His name is RAWHEAD! And he’s now ready to terrorize the world in 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. Clive Barker may hate this film, but it’s a cheesy classic 80s monster movie that gives you a few frights and a few laughs. KLSC gives fans a new 4K UHD disc to salivate over with an excellent Dolby Vison transfer. Third time’s the charm if you can’t get too much Rawhead Rex - Recommended
This review was previously published with our 2017 Rawhead Rex Blu-ray Review
"But you don't believe in the Devil."
"No, I don't believe in the Devil! But something started the rumor."
Some movies are simply beyond criticism. Not necessarily because it's the best film ever made, but more because it's so bad it's endlessly entertaining. Such is the case for George Pavlou's 1986 production, Rawhead Rex. Loosely based on the works of Clive Barker and his screenplay, a tale of demonic Irish folklore horror is comically undermined by some cheap rubbery monster effects, dramatic overacting, stunted pacing, and is all the more entertaining because of its faults. It's creepy, silly, and wildly entertaining. A childhood favorite is finally given the glorious Blu-ray treatment it has long deserved.
It was supposed to be a simple working vacation through Ireland for Howard Hallenbeck (David Dukes), his wife Elaine (Kelly Piper), and their two children. They stop in peaceful, rainy Rathmore to look at an old church as part of Howard's research project about fertility cults. When a farmer attempts to clear his field of a particularly phallic stone, he unwittingly unleashes Rawhead Rex, an ancient evil that had been entombed in the earth for centuries. Aided by the deranged verger Declan (Ronan Wilmont), Rawhead traverses the countryside slaughtering and devouring people wholesale. With the police powerless to stop the monster, the key to the demon's destruction may lie in clues found in Howard's research.
Rawhead Rex is far from being a great movie - let alone a great horror movie. While there are some genuinely creepy moments like shots of the creature standing in a field with fire-red eyes holding up the head of his most recent kill, the rest of the movie is an over-the-top underfunded mess of B-Movie schlock horror. And I love every single second of it! I love the cheap attempts at drumming up scares through poorly-timed jump scares. I love the creepy but underused sense of atmosphere. I love the goofy rubber monster face with glowing novelty eyes and the cheesy shredded monster suit. I love how when the monster makes a kill, blood erupts like a geyser of red dye and corn syrup. Heck, I even love the overly dramatic music that plays whenever our hero and his family boringly drive through the countryside. It's 80s B-movie schlock at its finest.
A number of issues with Rawhead Rex rest with director George Pavlou, his producers, and their relationship with Clive Barker and the author's story collection "Books of Blood." In short, the guys pulling the strings and making things happen behind the scenes just didn't get what they were working with. They saw a means to jump on the rising popularity of horror flicks in the 80s and wanted to make cheap B-movies and reap some tidy profits. While popular, Barker's work was the wrong choice for that sort of cinema. By contract, Barker had to supply the screenplays but was then shut out of every creative decision. Like 1985's Underworld (better known as Transmutations stateside), Rawhead Rex floundered and went nowhere. As a result, Barker disowned the film and took creative control over all film projects based on his books and thus Hellraiser was born.
Warts and all, Rawhead Rex is one of my absolute favorite movies from when I was a kid watching my favorite Detroit TV station on Saturday mornings. Along with repeated viewings of Halloween II, Friday the 13th, Terror Train and Tales from the Dark Side: The Movie, Rawhead Rex was a repeat offender on WXYZ TV 20 "Thriller" double feature. I have great memories of watching this movie with my older sister and loving every minute of it. We used to have a game of counting the loud beep sounds used to cover up curse words in horror and I remember Rawhead had a particularly high score. At the time we thought it could be any number of bad words, but the funniest thing is that this movie isn't all that profane, they were merely beeping out words like "hell," "damn," or negative usages of "god." When you're dealing with a monster flick about a murderous demon you can imagine those words were used a lot.
As an adult, Rawhead Rex is simply a very guilty pleasure. In truth, the film isn't well made, but it's damn enjoyable. The clumsy use of odd-angle steady-cam trying to depict the creature's massive height and speed just adds humor to tension. When Ronan Wilmont's bananas verger Declan goes from 0-60 at the drop of a hat, you can't help but give a giggle. Then you have the titular monster with the ever-open maw of bloody rubbery teeth and crazy red glowing eyes. I tip my hat to German actor Heinrich von Schellendorf for doing his absolute best to give this monster life. But when all of his scenes were from long shots or middles and an animatronic puppet was used for close-ups, the poor guy got the shaft. You really can't do much with a prop head resting on your noggin like that. The rest of the cast does their best, David Dukes, in particular, is giving everything he's got, but it's not enough to surmount the film's numerous issues.
