by: Dr. Boogie
When you're an author trying to get your works adapted for the silver screen, you're bound to hit a few snags. In Clive Barker's case, the film version of his short story, Rawhead Rex, suffers from being really boring and not having a particularly effective monster. Both are bad news, especially when you're trying to make a monster movie.
So who, or what, is Rawhead Rex? Apparently, Rawhead was so uninteresting that even the people living in the area he used to terrorize have forgotten about him. But he has a secret weapon: a magical hope chest that implants knowledge of him into anyone that touches it, while simultaneously burning their hands.
In short, the odds were stacked against poor Rawhead from the very beginning.
Watching his pathetic life story, it occurred to me that his problems extend from four bad ideas that congealed into scenes that dried up, rotted away, and fell into the baskets of the desperate scrumpers that are the movie-going public.
#1 The Legend of Rawhead Rex!
No one knows anything about the monster. Nothing at all! There doesn't even seems to be any curiosity over why a single stained glass window in the town church, instead of depicting a saint or an angel, depicts a robed figure shooting a beam of light at some hideous hellbeast. And neither is there even the least bit of interest in why there's a giant, intricately-carved column of stone in the middle of a farmer's field on the outskirts of town. Hell, our title character isn't even given a name until former verger and professional magic box-toucher Declan steps in to clear things up:
Late in the film, we learn from the local church's parish records that ol' RR is some kind of Neolithic god worshipped by some long-gone civilization that lived in the area. Somewhere along the line, some competing group of overachieving cavemen came up with a method to subdue Rawhead. Again, one wonders how no one, in all the intervening years between Rawhead's last defeat and now, thought to ask about a drawing of a monster in a list of births, deaths, and marriages of churchgoers.
I can only imagine what the accompanying burial record must have read:
Name: Rex, Rawhead
Job: Junior Deity
Location of Burial: Under an enormous stone column engraved with images of his defeat and burial.
Date of Burial: Calendars haven't been invented yet.
#2 Rawhead Rex!
When Clive Barker first conceived of the story behind Rawhead Rex, the basic idea boiled down to, in his words, "a nine-foot phallus on the loose." He even gave it the name "Rawhead" just in case the phallic imagery hadn't been fully conveyed!
Shockingly, that idea did not coalesce into a particularly scary-looking monster. In fact, the closest thing to a compliment you can give to Rawhead's creature design is that he looks like a cross between an orc from Lord of the Rings, and Judge Doom from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Here's the thing about making a movie monster: if your monster is going to be portrayed by an actor in a costume, and that costume is really hard to move around in, then for god's sake don't show your monster trying to move around really quickly. Director George Pavlou took this idea and went in completely the opposite direction:
Keep in mind, too, that Rawhead is supposed to be some kind of demigod that primitive folk worshipped. Once he's freed, though, all he really does is kill a few people and wreck up their houses. Maybe I'm just too accustomed to younger, hipper deities, but I expect more from my objects of worship than minor vandalism and killing a few trailer park residents. At one point, he does hypnotize a police officer, but the only reason he gets any mileage out of that guy is because the rest of the cops are too dumb to move out of the way when he starts a fire.
He does do one memorable thing, and that leads us to...
#3 The "Baptism"!
Right now, Rawhead only has one follower: Declan, the guy who touched his magic box long enough to be converted. Rawhead decides to focus on locking down the faithful rather than drawing in new followers by doing something other than what he's been doing. Psychically bonded as they are, Declan knows that Rawhead wishes to give him a baptism, of sorts.
And so, in a private ceremony, Declan is baptized into the Sacred Order of the Chafed Glans:
There's no baptismal font nearby, so Rawhead pees on the eager verger. Talk about ingenuity! And Declan is totally into it, bowing his head so he can get his head totally soaked in monster urine, and laughing all the while!
The reverend looks on in horror as a former member of his flock gets a golden shower from a legendary beast. This is almost as bad as that time he saw his vicar getting shat upon by a manticore!
#4 The Idol!
No one in the town knows anything about Rawhead Rex, and their worthless police force has been wiped out by an especially effective gasoline fire. They should count their lucky stars that an American author is there to pick up the pieces. Right off the bat, Howard notices the stained glass window showcasing Rawhead's defeat is missing a piece that shows what object was used to stop Rawhead the first time. The windows, Coot explains, have been repaired dozens of times over the years. Luckily, the missing piece is located in another window in the church, having been removed from the original window and placed in that one because hey, why not?
Howard's good fortune continues when he discovers that the idol itself is in the church, too! The bad news is that it's inside that large wooden chest that's burning people and giving them Rawhead Rex-o-vision. The good news is that Howard finds a magic spell that undoes the curse placed on the- nah, I'm just kidding. He just props open the chest with a candlestick and yanks out the idol.
During their final battle, can't understand why holding the idol aloft isn't doing a damn thing. He drops the idol while dodging Rawhead's awkward swipes but his wife is there to pick it up.
Oh, it had to be a woman. That's what you realize when it starts working. Two minutes after that Howard says, "A woman. It had to be a woman." Yes, Howard. We were way ahead of you there. Only a woman can kill Rawhead Rex. A woman with statue that shoots lasers.
With the aid of the idol's incredible special effects, Rawhead Rex is defeated once and for all. I mean sure, he came back to life after being blasted by the idol once before, but what are the odds of him doing that again? Granted, they didn't bother to lay a giant stone shaft on Rawhead's corpse this time, but that was probably just piling on. Like a druidic version of dancing in the end zone.
Barker mentioned in passing that he might one day do a remake of Rawhead Rex. I assume he'll want to direct so he can have a little more control over the final product. That, and it would be nice if the remake featured a version of Rawhead that didn't look like a rejected character from GWAR's stage show.
Who knows: maybe a few years from now, I'll be telling you all about the most hilariously awful things about Rawhead Rex II: Raw Harder.
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