Movie Discussion: Russell Mulcahy’s Razorback (1984)

  • Monthly Theme: Ozploitationrazorback-movie-poster-1984-1020189667
  • The Film: Razorback
  • Country of origin: Australia
  • Date of Australian release: April 19, 1984
  • Date of U.S. release: November 16, 1984
  • Studio: McElroy & McElroy, et al.
  • Distributer: Warner Bros.
  • Domestic Gross: $150,000
  • Budget: $5.5 million (estimated)
  • Director: Russell Mulcahy
  • Producers: Hal McElroy & Tim Sanders
  • Screenwriter: Everett De Roche
  • Adaptation? Yes, from the 1981 novel Razorback by Peter Brennan.
  • Cinematographer: Dean Semler
  • Make-Up/FX: Bob McCarron, Brian Cox, et al.
  • Music: Iva Davies
  • Part of a series? No.
  • Remakes? No.
  • Genre Icons in the cast? No.
  • Other notables?: No.
  • Awards?: Cinemtographer of the Year at the 1984 Australian Cinematographers Society. Best Editing and Best Cinematography at the 1984 Australian Film Institute.
  • Tagline: “A new breed of terror.”
  • The Lowdown: We begin with this giant-boar-run-amok cult gem. Directed by Russell Mulcahy, who went on to direct the beloved fantasy/sci-fi hybrid Highlander (and to launch both Showtime’s American adaptation of Queer As Folk and MTV’s current hit show Teen Wolf), the film concerns two men – Jake Cullen (Bill Kerr), a rural hunter whose grandson was carried off by the giant razorback, and Carl Winters (Gregory Harrison), an American yuppie whose wife (Judy Morris) disappeared in the Outback while filming footage for a tv exposé on the area’s kangaroo-hunting industry. Both Jake and Carl find themselves on the hunt for the massive, carnivorous wild boar. They also have to tangle with two depraved local kangaroo hunters, Dicko (David Argue) and Benny (Chris Haywood). The film has a striking, almost surreal visual style. When it came out Razorback didn’t do well at the box office or with the critics, but it has gone on to become a cult artifact, and is now considered one of the definitive “Ozploitation” pictures of the 1980s.

If you haven’t seen Razorback our discussion will include massive SPOILERS. 

Sean: I am nervous about our discussion.

Kristine: Why? 

Sean: I just cannot imagine a universe in which you liked this movie. I hold this movie dear to my heart and I am sure that you were like, “dumb” while watching it. Am I right? I want you to be mercilessly honest, by the way.

Kristine: Okay. I didn’t love it. I thought it was a perfectly serviceable monster movie. It was… fine. Some parts were less than fine. Some parts were kind of great. But you hold this movie dear to your heart?? I’d like the back story on that. Now.

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A taping of The View goes horribly awry

Sean: The story is this: You know I was a horror movie freak as a kid. From the ages of, say, 6-to-17 I was obsessed. And before I was old enough to rent horror movies for myself (and also, in the days before the proliferation of VCRs) I saw a great many horror movies randomly on tv without any context or anything, usually in the middle of the night. I would just flip around the channels until I found something that seemed scary. This was one of those movies – it just came on at like 2 in the morning when I was like, 11, and I loved it.

Kristine: I think the middle of the night is the best way to see this movie. WHY were you sure I could never like this movie? 

Sean: Because it’s just got “Not for Kristine” written all over it: monster movie, lots of boy dramz, silly FX, silly dialogue, retarded leading man….

Kristine: The ladies were a disappointment. Overall, yeah, you are pretty right on in your assessment of how I experienced the movie.

Sean: I knew it. It doesn’t have any je ne sais quoi.

Kristine: I do think there is a little je ne sais quoi in the surreal mise-en-scène, which was my favorite thing about the movie.

Sean: Yeah, it’s got a real expressionistic flair – the intense colors, the vivid landscape shots, the dramatic lighting schemes like the light filtering through the windmill in the opening scene, the random shooting stars in the sky during establishing shots, the gigantic moon hanging low in the sky in so many nighttime scenes. This director shot lots of Duran Duran music videos before he did this movie.

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Snoopy-dog is so bored with the macho

Kristine: I did a wiki look-up on him, so I knew about the Duran Duran connection. Did you catch that Beth [ugh] was rocking out to “New Moon on Monday” in her car before she got bashed by the rape-mobile (a.k.a. the Jeepers Creepers truck)? 