Those going into Rawhead Rex expecting a thoughtful and engaging examination of demonic horror and folklore will be left out in the rain. I say that as a defender of the movie. I've spent hours watching my Laserdisc with love and reverence, but not because it's good, but because it's such a silly and entertaining movie. If you're a lover of pure 80s schlock horror, the unintentional hilarity will make the journey worth it. The film's "baptism" scene alone should be enough to have you howling if the rest of the movie hasn't won you over.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Blu-ray
KLSC upends the phallic stone entombing Rawhead Rex on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a new two-disc set. The 4K version is pressed on a BD-100 disc with the same Region A disc from the 2020 SteelBook offering the film in 1080p and holding the bonus features. The discs are housed in a standard black two-disc case with reversible insert artwork and an identical slipcover. The discs load to a static image main menu with standard navigation options.
All images were sourced from the included standard Blu-ray, when we can we'll try to update the images and or include a 4K disc-sourced video clip.
I wasn’t expecting KLSC to be able to top their previous Blu-ray releases very easily, but somehow they did it. The new 2160p 1.85:1 Dolby Vision transfer was reportedly sourced from a brand new 4K restoration and the effort shows. The image is notably cleaner, there’s still some slight speckling here and there around optical effects and titles but it’s noticeably better than the past Blu-ray 1080p transfers. Details are often shockingly clear giving even more attention to facial features, and clothing textures. That rubber Rawhead mask never looked better! Film grain is a little better resolved than past discs but can still appear a bit noisy in places, the scene where Howard and Declan first meet is an example of this. It can look like some mosquitos got loose in the room. Thankfully scenes like that one are intermittent and were always noisy looking on the past Blu-ray so I'm feeling the added resolution and bitrate just make that film grain a bit more obvious. Speaking of bitrates, overall it's damned impressive holding in the mid-90s on average with several peaks well above 100mbps.
Dolby Vision HDR (and HDR10) works well for this release. Colors are enhanced without the color palette being drastically altered or blown-out primaries. The film has always been drab and creepy and that’s maintained so the only primary pop we get is from Rawhead’s bright glowing red eyes, a few yellow trucks and outfits, and the occasional splash of blue. Skin tones are healthy, a little less pink-ish than before but not nothing too sickly. Black levels are nice and strong giving the image some excellent shadows and depth with deep inky spaces. Whites are relatively crisp without blooming issues - the church altar is a great example. Again there's still a bit of intermittent speckling, but nothing too severe.
The same DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 audio tracks have been ported over from the previous discs.
Rawhead Rex arrives with a pair of audio options to choose from and both have their strengths. Between an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 or 2.0 stereo mix, you really can't go wrong. The 5.1 mix is well designed that spreads out the elements and gives the mix a great sense of atmosphere and space - especially during the quieter conversation segments. When the action kicks in and Rawhead attacks the mix really picks up and there is a lot of great surround activity. However, if you're a traditionalist, the 2.0 mix is also very effective. As one would expect, it's a bit more front-loaded but it's got plenty of punch and presence where it counts. Dialogue exchanges in both tracks are spot on and come through crystal clear - it's all the more obvious when and where certain actors had to loop their lines in. Screams of terror also get plenty of extra attention in the mix. Sound effects and scoring are fine without any interference. Both tracks are free of any damage or age-related hiss or pops.
The same bonus features from the 2020 SteelBook release have also been carried over. The audio commentary thankfully appears on the actual 4K disc. If you haven’t dug into the extras yet it’s a pretty great assortment of interviews. The only way it could get any better is if Clive Barker himself did an interview for it since he wrote the screenplay and the outcome of this film made him want to direct Hellraiser himself.
4K UHD Disc
One of the daffiest, silliest monster movies of the 1980s, Rawhead Rex also manages to squeeze in some decent scares and plenty of creepy mood and atmosphere. Though this film’s failure we were able to score Clive Barker directing his own Hellraiser film, and without that we likely wouldn’t have been able to enjoy Nightbreed or Lord of Illusions. Now KLSC returns to their deep well of releases to bring fans a brand new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray of Rawhead Rex complete with Dolby Vision HDR - and it’s another impressive disc. Enough to warrant a double dip? That depends on how much you love this film. If you’re a "Declan being baptized by Rawhead" level fan, then yeah you’ll appreciate this disc a lot. If you’re happy with the previous standard Blu-ray or SteelBook release, a new Dolby Vision transfer alone might not be worth the double (or triple dip). For the fans who waited, this is easily the best way to go. Recommended