I thought I could try it once and quit any time. However, it seems I’ve now developed a taste for cult low-budget horror. This week I watched Rawhead Rex, a 1988 film in which a small Irish town is terrorised by the titular creature.
First disappointment: that’s ‘Rex’ as in ‘king’ rather than Rex Harrison or a family dog.
I’d be lying if I said that Rawhead Rex was so bad it’s good. It’s just bad. The story and dialogue were not so much written as typed laboriously with two index fingers. The acting is cardboard aspiring to be wooden. And the effects — fairly crucial to any horror film — are laughably cheap; Rawhead is clearly just a tall man in a tatty Hallowe’en costume.
Still, there’s something fascinating about Rawhead Rex. Its bad bits, notably any scene where someone is attacked, are full of unintended laughs. Irish stage actor Ronan Wilmot, best known as the slightly creepy coach (you know the one: “Kissy lips! Fancy trainers!”) from a series of Lucozade Sport ads around the turn of the millennium, puts in a seriously over-the-top performance as a possessed priest in thrall to Rawhead.
Sadly, an even greater Irish stage actor, the mighty Donal McCann, has a fleeting and unworthy cameo at the start. Remember, this was the same period in which McCann starred in John Huston’s The Dead and defined the modern portrayal of one of Irish theatre’s great leading parts, Captain Boyle in Juno and the Paycock. Squint hard enough and you can see the McCann household’s unpaid gas bill sticking out of his back pocket.
Another fine Irish actor phoning it in for Rawhead Rex is Niall Toibin in one of his default roles: superior local priest. On which point, another disappointment; you won’t see any future Father Ted cast members in Rawhead Rex. How can this be?
I’d say Rawhead Rex aspired to be An American Werewolf in London. It has a similar scenario of an American visitor confronting an isolated community’s demonic secret. But it gets nowhere near that film’s ace writing, horror and humour.
No, if I think of its contemporaries I have to conclude that Rawhead Rex is the Taffin of horror films — a flashy foreign production that comes swanning into small-town Ireland but ends up knee-deep in a muddy field looking ridiculous. Like Taffin with one now-notorious scene of bad acting by Pierce Brosnan, Rawhead Rex also has an ironic following. Both are equally bad, worth watching once as a laugh but no more than that.
Some solid citizen has posted the whole film online so you can watch it for free (below). Because let’s face it; you really shouldn’t have to pay good money to watch Rawhead Rex: