Sunday, October 23, 2016

HubrisWeen 2016, Day 18: Razorback (1984)

Pigs in Western society are mainly thought of as cute, cuddly, disgusting, and delicious. Naturally, this drastically oversimplifies the truth. Pigs, even the domestic variety, are cunning and voracious omnivores that should never be underestimated--and they can grow to be huge, with some breeds weighing up to 790 pounds.

Wild pigs--including razorbacks, naturally--are even more dangerous, especially since most species of wild pig are social animals. That means that you're likely to run into many wild pigs working together, and if they decide you look like dinner you may not have the chance to disagree.

Still, even one wild pig of sufficient size is a major threat. So imagine how horrible it would be to run into one that was to the average boar what ol' Bruce in Jaws was to the average great white shark.

Well, unfortunately for Jake Cullen (Bill Kerr), he's about to find out how horrible it can be. Cullen is a season kangaroo shooter, but he clearly has a soft spot for his two-year-old grandson, whom he is babysitting while his daughter is called away on some sort of business. Even as seasoned as Cullen is, though, he is still caught off guard when a wild boar the size of a rhinoceros charges out of the night, breaks his leg, and then barrels through his house, dragging his grandson away as it goes. It also knocked something over that sets the whole house ablaze as Cullen wails in grief for his lost grandson.

"Only you can prevent razorbacks from starting forest fires."
Well, the authorities don't believe in mysterious giant razorbacks that nobody else has ever seen, so under the opening credits we watch as Cullen is put on trail for murdering his grandson. One of the key witnesses is a poacher named Dicko Baker (David Argue), who works at the local PetPak pet food factory with his brother, Benny (Chris Haywood). Dicko never cared much for Cullen, it would seem, and is all too happy to lend his expert testimony that such a wild pig couldn't exist or drag off a toddler. However, ultimately there is not enough evidence to convict Cullen.

Two years later, in New York, we join professional animal rights shit-stirrer Beth Winters (Judy Morris) as she comes home from work to her husband, Carl (Gregory Harrison), who is cooking for her whilst wearing what appears to be a Frank-N-Furter apron! Beth sees Carl is watching her latest piece on animal cruelty in the cattle industry on the kitchen TV, where she harasses a very angry rancher who tells her to go waste time protecting the insects that people kill every day--they're animals, too, after all.

Side note: I am honestly not sure if the movie is on Beth's side or not, but I'm sure as hell not, at least not at this point. I'm also amused by the fact that even though they're both supposed to be American, Beth is clearly Australian.

At any rate, their anniversary is coming up and Beth tells Carl that she's a bit upset because she has been approved to go to Australia to cover the story of kangaroos being poached and chopped up for pet food. He's happy for her since she's wanted to do this for ages, but she doesn't like being away from him--especially since the dialogue hints that she is in the early months of pregnancy. He encourages her it will be okay and the gives her a ring for their anniversary.

Beth was right to worry, however, because the locals take an instant dislike to her and her cameraman. It's mostly just them being surly to an outsider at first, but she quickly gets their dander up by going into professional nuisance mode--starting by bothering Cullen when she sees him drive up in his huge hunting truck with dogs in the back, and his friend in the passenger seat, whom we'll later learn is a local rancher named Sarah Cameron (Arkie Whiteley). Beth takes Cullen for a kangaroo poacher, but when he tells her he hunts boars she is momentarily thrown off but tries to harass him for still killing living animals. However, she's not expecting him to be so honest as to say, on camera, that he does it because there's just something about blowing away a razorback that makes his whole day.

Admittedly, without knowing his backstory that could seem a bit harsh.

However, she quickly makes finds herself on Benny and Dicko's radar, which Dicko makes clear by throwing darts at the wall by her head while she tries to call her husband to check in. Well, she then decides to borrow the camera and head to PetPak by herself, which could not be a bigger mistake. She gets footage of Benny and Dicko butchering kangaroos in the truly grotesque factory, sure, but Dicko sees her and tries to grab her camera. He only succeeds in pulling off the lens assembly and she flees in her rented car.

However, it was dusk when she filmed them and it's full night when the Baker's terrifying kangaroo hunting rig comes barreling out of the night and runs her off the road. As Benny eggs him on with the spotlight, Dicko pulls her from the car and beats her before making his intent to rape her quite clear. Unfortunately for Beth, the roving POV cam that slams into the Baker's truck and scares them off is not her salvation. Instead, once she crawls back into her car, the giant razorback reveals itself to her--which she greets with an expected amount of dazed incredulity--before it tears her car open like a can opener. She attempts to flee out of the smashed windshield, but she doesn't make it.

