MOVIE : “Razorback” (1984)
DIRECTOR : Russell Mulcahy
WRITERS : Peter Brennan (original novel), Everett De Roche (for screen)
SIX DEGREES OF CAST & CREW
- If you’re wondering why there’s a Duran Duran song in the soundtrack, it’s because director Russell Mulcahy did a pig-ton of their music videos. Also, “Highlander” (1986).
- Star Gregory Harrison recurred as Dr. George Alonzo Gates on the old “Trapper John, MD” series. Someone who bit-part’ed that show was Timothy Stack, who could also be seen in the “Starman” series. Also seen in THAT series was blaxploitation actor Raymond St. Jacques, along with… “Razorback” star, Judy Morris!
- Actress Arkie Whiteley sadly passed away in December of 2001. Some years earlier she was in 1994′s “Princess Caraboo”, along with a young Dougray Scott. Dougray would later do an episode of the “Highlander” TV series, as was spun off from the films initiated by director Russell Mulcahy!
- Actor Chris Haywood can be seen in 1982′s “Attack Force Z”, along with Mel Gibson. Mel had one year earlier been in “Mad Max 2″, along with the late Arkie Whiteley.
- Actor David Argue is found in “BMX Bandits” (1983), a film more famous for featuring a young Nicole Kidman. Seek ye Ms. Kidman in 1988′s “Emerald City”, alongside “Razorback” actors Chris Hession and… Chris Haywood!
- And finally, Chris Hession can be found in the regrettable “The Punisher” of 1989. An uncredited part in that “film” goes to the awesome Brendan Gleeson, later seen in 2000′s “Mission: Impossible 2″, with lead villain Dougray Scott!
The lore and lure of the “giant super-animal” sub-genre of horror/sci-fi is an inexplicable one, and deserving of novel-length write-ups in its own right. Such films are generally geographically limited to whatever starring creature’s natural habitats are, and as such a person ends up stuck looking at a lot of forest, lake, or in the case of films such as “Them!” (1954), “Tarantula” (1955), or “Tremors” (1990), expansive and dry desert. Add to those films (minus starting with the letter T) is 1984′s “Razorback”.
The animal aberration in this case is a king-hell boar, nicknamed “razorback” so as not to confuse its above-average size and aggression with the cuter Charlotte’s Web set. Our cinematic beast in this tale makes its home in the Australian Outback, so make sure you have plenty of water when viewing: this is one dusty locale.
Our lead razorback boar is somewhat of a criminal mastermind at first. Our opening scene has the creature smash its way through a semi-retired hunter’s farm trailer, abducting his grandson on the way through. Despite the inexplicably non-human damage inflicted to the home and the suffering of a broken leg, the grandfather is accused of killing his own grandson (and later released due to lack of evidence). His “razorback abduction” story is laughed off as well. The boar disappears for a couple years, until a journalist / animal rights activist from New York rolls into town for an expose on locals hunting kangaroo and processing their flesh into dog food. The woman employs some sneaky tactics for her scoop (ie. sticking a camera through a hole in the processing plant’s wall), and is promptly discovered and chased by the plant’s grimy (and apparently only two) workers. The dogfood scumbag brothers soon run her off the road and attempt to rape her, only to be attacked and scared off by the returning razorback boar. Said beast then devours the journalist, whose (apparently complete) disappearance is written off as her having “fallen down a mineshaft”.
I shall now proceed to say something crass and borderline misogynistic: it’s a good thing that this woman dies, because her husband is brought in to replace her as lead character. Is this typical “only-men-can-be-strong-heroes” scripting? Arguable, even though by this point (1984) there has already been a slew of mainstream horror films depicting females as not only strong leads, but sole survivors (1979′s “Alien”, “1980′s Friday the 13th”, etc.). But still, why do I feel glad that the apparent “lead” woman of this film is snuffed and replaced by a dude?
Truth be told, if this woman were to live and carry the rest of the movie, she would hardly be believable or even sympathetic. We only briefly see her homelife back in NYC, and a thin allusion to her being pregnant. She hops a plane to Australia and is killed within less than half an hour, so one can barely claim any reason to care for this person. This will sound even harsher, but her “Na-na-can’t-catch-me” attitude towards her assailants before being near-molested isn’t much more endearing.
