negative, Kino Lorber's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer, RAWHEAD REX easily blows the earlier transfer out of the water. Where once was haze is more evident diffusion that does not inhibit detail, colors are more saturated (particularly those red laser eyes of the beast shining through the stained glass and seeming more so now a possible unconscious influence on the verger). The technical shortcomings are just as apparent with head-on and side-long insert shots of the monster dropped into first unit work of John Metcalfe (SATAN'S SLAVE) that is stylish at best and lacking coverage at other times. There are a couple insert shots of Rawhead's head that actually look more like a puppet than the animatronic seen in others. Some of the opticals are grainier than the rest of the footage but it suits the rough-hewn look. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 remix is still very front-oriented but the surrounds do give depth to the score and goose the viewer with growls and woodsy sounds while also calling attention to the sound design which hints at pagan influences even early on. The Dolby Stereo mix is also offered in a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 option. Optional English SDH subtitles transcribe all of the dialogue with a little paraphrasing.

Stephen Thrower moderates an audio commentary by director Pavlou who had come off of TRANSMUTATIONS/UNDERWORLD with producer Kevin Attew – shortly after producing AFTER DARKNESS with Pavlou's film school friend Dominique Othenin-Girard (HALLOWEEN 5) – who had optioned the rights to five Barker stories. Pavlou reveals that he stuck close to Barker's screenplay but a short prep period, financial issues, and weather stopping the shoot at several points ate up the schedule, preventing him from getting the coverage he wanted (although he does not really address the shortcomings of the adaptation to begin with). He admits to being "not 100% satisfied" with the creature and reveals that American distributor Charles Band (GHOULIES) imposed American editor Andy Horvitch (ANDROID) on the film, but also gives credit where due, particularly to art director Len Huntingford (CHARIOTS OF FIRE) for the church sets he was able to build with little money. Thrower remarks on some of Barker's seeming concessions to the slasher market in the film but also provides some background on the Rawhead myth including its citation in a story of M.R. James as well as a British nursery rhyme.

Rawhead actor Heinrich von Bünau provides an interview (20:57) in German with English subtitles describing how he became involved with the project, the casting of his make-up and costume, the monotony of sitting around the set and wearing it all day in the likelihood they shot something with him, scaring the locals, and his feelings on the end product. Wilmot appears in a fun shorter piece (11:15) in which he acknowledges his scenery chewing but felt as a professional that it was appropriate for the role. "RAWHEAD REX: A Cock and Bull Story" (22:34) is a featurette with the effects crew, including Litten who cops to "adjusting the design" of the phallic beast despite Barker's disapproval, mold maker John Schoonraad (HIGHLANDER) conveys his excitement as a young effects artist to get to work on the project in a real effects workshop, special effects supervisor Gerry Johnston (ZARDOZ) delineates his unit's responsibilities from the make-up and visual effects units, make-up artist Rosie Blackmore (JAMES JOYCE'S WOMEN) relates how it was her first time doing prosthetic wounds on a larger scale and also conveys something of working with the effects unit in "savage weather" while second unit cameraman Sean Corcoran (AN AWFULLY BIG ADVENTURE) is uncertain as to whether the inserts shots he did with the head and shoulders animatronic of the beast were actually scary or matched the man-in-the-suit shots.

Artist Stephen R. Bissette, instructor at the Center for Cartoon Studies, provides an interview (20:54) describing his work in comics and his ambition to push the envelope with horror comics and the impact of the sudden appearance of the six volume BOOKS OF BLOOD from the heretofore unknown Barker. He describes "Rawhead Rex" as the "best monster story" he had read and where the film had failed thematically. He goes on to describe his effort with fellow illustrator Michael Zulli to create a two-part serialized graphic adaptation of the story – with enthusiastic support from Barker – to be published in his own comic anthology TABOO followed by a graphic novel edition from the company that had purchased the rights to Barker stories. The endeavor came to a halt when the company was bought out by Eclipse Comics (who subsequently created their own adaptation). The disc also includes an animated behind-the-scenes image gallery (2:11) and the film's R-rated theatrical trailer (1:05). The reversible cover features the American theatrical poster art on the front and the Vestron video pillar artwork on the reverse, and the case comes housed in a cardboard slipcase with new artwork. Diabolique Magazine's Kat Ellinger provides an informative essay couching the film within Britain's folk horror tradition and touching upon the origins of the Rawhead myth. (Eric Cotenas)