"License and registration, ma'am."
There's nothing left of Beth the next morning when Cullen and the local tow truck come upon the destroyed car but dried blood. Well, there's also a huge cloven hoof print near the car, so Cullen intones that his old nemesis has returned.

Via a dream that he has while sleeping on the bus to this particular stretch of outback, we see Carl learn of his wife's disappearance and see that Jake Cullen was one of the last people to see her alive when he reviews her recovered footage. Carl is no fool, though, and while he's straight with Cullen when he finds him, he knows better than to announce who he is to everybody. Therefore, when Cullen directs him on how to find the Baker brothers, Jake pretends to be a Canadian tourist looking to hunt kangaroos.

The Bakers warmly invite him in, at least as much as they can given their lifestyle as potential cronies of a Mad Max villain. They put him to work in the factory first and then invite him into their creepy cave home. The Bakers do bristle a bit when he mentions Beth Winters after hearing that tourists tend to go missing in the area, but they just tell him that the official story says she fell down a mine shaft. However, that makes them a bit suspicious of him and it's only about to get worse because when they take him hunting for kangaroos, Carl's decent nature immediately finds itself at odds with their sadism. When Dicko shoots a kangaroo and doesn't kill it, saying that the animals are too hard to butcher once rigor mortis sets in, Carl pukes on Dicko and then takes a cleaver to kill the wounded animal and put it out of its misery. For that, the Bakers toss him a blanket and promise to come back for him in a few hours--when they're naturally just ditching him.

Carl tries to sleep, but is first plagued by nightmares and then awakens when he realizes the herd of wild boars--and the huge razorback on their heels--is no dream. He flees for his life, finally taking shelter by climbing up an old windmill by a watering hole and a pumping station. However, the next morning he is awakened by the boars trying to get at him. The ravenous beasts manage to knock the windmill over into the pond, but Carl manages to avoid serious injury. The pigs also can't get at him, which he assumes is because they can't swim--but that's actually not true because pigs definitely can and do swim.

However, for whatever reason these pigs feel swimming over to eat him is too much effort. Carl catches a brief glimpse of the giant razorback on the hill, but not enough to make out details. Luckily for him, the pigs eventually disperse and he begins his trek across a desert in search of civilization.

Now, here is where the film gets weird, as we are placed into Carl's head space as he wanders deliriously. So we see alien towers of rock, a huge crevasse, and--most memorably of all--the truly nightmarish image of a horse skeleton clawing its way out of the dirt and chasing Carl.

I don't know about you, but I sure didn't expect "horse zombie" to be a thing I would see in a movie about a killer pig.

This summer: the proverbial dead horse beats back.
Luckily, Carl finds his way to Sarah's ranch before he can encounter other hostile hallucinations. He startles her when she's showering in an outdoor stall on her property and then passes out. Sarah nurses him back to health and they discuss his wife. Sarah has also heard the mine shaft story, but she also is good friends with Cullen because she has gotten a research grant to study the feral pigs and he helps her out. This means that she not only knows his story about a giant razorback, but she actually believes him. Especially since she has been finding signs that something is affecting the normal behavior of the pigs--not only are they so stressed that she found one with stress ulcers, but they've taken to cannibalizing their own. She thinks Cullen's razorback is somehow responsible for this.

When Cullen brings her a young pig to tag and release, he comes in and talks to Carl. Hearing that Carl has seen the giant boar by the pumping station, he decides to stake out that spot immediately. Sarah begs him to take a dart rifle with to tag the beast since she doubts his rifle will be able to kill it and at least they can track it that way. Cullen grudgingly agrees to take the dart rifle.

Sarah is proved right when Cullen sights the beast standing behind an abandoned truck by the watering hole and lets loose his three dogs on the herd of pigs to drive it out into the open. His bullets only irritate the animal and he just barely tags it before it disappears over a dune. When he makes a cast of a hoof print to have as proof that the beast is real--never mind why he didn't do that when there was a clear print by Beth's car earlier--he notices something shiny in the huge pile of pig crap.

Target: Porcine Orthodontics!
Cullen delivers Beth's ring to Carl, offering his condolences and assuring him that he is going to kill the beast responsible. Cullen says he is going to camp out by the pumping station and wait for the boar to return. Carl, meanwhile, has decided there is nothing keeping him in the outback, to Sarah's chagrin, and makes plans to leave. Sarah, meanwhile, radios in to the town and vaguely says that Cullen has found out what happened to Beth Winters. The Bakers overhear this and assume it means they're about to be implicated in her death.