In comes her husband, obviously wanting more information on her death than just an assumption that she fell down a hole somewhere in the desert. Gregory Harrison (playing Carl) is a far stronger lead and actor than his fictional counterpart Judy Morris, although with even less character development than Morris’, all we’re left to go off of is his motivation. It’s effective enough, but barely. Our sympathy towards him otherwise rides on the consistent and violent escapades he suffers by the skin of his teeth. Harrison is a decent and effective performer; there’s no coincidental gritty survivalist side to him, just pure luck. The film’s armchair-gripping suspense carries you through Carl’s ordeals in the desert enough that you don’t just blame him for getting himself into his messes, unlike his deceased wife who seemed to be practically begging to become pig-scat.
Amidst all this is the grandfather from the beginning of the movie, Jake (played by Bill Kerr). His Moby Dick-ish motivation is time-tested enough, and given an extra-familial boost from the death of his grandson. This character could easily have been cast by any chiseled-and-weathered Clint Eastwood-alike, and left to grit his teeth into the Australian sunset with no further emotion. Fortunately, Jake is presented as flawed and desperate, so many times howling in painful vain.
There’s an interesting double-villainy to “Razorback”. It’s obvious that the super-boar alone can’t pad out the tension of the entire film, and so we have the aforementioned kangaroo-grinding Baker Brothers, Benny and Dicko (played by Chris Haywood and David Argue, respectively). The slimy brothers are effectively individualized by Benny’s welding goggles and goatish bleet-laugh, and Dicko’s wild outfits and angularly creepy looks (like if Bo Hopkins had fathered Flea). These creepwads do provide appropriate human conflict to balance the razorback’s sporadic attacks, but what we’re given is downright overkill. The Baker’s are practically in every other scene, including Jake’s court trial at the beginning of the film! One wouldn’t be surprised if their total screentime was greater than that of Carl. The Baker’s overwhelming presence nearly overshadows that of the titular razorback. This problem is in turn countered with the intensely violent nature of said mega-pig.
Almost every scene involving the boar is very jarring and hard-hitting. The early death of Carl’s wife has her trapped in her car. In a sequence predating “Jurassic Park” by almost a decade, the woman turns her head to see the boar staring in at her. The music and sound drops for a decidedly tense moment, before the beast smashes on. We hardly see much of the (reportedly $250,000-costing) beast itself through the film, but from the get-go its impression is made and not easily forgotten. Even when, half-way through, Jake is able to haphazardly not only see the beast hanging around other smaller boars in broad daylight, but nail it with a few shotgun blasts before it scampers off. This does serve to demonstrate the boar’s toughness, but completely undermines its otherwise-mysterious nature.
Said daylight is perfectly balanced and paced with nighttime events, which are far more interesting to look at. More specifically, the film is littered with momentary cinematic postcards of fog-drenched moonlight sonatas. Either we’re secretly on Tattoine, or the art directors here are making no bones about shining perfectly-placed floodlights in the night desert. Admittedly it’s far cry from films of the 60′s shooting day-for-night, and it is photographed nicely enough. “Razorback” altogether is a visual enjoyment, for the most part, and the production quality makes you think it’s 1989 instead of ’84.
Sound-wise we’re treated to an occasionally jarring panorama of synthetic scoring and organic wildlife chattery, even if some of the animals sound a little Moog-ish (or at least eerily reverbed or delayed). The score is consistent and fairly thematic. The synth and keyboard tones throughout are borderline cheesy (one theme sounds like the Bowser’s Castle stage of the original “Mario Kart”), but by-and-large appropriately atmospheric.
“Razorback” is made to move swiftly and efficiently, but only ever negatively in regards to actors practically walking over each others lines. So many supporting actors (particularly David Argue) come off as under-rehearsed or even unskilled. Just the same, the writing displays fine moments of editing and continuity. One scene finely edits together a man shaking a cage into a new scene where Carl is shaken awake. Later, Carl is able to trap Benny Baker suspended over a mineshaft, excellent story-irony as he interrogates Baker as to what really happened to his wife.We otherwise truck right through the movie to a violent conclusion that is equal parts foreshadowed-logic, pisspoor editing, and “Terminator” -like sequencing. The film as a whole is sporadically sloppy, and yet unsuspectingly engrossing and somehow satisfying.
The question is… will the grandson from the beginning survive and become a Tarzan-raised-by-boars of the Outback, or perhaps an Australian Jason Voorhees?
RATING – 3.5 unused meathooks out of 5