Synopsis: As a vicious wild boar terrorizes the Australian outback, the husband of one of the victims is joined by a hunter and a farmer in a search for the beast.
Stars: Gregory Harrison, Arkie Whiteley, Bill Kerr, Chris Haywood, David Argue, Judy Morris, John Ewart, John Howard
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Running Length: 95 minutes
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: To all of you out there that remember the halcyon days of the home video market I want you to stop and remember the beauty of the clamshell packaging for Warner Brothers releases. This was that lovely piece of black plastic casing with a vinyl cover that squeaked when you opened it, took up a phenomenal amount of shelf space, and often featured a full essay printed on the back of the box art that could spoil the whole movie if you read too far. I consider these mini treasures and while they were eventually replaced with the slimmer cases certain boxes remain seared in my memory, whether I saw the actual movie or not. The Neverending Story was one and, for some reason, Razorback was another. Featuring the art that you see on the poster above, for as much as I was a fan of the creature feature I’m surprised it took me as long as I did to see the movie itself.
Ever since Jaws debuted in 1975, there was an influx of copycat films that tried to recreate it’s man vs. beast success and most failed to come even close to what Steven Spielberg did. Spielberg traded on simplicity and suggestion of a creature many people had never seen close up and what those that followed failed to realize was that the more you showed, the less scary it was. However, with gore and violence becoming more popular it was go big or go home. By the time Razorback arrived from Down Under in 1984, there had already been two sequels to Spielberg’s original shark tale as well as imitators involving piranhas, orcas, bears, alligators, octopi, barracudas, as well as countless other monster shark features.
One of the rare examples of a Jaws rip-off that triumphs on its own merits and benefits greatly from its Oz-ploitation roots, Razorback really caught me off guard when I decided to give it a go one late night not so very long ago. I honestly wasn’t expecting much, certainly not the well-made and suspenseful yarn from director Russell Mulcahy I got. While it has its moments of careening awfully close to some of the same structure as Peter Benchley’s shark story with similar character archetypes, most of Everett De Roche’s screenplay (based on the novel by Peter Brennan) charts its own course forward into darker territory than Americans were used to.
You could almost say the film has two prologues before the main action begins. Opening with Jake Cullen (Bill Kerr) being attacked in his home by a huge razorback boar while babysitting his grandson and subsequent murder trial when the town doesn’t believe his tale of the massive predator, the film jumps ahead a handful of years when an American reporter (Judy Morris) also winds up encountering the creature in a terrifying sequence of events. Only when her husband (dependable ’70s and ‘80s soap opera hunk Gregory Harrison) arrives to search for his missing wife does the film begin to settle in and let the viewer acclimate to a community that is probably aware of a deadly presence but without resources to stop it.
While Mulcahy keeps the film as tight as he can, dotting solid thrills at opportune moments, he can’t keep the movie from dragging in it’s middle and it’s just because the story runs out of steam or, more precisely, characters that can adequately fill the action. Harrison is a vanilla-ish lead and while an added layer of conflict is introduced in an illegal canning operation in town from two scuzzy brothers (whom his wife also encountered), all we really want to do is see the boar in action because that’s where the excitement is generated the most consistently.
Thankfully, this is 1984 before the advent of CGI and the production team spent some decent money on several animatronic boars so we have actors interacting with something tangible and it shows how important that is to a performance. Mulcahy goes the Spielberg route and rarely shows the beast in full (whether that is because of budget or not, I can’t say) but it’s effective more often than not so that when the final confrontation in a dilapidated factory happens, we’re amped up enough to forgive anything that looks a little rubbery. Add in some truly impressive cinematography from Dean Semler (who would win an Oscar in 1990 for Dances with Wolves) and you’re riding high on a far above-average film that rises above its mere rip-off label.
If it tells you anything about my admiration for Razorback, I first watched it on a DVD copy checked out from the library but appreciated the viewing experience so much that I wound up buying an import BluRay copy from Australia. There’s good replay value here and if you can track it down, it comes with a strong recommendation. If only the BluRay came in an oversized black clamshell…ah…those were the days.