So the two bastards jump Cullen at his camp that night. Dicko taunts the old man, but the slightly less horrible Benny knocks him out and tells Dicko to get on with it instead of being excessively cruel. So Dicko breaks both of Cullen's legs and then kills all but one of his dogs. Cullen awakens in the morning and sends his surviving dog to get Sarah. Unfortunately, the dog takes the same road that the Bakers are on and Dicko runs it down with his truck. (Boo, hiss!) However, on her way back from dropping Carl at the bus stop, Sarah sees the dog and realizes Cullen is in trouble. She picks up Carl and they race back to the pumping station.

However, they're too late. Cullen has dragged himself to the relative safety of the station, but it's basically just a corrugated tin shack. The small pigs can't quite get in, but the Razorback tears through it like tissue paper. So Cullen has been effectively reunited with his grandson when Sarah and Carl arrive on the scene. But Carl notices marks in the dirt and remembers how Dicko used to toss his cleaver into the dirt repeatedly--which I honestly don't think we actually saw.

So while Sarah goes and rounds up the locals to form a pig hunting posse following the tracking device, Carl rams a truck through the Bakers' trailer--interrupting Benny while he's using the facilities. When Carl reveals who he is, Benny flees, trying to keep his pants up as they run through a field of holes. Carl loses track of Benny beside a pulley rig that leads down into a mine shaft--only for Benny to reveal he's hiding in the shaft when he slashes at Carl's leg. Bad move. Carl lowers the rope deeper into the shaft and kicks gravel at Benny as he demands the truth. Benny doesn't quite give it, first claiming he wasn't there when Beth died and then claiming it was the boar and he had tried to save her. Eventually, the furious and disgusted Carl just walks off and lets Benny fall to his death.

Well, the posse only turns up a small pig where the big one is supposed to be, so they decide to give up and go home, despite Sarah's objections. They also don't listen to her when she says the tracker is now showing the beast is over at the PetPak factory. Little does she know, as she heads over herself, that Carl has just arrived at the factory to confront Dicko, which means he gets there just ahead of the razorback. After a struggle in which Carl narrowly avoids being shoved into two rotating blades by Dicko, Carl quickly runs Dicko down with his own truck and takes aim at him with spotlight and rifle. However, Carl can't quite bring himself to shoot the man.

The razorback has no such qualms. Dicko flees from the beast, but chose a poor path as he strands himself in a dead end gully. Every root or tree branch he grabs for a hand hold breaks under his weight and soon the razorback is having him for lunch. Carl heads into the factory and soon finds himself in a game of cat and mouse with the boar. It's a game he's losing most of the time, finally finding himself dangling just out of its reach. It's then--to his horror--that Carl hears Sarah arrive outside.

Despite his best efforts to warn her and keep the razorback away from her, the boar seems to chase Sarah down. Overcome with grief and rage by losing another woman he cares about to the pig, Carl becomes more intent on killing it. He manages to impale it on a piece of metal when it charges at him, but all that does is get him good and covered in its blood when it does the "slide down the sharp thing towards the person who stabbed you" move. (Also, pay no attention to the fact that the blood spray is obviously not coming from where he stabbed it)

"So that's why they call it a pig-sticker!"
Freeing himself, Carl climbs up on the conveyor belt and taunts the beast until it follows him. At the last second, Carl jumps to safety by grabbing a hanging pig carcass, but the boar goes over the edge into the spinning blades. In a death rather reminiscent of the lawn mower in Dead Alive, the pig is turned into mulch by the blades.

Carl shuts off the machinery, seemingly stopping it from blowing sky-high. Happily, as he staggers toward the exit Carl finds Sarah dangling in some chains, unconscious but alive. When she comes to, the two cling to each other in a relieved romantic embrace. Roll credits.

Oh, and I forgot to mention the two pointless scenes where we see a fat rancher discover the boar has been raiding the store of meat in his shed while he was watching a comedy show on TV, and then he sets a trap for the beast--only for it to tear part of his house off when it escapes the trap, dragging his TV into the darkness. I didn't include it in my synopsis because I forgot when it happened and it doesn't really add anything to the rest of the film, other than a bit of comic relief, as the guy is not eaten by the pig nor is he a character we see at any other point.

It's also clearly an odd take-off of the scene in Jaws where the two guys bait the shark with a holiday roast and barely escape with their lives when it destroys the dock.

