Razorback (1983) Razorback (1983/1984) ****

     Okay, now, Iím about to ask you to do something that may severely tax your powers of imagination, so brace yourself. Iím about to ask you to take seriously and accept on its own terms a movie about a huge, man-eating pig. I know, I know-- it sounds ridiculous, but hear me out. Razorback may be completely demented, but it has a lot going for it if you can just get past the essential silliness of its premise. This is one of the most stylish horror movies Iíve ever seen, right up there with the first two Hellraiser films, and if your powers of suspension of disbelief are up to the admittedly Herculean challenge that it presents, itís actually a genuinely creepy film.

     See if you can follow me here. As the movie opens, Jake Cullen (Bill Kerr) is babysitting his grandson out at his isolated Outback cabin. Without warning, a wild boar the size of a heavy-duty, extended-cab pickup truck charges through Cullenís house, destroying it and dragging the manís grandson off with it. We cut instantly to Cullen in a jail cell-- heís been charged with the boyís murder. Then itís on to a hearing to evaluate the evidence against him, to determine whether or not the case should go to trial. Cullen doesnít seem to be doing too well here (stories about monster pigs that eat children and knock over houses, causing them to burst into flames, donít often go over well in court), but the prosecutionís case must have been even weaker, because the charges are dismissed for insufficient evidence.

     Then, BOOM-- itís two years later in New York City. An animal rights activist named Beth Winters (Judy Morris) is planning a trip to Australia-- something about an Australian pet-food company called Pet Pak encouraging the wholesale slaughter of wild kangaroos and wallabies in order to get meat with which to make its merchandise. Beth would rather not go on this assignment, as she is six weeks pregnant, but apparently sheís some kind of international star on the animal rights scene, and her organization really wants her to handle the Pet Pak affair. So she and her cameraman (about whom the movie will shortly forget entirely) get on the plane, leaving her husband, Carl (Gregory Harrison from Trilogy of Terror), behind her.

     Beth doesnít exactly make lots of pals in Australia. I, for one, donít blame the locals. Not only is she this crusading goody-two-shoes from America on a mission to disrupt what must surely be the cornerstone of the local economy, she also comes across as a smug asshole. This particularly comes out when she has her run-in with-- surprise, surprise-- Jake Cullen. The old man drives up in his huge Road Warrior-looking truck, and Beth instantly pegs him as a kangaroo poacher. But sheís got it all wrong:

     ďHow do you respond to claims that the kangaroo is becoming extinct?Ē

     ďI donít hunt kangaroos. I hunt razorbacks-- boars.Ē This throws Beth off for moment, but she knows her business.

     ďBoars, kangaroos... either way, you make a living killing wildlife.Ē

     ďIf you say so...Ē When Beth asks how many razorbacks Cullen kills in a typical season, he tells her that there is no season for the animals, and she asks the obvious question:

     ďThen why hunt them?Ē

     ďI donít know... thereís just something about blasting the shit of a razorback that just brightens up my whole day.Ē That one stops Beth in her tracks, and for good reason. What possible reply or retort could there be in the face of such a statement?

     But Bethís problems donít really start until she starts snooping around the Pet Pak cannery. Here, she first encounters the Australian Deliverance brothers, Benny (Chris Haywood of Cars that Eat People) and Dicko (The Beastís David Argue), the latter of whom testified against Cullen at the hearing two years back. This is very bad news for Beth, because later on, these two poster boys for chromosomal non-disjunction will decide that the best way to deal with nosy American women with video cameras is to run their cars off the road in the middle of the night, beat them up, and try to rape them. They never quite get around to finishing that last part though, because at the crucial moment, they are interrupted by the timely arrival of that giant pig that killed Cullenís grandson. Dicko and his brother get back in their truck just as fast as they can and drive off, leaving Beth to be eaten by the pig in their stead.

     Sooner or later, though, somebody is going to notice Bethís absence, and that somebody is going to come looking for her. And it should come as no surprise that that somebody ends up being Carl. We immediately know that heís smarter than his wife, because, when he arrives in the Australian Outback, he has the good sense to pretend to be Canadian. He rapidly meets up with Cullen, who recognized Bethís death as the work of his old friend the pig (fell down a mineshaft, my ass!), and who points him in the direction of Pet Pak. Carl follows Cullenís lead, and ends up accompanying Dicko and his brother on a kangaroo hunting expedition. Carl isnít really cut out for this sort of thing. He attracts Dickoís ire by finishing off the Kangaroo that he had shot a moment before (apparently rigor mortis makes the animalsí meat too tough to butcher properly, so Dicko prefers to cut them up while theyíre still alive), and the boys drop him off to skin the beast while they go to look for more.

