There is a dream sequence midway through Russell Mulcahy’s 1984 horror film opus, “Razorback,” featuring a man walking injured and alone through the Australian Outback.
He is shoeless. His feet are bleeding. He passes a great chasm that zig-zags like a lightning bolt, and walks between monolithic stones rising from the ground at threatening angles. At one point, he sits down and tears scraps of material from his shirt, using them to tie up the wounds on his bloody feet. As a child – I was 8 when I first saw this film – I, for some reason, thought these unorthodox bandages were rope. Despite being sickened at this sight, I was ill-prepared for what happens next – a horse’s skeleton bursting forth from the ground and chasing him across the desert.
This grand imagery (you could blow up almost any frame from this movie and hang it in an art gallery) became one of the hallmarks of Mulcahy, who rose to fame directing music videos for Elton John and Duran Duran in the 1980s (he actually directed the first music video to appear on MTV, the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star”) and for whom this film was a feature debut.
And it shows promise. Taking a cue from “Jaws,” Mulcahy wisely keeps the monster offscreen for most of the film, suggesting the swine’s massive hulk through explosions and destructive rampages. Even at the climax, when the hero faces off against the monster atop a conveyor belt in a meat packing plant, the creature is mostly cloaked in darkness.
This hides not only the beast’s rather mundane barnyard origin, but also its apparently phony puppetry. (For those disappointed in the pig’s paucity on screen, they can take comfort in its second feature appearance, this time as the werewolf god in “Howling III: The Marsupials.” Yes, a pig plays a werewolf god.)
Now, the story in “Razorback” is simple enough. A reporter, concerned with the illegal hunting of Australian wildlife – and their subsequent use as pet food – comes to the Outback to investigate. There she is terrorized by a group of thugs, and eventually killed by the eponymous monster. Later, her boyfriend tries to find out what happened.
The film also explores the disappearance of a baby, who is allegedly carried off by the monster at the beginning of the picture. Several characters in the movie argue about whether a razorback is physically capable of such a feat. For those unfamiliar with the animal, a razorback is a feral pig, not a wild boar. It is essentially a domesticated pig that escapes into the wild and reverts back to an atavistic form, usually growing the tusks and hair of its ancestors.
So is “Razorback” a good film? Well, yes and no. I rediscovered it years ago while exploring the movie catalog of Mulcahy, whose work includes the visually imaginative “Highlander.” And as far as visuals go, “Razorback” is stunning, too. It opens up with a sweeping view of windmills and silhouettes in the Australian Outback, and ends with a tusked monster illuminated by rays of blue light in the shadows of an abandoned factory. But, it never becomes truly scary. And never really moves beyond its status as a knockoff of “Jaws,” although a good knockoff it is.
“Razorback” is available on Amazon Video, and on Amazon.com in both DVD and Blu-ray formats.
Films on the Fritz is a weekly column by N-D News Editor Matt Fritz, featuring analysis and reviews of cult horror, science fiction and exploitation films from the depths of cinema history to the present.