Sean: You mean a.k.a. Mick’s truck from Wolf Creek, surely.

Kristine: Sure. I also read that this director did Highlander. Talk about a “Not for Kristine” extravaganza. Jesus. 

Sean: He was also instrumental in the Showtime version of Queer As Folk. He is a total Ozmosexual.

Kristine: That is weird. He is an odd one. Instrumental in what way?

Sean: He was one of the stable of directors in the first season who like, worked with the creators to adapt it into a cable hit for Showtime. He directed five Season One episodes, including the first three.

Kristine: Well, I got zero homo vibe from Razorback. In fact, I was icked out by the heteronormative coupling that we have seen so many times before (The Mist, etc.). I really didnt care about Carl and Sarah and Beth at all.

Sean: I am dying. One of my big points about this movie is that it has a very rich queer sensibility…

Kristine: Why? Because Carl wears that novelty French maid apron and cooks dinner? Because I have things to say about that. 

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Transgendered aprons are such a yuppie thing

Sean: Yes, Carl’s apron is part of it. But first I need you to know that Greg Harrison, the actor who plays Carl, is a total 1980s gay icon because he was the star of this trashy made-for-tv movie about a male stripper called For Ladies Only that the gheys adore. He also played Torch, the shirtless male ranchhand in this camp Carol Burnett tv miniseries called Fresno

Kristine: I had no idea. 

Sean: So just the fact that it is Greg Harrison playing Carl brings the beefcake queer-o realness (the actor is straight – in fact he’s been married to Bonnie from CHiPs for 33 years and has 4 kids with her he’s just an icon for the gheys). But what really gives this some queer subtext – and let me reiterate that when I say “queer” I mean non-traditional/non-normative… heterosexuality and queerness are not necessarily opposed to one another – is the fact that this movie, despite having a lot of macho swagger in it, is a male melodrama. (A good contemporary corollary for this movie and its specific blend of machismo and melodrama is the Liam Neeson survival thriller The Grey). Razorback has a lot of histrionic, overly emotional outbursts from the fellas. The movie is all about how emo and hard it is to be a hetero man in the post-feminist 1980s. Of course, the gender politics of the Beth/Carl marriage have a lot to do with that. But the fact that Carl’s a total metrosexual who cooks for his wife and who is super supportive of her career and who shaves with an electric razor on a public bus is part of the movie’s overall queerness for me. When he’s hanging with Benny and Dicko in their vile lair, he wants to take a shower and “lie down for a bit.” How GQ is that? Plus, Dicko is also a queer figure in my mind. I guess my argument rests on two things: (1) that the movie reconfigures what it means to be “masculine” in ways that are non-traditional and that (2) the gender positionings in the movie are thus fluid and shifting, even though there’s still a lot of sexist/misogynistic content to the movie. The movie recontextualizes Carl in a much more normative state by the end of the movie, but for what it’s worth it’s still a bit queerer than the average 1980s monsterfest. I have evidence to support these claims, but before I go there, what do you think?

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Biblical man-meltdown

Kristine: First of all, which of the gruesome twosome is Dicko? 

Sean: The lead one who gets eaten by the giant boar. The one who is going to rape Beth.

Kristine: Okay. We need to discuss Dicko’s fashion sense at some point. But to address some of your points first, I must agree about the melodramatic outbursts – like the sobbing at the end? Carl definitely takes on the typical female role there. Here is why the apron thing didn’t work for me: the sexy French maid apron and cooking dinner did not read as metrosexual to me, they read as emasculated. And Beth is the ball-busting career woman, right? Overbearing, overconfident. Then she gets killed, and I think it’s important to note that her death is essentially from tusk rape (the biggest phallus of them all) after nearly being raped by the men she was laughing at and mocking. That whole scene was about masculine Australia taking her down a few thousand pegs, right? It is only after Beth is gone that Carl can stop being emasculated and leave faggy NYC for rough-and-tumble Australia and be a man. Albeit a man prone to bursting into loud weeping. Think about how Carl ends the movie – Sarah (the much more heteronormative and traditionally feminine woman) all inert in his muscular, protective embrace, his phallicism restored, his macho bonefides proven. In order for that to happen, ball-busting, too-big-for-her-britches Beth had to be slaughtered/symbolically raped/annihilated. That is my take. Thoughts? 