     So how not-cut-out-for-this is Carl? Well, letís see. First, he canít bring himself to skin the dead kangaroo, so he falls asleep on its carcass instead. Then, he gets chased through the desert all night long by a herd of razorbacks, which finally corner him up in a windmill that powers some kind of irrigation equipment. The pigs are in turn chased off the next morning by something very large that Carl never gets a good look at. After it leaves, Carl starts making his way across the desert again, trying to find his way back to what passes for civilization out here. Believe it or not, this is one of the most effective-- and certainly the creepiest-- parts of the movie. Carl spends his whole trek in the grip of a series of hallucinations and fever-dreams, and director Russell Mulcahy has a real knack for disturbing surrealism. Check out the scene in which the horse-skeleton monster claws its way out of the earth and chases Carl. Weird, weird shit.

     Anyway, Carl does finally make it out of the desert, arriving eventually at the home of a young female biologist named Sarah Cameron (Arkie Whitely from-- and donít tell me you didnít see this coming-- The Road Warrior). By one of those coincidences that this sort of movie would be lost without, Cameron happens to be a friend of Cullenís; sheís studying wild pigs, and Cullen is nothing if not the regionís foremost pig-hunter. She also knows about Cullenís monster razorback, and when she hears Carlís story, she instantly suspects that the barely-seen big thing that frightened away all the pigs was it. She calls Cullen immediately, and the old man drops by to see her before heading out into the Outback with a transmitter dart gun and a high-powered rifle. But true to Sarahís warning, Cullenís .303 scarcely even hurts the giant pig, and Cullen is forced to settle for tagging the thing with a transmitter.

     The next few days prove to be rather bad ones for Jake, and by extension, for Sarah and Carl. First, Jake finds the ring that Carl gave his wife for their anniversary in an abnormally huge pig turd. Then, word of Jakeís discovery linking Bethís death to the razorback finds its way to the ears of Dicko and Benny, who become understandably worried about the possibility that Jake has more information tying them to her death too. So Dicko does what you might expect him to do, and tracks the old man down in the desert one night to break his legs. The next morning, on the day that Carl had intended to catch the bus back to Sydney and return thence to America, the now-crippled Cullen finally gets his longed-for rematch with the razorback, and it does not go well for him. Sarah and Carl (who decided to stay in town when Sarah found the carcass of one of Jakeís dogs on the road-- Dicko ran it down on the way to work after his little date with its owner) find whatís left of Cullen in the pumping shed associated with that windmill where Carl spent the night earlier.

     It is at this point in the movie that Carl gets all Charles Bronson on the Deliverance Brothersí asses, an endeavor in which he gets a little fortuitous assistance from the razorback, which happens to put in an appearance at Pet Pak at the same time that Carl does. With Dicko and Benny out of the way, itís just Carl and the pig, and Razorback veers startlingly into Alien territory for the final showdown, which is naturally complicated by Sarahís arrival on the scene.

     I keep saying this, perhaps enough to trigger the ďMethinks the reviewer doth protest too muchĒ response, but the point cannot be overemphasized. Hiding underneath Razorbackís preposterous exterior is an authentically good movie. Mulcahy does a great job of playing up Carlís disorientation and culture shock by exaggerating the foreignness of Australian Outback society, while raising the fundamental hostility of the landscape itself to truly nightmarish proportions. Is it realistic? No, of course not, but I think that to complain about that here is to miss the point completely. The movieís handling of the monster itself certainly suggests as much. At no point is the presence of a rhino-sized razorback roaming around in the Outback ever explained, beyond Cullenís lawyerís suggestion at the hearing that the beast is some sort of freak of nature. Itís as though the movie is saying, ďlook, damn it, you donít need to know where the thing came from-- itís here now, and thatís all that matters.Ē What Iím suggesting here is that you extend that line of reasoning into the rest of the film-- to the floodlights hiding in all the fogbanks, to the wrecked cars that sometimes appear perched in the boughs of trees, to the Pet Pak cannery, which looks like it was designed by Terry Gilliam working from sketches by Hieronymus Bosch. Like I said, if your ability to suspend disbelief is at all flabby, this may be too much to ask. But if it isnít, you should get your hands on this one at the earliest opportunity.

 

 

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