Welcome to the first week of spring! With the ground thawing and nature awaking from its slumber, horror fans know that there’s more than allergies waiting outside for you. Natural or EcoHorror films have been warning audiences about our mistreatment of nature and its consequences for decades. Godzilla preached to 1950s filmgoers about the dangers of atomic energy. More recently, films like Splice and Black Sheep have cautioned against genetic modification and scientific interference with nature’s design.
This week we’ll be taking a look back at some of our favourite EcoHorror films. Our first EcoHorror film review is an example of what some film critics have coined Ozploitation. Razorback (1984) is a pretty obscure title; I remember seeing the VHS cover as a kid visitingthe local video store.
An Australian farmer, Jake Cullen, is babysitting his two-year old grandson when his house is attacked by a giant razorback boar. The toddler is carried off into the outback; Cullen is charged with the boy’s murder but ultimately acquitted. Two years later, an American reporter investigating kangaroo poaching goes missing after running afoul of two local poachers. Her husband arrives to find his missing wife but instead stumbles across Jack Cullen and the myth of a giant razorback that may still be terrorizing the outback.
Russell Mulcahy directed this Ozploitation horror thriller. To date, Mulcahy’s most famous directing credit still remains sci-fi-action hybrid Highlander. Prior to working on feature films, Mulcahy directed several high profile music videos in the 1980s. With this first feature directing effort, Mulcahy shows a surprising amount lot of restraint and inventiveness. Razorback’s premise could easily have led to a silly, eye-rolling joke of a movie. Yet Mulcahy keeps the tone serious and manages to put together an effective chiller.
For example, the razorback’s initial appearance and “abduction” of the toddler could have inspired laughs. Instead Mulcahy keeps the scene largely shrouded in shadows, relying on sound effects to inspire mood. The sound of the child screaming off in the dark distance plays as chilling not cheesy. While there isn’t much in the way of blood or gore in Razorback, there are a few good jump scares lurking in the film. The razorback’s attack on a car offers some creepy imagery, a good jump, and holds up remarkably well.
Lurking in the Shadows
Razorback takes a page from Steven Spielberg’s Jaws playbook, keeping its monster hidden for most of the film. There’s little doubt that this Ozploitation flick was a low-budget, B–creature flick. Mulcahy gets around inevitable concerns with creature designs by only giving the audience either quick close-up glimpses or long-distance shots that emphasize the razorback’s size. Both approaches work very for the most part. Jake Cullen scanning a herd of razorbacks through binoculars before catching a quick glimpse of one that looms over the others offers a fun jolt. Most of the close-up shots zoom on the razorback’s head and immense tusks; the effects largely hold up.
Like Jaws, the screenplay for Razorback also wisely opts to avoid over-explaining its mutant razorback. No silly expository dialogue is dumped on audiences. One character talks about odd behaviour changes in the local razorback population but no concrete explanation is ever offered. In fact, the real monsters for most of Razorback are the local poachers who prey on the Outback wildlife. With its human villains, the giant razorback can just simply operate as a nice metaphor for nature striking back.
Surprisingly Fun B-Level Monster Film
Most of Razorback still works after over 30 years. It’s a surprisingly well made B-monster movie. No one was ever going to get a Best Actor nomination for starring in a film about a giant killer boar but Razorback’s performances all get passing grades. There’s no stilted or over-baked performances of which to speak. Even with a silly premise, the giant Razorback still looks good, proving that practical effects are still preferable to CGI in the horror genre. If you’re a fan of natural or EcoHorror you’ll want to check out Razorback.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: B