Horror movies of the monster variety are made of cheese. They are. It might be $3,200 a platter Swedish moose cheese, it might be an ordinary person’s splurge on Brie, it might be those cheese cubes you buy for parties but never for personal consumption, or it might be Velveeta, but it’s all still cheese. Occasionally you get one that makes you feel a bit more for the characters than “yeehaw, these bitches’ heads are coming off” but that’s usually because there’s a woobie character like Lon Chaney Jr.’s Larry Talbot in The Wolf Man. Well, Rawhead Rex is no woobie, and I’d rank this cheese about the level of queso that you dip your chips in at the local Mexican place.
Somehow, without the filmmaker being inept, Rawhead Rex comes off like a parody of a monster movie. I’m pretty sure they were playing it straight, but there’s an undercurrent of humor. Maybe I’m an asshole. But that’s not to say that I don’t like Rawhead Rex; on the contrary, I think all the ironic praise that is heaped upon Troll 2 should be equally applied here.
The winner of the 1986 David Naughton look alike contest, David Dukes, plays Howard Hallenbeck, a writer who has come to Ireland to research pre-Christian sacred places. Just as he arrives in town, a farmer and his two useless friends are trying to pull down an old stone totem-pole type thing (bad idea, as it is magically keeping Rex down) in the farmer’s field, while simultaneously a church service is going on. The church has some unique features: stained glass windows depicting a horrible monster and an altar that shoots fire into your hand if the wrong person touches it. The sun shines red through the monster’s eyes in the window, the priest (Ronan Wilmot) starts tripping out, and the ancient demon Rawhead Rex (Heinrich von Schellendorf) appears in the farmer’s field. Then he murders his way through town until Hallenbeck and his wife (Kelly Piper, doing her best Mary Woronov) find a way to stop him.
I have to say, I enjoy that fact that this is Irish horror, because there’s not a whole lot of that around, and the scenery is always great when a film is set in Ireland. The special effects are mostly good, and at least this wasn’t one of those irritating anti-pagan movies where the townsfolk are all worshipers of Rex who are trying to hide the truth from the outsiders. No, everyone is equally baffled and in danger during the rampage, and the two Rex sympathizers who do exist seem to be loyal to him because they’re possessed. I think it’s just the over-the-top acting that makes this movie not work on one level, and work too well on another.
The acting, maybe, and the fact that many of the people in the film are *ahem* not the type you’re used to seeing as actors. The scenes in the travel trailer park looked like they got people who actually lived in one and said, “now scream,” except for the one solitary pretty woman who was hired just so her top could be torn off by the monster. And during the climatic scene, when Hallenbeck’s wife is holding aloft a stone figurine from which blue fire shoots at Rex, the spirit of an old sorceress also flies out of the figurine; well, my husband yelled “Uglyyyyyyyy!!!” like a battle cry when he saw that woman come flying out, and I’m still laughing about it typing this now.
What I mean to say is, all the weirdness combines to make Rawhead Rex one of those perfect movies for riffing with your friends. We weren’t even drinking or anything like that and this was one of the funniest movies we’d watched in a long time. And if you don’t believe me, watch this video of the best acting by Ronan Wilmot. If you don’t click on any other supplemental video in any review today, click this one. This guy chews the scenery like Rex chews on people.
By the way, the baptism he refers to is Rex peeing on him in the cemetery outside the church moments before this scene begins, so maybe I’m wrong and this movie is intentionally funny. I know Clive Barker, who wrote the source material and the screenplay, didn’t like it. Watch it in its entirety sometime and decide for yourself. Alternatively, here’s a condensed version of the entire film set to a “moombahton” (what the fuck? stop coming up with musical genres; you’re making me old) track which includes music and sounds from the movie.