"Here's piggy!"
It's fair to say this is a divisive film. When I first heard of it, it was from a friend who had seen it and thought it was horrid and decried the death of the film's monster as ridiculous. (He wasn't entirely wrong on that last bit) However, most reviews I see of it tend to be very positive.

My girlfriend did not like it, though her reasons stemmed from a specific failing of the film I will address shortly.

When I first saw the film after getting the Warner Archive DVD, and again watching it for HubrisWeen, I was pretty fond of it. As Jaws rip-offs go, this wouldn't top my list for a variety of reasons, but it's way better than almost anyone would expect a movie about a killer pig to be.

For starters, there's a fascinating fairy tale aesthetic to this film, not too different from what we'd see four years later in Stan Winston's glorious Pumpkinhead. Despite this being an Australian film, or perhaps because it was, this film paints the Australian outback as a fevered nightmare that only wants to kill you. It's a deliberate choice, too, since there is clear effort to make the environs look otherworldly even when they're routine--from rusted cars that are impossibly nestled in the crook of trees, to constant fog and shafts of light, and finally the industrial nightmare that is the PetPak factory.

This is a film that is surreal when its characters are awake and then uses the dreams and hallucinations that Carl experiences to put the audience even further off balance. There's no question that this is a film full of arresting imagery and beautiful shot compositions.

However, just because a film is pretty doesn't make it good. Now, for the most part, I would say that Razorback is a good film, but it has some profound defects. For starters, the issue that bothered my girlfriend so much: there are essentially two women characters in this film and they are treated as virtually interchangeable. Both are attractive blondes and our hero essentially goes from trying to find the one to falling in love with the other. I mean, Carl seems to be building a romantic connection with Sarah before he even knows that his wife is actually dead!

Even as much as I disliked Beth before her excessively brutal death, she deserves better than that and it makes Carl come off like a jerk. I don't care if there was a scene cut that revealed they had an open marriage, he should not be jumping into a new relationship that shortly after his primary partner was eaten by a fucking pig. However, I can't lay the blame on this film entirely, as it has long been an irritating horror cliche that if our hero is a man, the women around him will be disposable.

Frankly, it might have been more compelling to keep Cullen as the hero instead of making him the Quint.

The other issue involves the titular boar. From what we can see, it seems to be a competently designed animatronic--albeit usually too obviously robotic in its movements--but the filmmakers wisely keep it largely in shadow and obscured to make it more effective. Unfortunately, they also resort to some inexplicable rapid cuts around scenes where the boar is clearly seen--most egregiously when Cullen is shooting it and when Carl is leading it to its demise. I don't know if these cuts were meant to obscure the boar or to generate excitement, but they just end up being irritating and ruining the artfulness of the rest of the film.

Honestly, the poor choices the film makes just make it a little more understandable that the director would later be responsible the worst of the Resident Evil films, Resident Evil: Extinction. I mean, none of those films are truly good, but at least most weren't boring.

That being said, this isn't a bad film. It loses its way a few too many times and it could maybe have used a more solid script, but when it works it works pretty damn well. For an R-rated Jaws rip-off, the film is surprisingly light on gore with all of the Razorback's victims being devoured off screen, and even its death is pretty bloodless considering. Rather like the largely superior Rogue, it lets the implications do the horrifying instead of just grossing its audience out. And even with the title monster's limitations as an effect, it's a nightmarish piece of work.

If you haven't seen it, I recommend giving it a chance. It's not great, but it is lovely to look at and you might even find it gets under your skin at times.

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  1. The way the movie treats Quatermass is interesting--on the one hand, he is almost a caricature of the "inhuman scientist", repelling pretty much everyone with his total assholishness, but on the other hand, the movie seems to hold him in high regard for this unwillingness to compromise his vision of the advancement of knowledge.

    Certainly the Quatermass in "Quatermass and the Pit" is much less of an asshole.

    I assume you've seen "X the Unknown", the unofficial 4th Quatermass movie? (the main character isn't named Quatermass, but he might as well be.)

    1. Oh yes, I love X THE UNKNOWN. Only reason I've never reviewed it is that the only copy I had of it is the VHS release and I don't have a VCR any more, nor do I know where that ended up.

  2. HOLY DAMN! This is the movie my parents and I were trying to remember! All we could remember was that it was about killer pigs, there was a scene where someone loses their pants and that it was rated R. For some reason, we didn't think the R rating was warranted. Granted, it was a new release when we saw it (so, 1985?) and PG films then had nudity and "foul" language. I'll have to watch this again and see if it holds up to what 10-year-old me loved! Thanks for the great reviews!