Rawhead Rex (1986)

*. “Cheesy” is a word that gets used a lot when people talk about bad movies. And more so with movies than when discussing books or other works of art. But what does it mean?
*. The Oxford English Dictionary labels it slang and offers as a definition “inferior, second-rate, cheap and nasty.” To this I think I’d want to add that, like cheese, people like it. Even though you know it’s crap that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. Also like cheese, it ages well. For some reason, cheese made in the 1980s seems to taste better today than it did thirty years ago.
*. Rawhead Rex is a cheesy horror flick. It’s very bad. Some people consider it one of the worst horror films of the 1980s, which is high praise indeed (and it’s usually meant as praise). It is also a lot of fun.
*. The keynote is the monster Rawhead. The movie opts to show him to us in all his glory as soon as he’s raised from his burial pit at the beginning, not bothering with the suspense of a slow reveal. And he is laughable: a big guy with a stupid, immobile rubber orc mask that has hypnotic red Christmas-tree lights in its eyes. He is, in other words, a total block of cheese.
*. The rest of the movie is just as terrible. Incompetence is demonstrated in every department of the film’s making: wrong-footed editing, terrible sound, stiff acting, and a ludicrous script. And then there are moments of sheer bad-movie hilarity, like the “baptism” in the graveyard (I won’t give this away) and pretty much the entire last ten minutes, which is capped with a predictably nutty final shot.
*. It’s loosely based on a Clive Barker short story and he also wrote the script. Perhaps the one good thing that can be said for Rawhead Rex then is that Barker hated it so much he insisted on making Hellraiser himself.
*. So definitely inferior, second-rate, cheap, and nasty. But also fun. Not a movie you’ll want to watch more than once, but well worth checking out sometime if you get the chance.

5 thoughts on “Rawhead Rex (1986)

    1. Alex Good Post author

      I could see it. The way Rawhead is described in the story he cries out for CGI. His head is like a giant mouth filled with rows of teeth. I imagine something like Venom or what Pennywise looks like in the recent adaptation of It.

      On the other hand, as it stands I think they’d need to come up with more of a story to make it worthwhile. The original story is too simple, with Rawhead being released and then just going on a rampage. That’s not very interesting. I also don’t know what they’d do with the “baptism” scene. A low-budget piece of schlock like this could get away with such a scene in the ’80s, but today? I can’t think of any good way of handling it.

  1. Tom Moody

    I actually found the baptism fairly disturbing, back in the day. I remember thinking that Barker was among the first to bring a kinky/S&M dimension to horror “entertainment.” This element had been present in the occult (e.g. Huysman’s La Bas) but up to that point it hadn’t really infected our screens. Barker was upping the stakes in that era (just as Lynch did around the same time): showing that “submission” to the creature was more than just following it around. The fact that you think this element might not be included in a remake suggests it’s still touchy and not entirely ludicrous.

    1. Alex Good Post author

      It’s interesting that that scene is even dirtier and more extreme in the story. But I think the problem with doing it today is that audiences would be less shocked by it and see it as just ridiculous. It would still be surprising, but not in as disturbing a way, despite remaining pretty much taboo. At least I can’t think of many subsequent movies off the top of my head that have gone as far with that particular kink. Let the Corpses Tan is the only one I can think of, and it was just a weird movie.


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