Rawhead Rex is everything that’s wrong with horror. Seriously.
Now that I’ve gotten your attention, let’s look at some good things. First, Clive Barker is a phenomenal writer: he took literally the most boring way to open a story ever, a two page description of his setting, and somehow kept me interested. Once Rawhead Rex (AKA, Satan himself) actually enters the story, the reader gets tossed between several different characters. One would think that at least one of these would be uninteresting, however, Barker pulls it off. Every single character seemed real, deep, and gritty. This is classic of the horror genre, and should be applied (at least in my opinion) to fantasy and sci-fi as well. In addition, Barker’s setting, sense of a greater story, and prose should make this a good story. I would even say that technically it’s the tightest story we’ve read in the Horror RIG so far…yet, in my opinion it come up short and lacking.
Despite the obvious technical skill of the writer and his skill with building sympathetic characters, the story comes off as very senseless to me. Sure, I get it, horror is supposed to be a little senseless, a little horrible…but Rawhead just took it to a whole new level. Thematically, it was pretty dead. In fact, I had the thought that if this story ever gets a movie re-boot (yes, it was adapted for the screen in 1986), Michael Bay would be the perfect director––because Michael Bay’s movies are just like Rawhead Rex: Technically beautiful, mildly interesting, yet so totally and completely lacking in the “human themes” department.
The second problem I had with Rawhead was the fact that the monster was just so darn overpowered. Sure, its gets killed in the end by a mob of angry humans, but it’s just so powerful that anytime a new character was introduced, I knew they were going to die. There was no suspense, not even the pretense of a fight. Barker gave me strong characters, but he didn’t give me anyone to root for, and that’s ultimately what I look for in a story. Sure, Ron suddenly has an epiphany and gets handed a magic fix to the story’s problem and he overcomes his jello-arms to grab some pagan statue that somehow came to be hidden in the center of a Catholic altar…and he beats Rawhead’s skull in with it…but it all came too easy for me. No one struggled in order to obtain their goal; everyone just died and blundered there way into it–and sure, life works that way sometimes, but stories require more justification than real life. If you wake up in the morning and are in a bad mood, you don’t need to have an explanation. But if your character is inconsistent there’d better be a reason or your readers will call you on it. Personally, I didn’t find it entertaining to read about a monster that eats children and “baptizes” people in urine–maybe it would have been worthwhile if we had followed a consistent character throughout, and maybe it would have been worthwhile if there was more semblance of a struggle. Alas, there was not.
Oh, and the total desecration of the church, crucifix, and books bothered me for religious reasons, obviously. And also because it was never really established that holy things affect Rawhead. It would have made sense if he feared God or feared the eucharist or something…but all he feared was a pagan statue of a pregnant woman. (subtle jape at the church by the way, Clive, with “all that time they’d bowed their heads to a goddess). ANYWAY, that’s just my personal preference there.
So, to recap Rawhead Rex:
1) great technical writing, you can really see Barker’s talent as an author
2) strong, gritty, believable characters that I was instantly interested in.
3) lacking an obvious theme
4) gratuitous violence/desecration
5) Overpowered monsters.
So I’m at a bit of a dilemma. The writing and characters in this story deserve a 5/5. Truly, some phenomenal stuff here. However, the crazy violence/overpowered monster/personal preference really make me want to give it a 2/5. Personal preference aside, however, I’ll go with a 3-3.5. Anyone who has heard me talk about writing/had their story reviewed by me knows I drive character into the ground. And this story deserves a passing score simply because of how Barker writes his characters.