With horror industry heavy hitters already in place from the 1970s, the 1980s built upon that with the rise of brilliant minds in makeup and effects artists, as well as advances in technology. Artists like Rick Baker, Rob Bottin, Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff Jr., Tom Savini, Stan Winston, and countless other artists that delivered groundbreaking, mind-blowing practical effects that ushered in the pre-CGI Golden Age of Cinema. Which meant a glorious glut of creatures in horror. More than just a technical marvel, the creatures on display in ‘80s horror meant tangible texture that still holds up decades later. Grotesque slimy skin to brutal transformation sequences, there wasn’t anything the artists couldn’t create. It Came From the ‘80s is a series that will pay homage to the monstrous, deadly, and often slimy creatures that made the ‘80s such a fantastic decade in horror.
If Jaws taught is anything, it’s that even nature can inspire the most terrifying of creature features. Otherwise referred to as “Jaws on Trotters,” this Ozploitation gem merges a gritty outback story in the vein of Mad Max with the Jaws horror blueprint, but with a giant razorback boar. Based on Peter Brennan’s novel of the same name, Razorback opens with one ballsy scene that features Jake Cullen tucking his two-year-old grandson in for bed, when a giant boar smashes through his house and carries the child away into the night. Suspected of murdering the child, Jake is accused and acquitted, shattering his reputation and sending him on a quest for vengeance against the beast.
In an adjacent story, an American wildlife reporter comes to the outback for a story on a shady pet food factory that hunts and uses kangaroo meat in its processing. The reporter gets into trouble with the thugs who run it, and her subsequent disappearance leads her husband Carl to travel down under to find out what happened to her. Carl and Jake’s paths eventually collide, thanks to the monstrous warpath of the Razorback.
That there’s a Mad Max vibe to the film isn’t surprising, considering director of photography Dean Semler was brought on based on his work in Mad Max 2. Director Russell Mulcahy (Highlander, Resident Evil: Extinction) was hired for his first feature film based on his work in music videos, namely for Duran Duran, and his use of fast cuts and tracking shots that wound up becoming his trademark was vital to what made Razorback intense.
Effects artist Bob McCarron (Dead Alive, Dark City, The Matrix) designed six different boards for the film, each with specific purposes. A huge chunk of the film’s budget went to constructing a massive animatronic razorback, but like Bruce in Jaws, it never quite looked realistic enough for Mulcahy to want to film it. So, just like Bruce, this $250,000 animatronic contraption that took up a large portion of the budget was only seen in the film for a few short minutes. Mulcahy had to get creative with his shots and sequences to keep the razorback frightening.
That the animatronic beast wasn’t quite realistic looking, forcing more creativity, meant a similar less-is-more terror to Razorback’s monster. The isolated, eerie dreamlike setting with the unexpected moments of mammoth pig ramming into his prey made for excellent scares. That you never really got a good look, save for his ferocious, tusked maw, made the beast almost supernatural. Razorback proved why good direction can be just as important as special effects in creature features.
Given a small limited release theatrically in November 1984, Razorback didn’t fare that well. A cast of unknowns wasn’t exactly a draw, and its plot too closely resembled Jaws. The irony is that Mulcahy originally wanted to cast Jeff Bridges for the role of Carl, but producer Hal McElroy felt Bridges lacked international appeal. Even still, Razorback hasn’t had a decent home video release stateside and is ripe for the Scream Factory or Arrow Video Blu-ray treatment. I’d be willing to bet that there are a lot of stories waiting to be told about production, and the uncooperative animatronic beast.
Even with its close Jaws resemblance, the Ozploitation flair, Mulcahy’s direction, and the bold kills by the beast make this film a fun watch. Razorback killed indiscriminately and without mercy. Characters you expect to survive don’t, and hell, Razorback opened with a bold death of a small child. Razorback may not be the most obvious creature feature, but it does prove that man versus nature horror films tend to be effective for a reason.