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So soft… so lush…

Sean: I agree with a lot of that, especially your reading of the ending. I definitely agree that Carl, who started off the movie very comfortable in his post-feminist, equitable marriage to his driven and intelligent careerist wife, has become more like Jake by the end: tough and traditionally macho, in a protector/caretaker role. But I do not agree with how you are interpreting the Beth/Carl relationship. I don’t see them as “emasculated man/ballbuster career bitch” at all. I think Carl seems very satisfied and happy in his marriage at the beginning. I think their rapport is very genial and equitable. I see them as the ultimate 1980s yuppie supercouple and that is what the movie sets out to destroy. But between Beth and Carl, I think all is well. It’s just that the movie itself sees their happily progressive, super-yuppie ways and is like, “Oh hell no.” I agree that the project of the movie is to toughen up the soft metrosexual public bus electric shaver and make him into a classically macho bushwacker. And I absolutely agree that the movie is savagely sexist to the Beth character.

Kristine: Right. Carl has to “go native” to accomplish his goal. God, the movie is so horrible to Beth. The Dicko rape scene was… pretty fucking awful. Especially because Beth becomes a limp rag doll when he is attacking her, which seems completely out of character for her.

Sean: Agreed. In fact, Beth is represented as kind of tactless and bad at her job in Gamulla, while Beth’s cameraman tells dirty nun jokes at the bar and makes everyone laugh. Part of being a good reporter is ingratiating yourself to your surroundings so you can get people to talk, get them to open up. She should be buying these guys shots and not even bringing up the PetPak plant at first. A good reporter would know that. Instead, the movie depicts her just cluelessly storming in and being like, “Which one of you redneck animal-murderers would like to be exploited by me?” And when Beth is in control of the camera/lens/recording eye, it doesn’t work out so good. Could she have been less subtle at “spying” on the workers at the PetPak plant? And let me also point out that when Dicko catches her filming them he screams, “What’s up your hole?” at her. Then after Beth vanishes, her cameraman says, “It’s my fault – I never should have let her out of my sight.”

Screen Shot 2013-06-04 at 10.03.35 AM
Would Laura Mulvey be proud?

Kristine: Yeah, what about that cameraman? 

Sean: His attitude is that what Beth really needed was a male protector and because she dared go into the Outback alone, then it was just fated that she’d meet an untimely end. Gender = destiny. The movie overall treats Beth like total shit, like an uppity, yuppie bitch. 

Kristine: Yes, indeed. Over and over. 

Sean: The class/gender stuff gets really entangled once Beth gets to Gamulla. Remember she’s the “animal campaigner” or whatever. Beth speaks directly to the camera during the taping of her reporting in Gamulla, and emphasizes that Gamulla is “600 miles west of Sydney in the Outback.” That’s significant because it is so far removed from urban space, which is where she fits and “belongs,” according to the movie. And remember Beth’s outrage at the Outback lifestyle of kangaroo hunting is articulated in terms of how it impacts urban space, by making the connection between the dog shit on the streets of “Sydney, Hong Kong and New York” and the dog food being manufactured with kangaroo meat at the PetPak plant. This lends a real pettiness to her “campaign” for animal rights, because it seems like she only cares because of the tiny way it dirties up her pristine and urbane experience of the world. Remember when her cameraman tells her, “Just remember you’re not in New York surrounded by a couple million animal lovers”? In Gamulla, she’s a stuck-up bitch who doesn’t get it. She takes in the local color, like the emus and Aboriginal children running wild in the streets, but she doesn’t see the danger; she reports that Gamulla is “an Aboriginal word that means ‘intestine or gut,’” but she doesn’t comprehend the subtext that she’s in the belly of the beast, and that she’s destined to be consumed, digested and… well, shit out. The ugliest, most misogynistic moment, I think, is when Jake pulls her flashy ring (the one given to her by Carl in the opening scenes) out of the razorback shit. She’s become kangaroo meat: processed, ingested and excreted out. She’s become shit. It’s a horrible thing.

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That tusk is uncircumcised!

Kristine: Yes. I was having flashbacks to the three kids sitting around the fire with Mick in Wolf Creek, cracking Crocodile Dundee jokes. Like them, Beth has no sensitivity to the reality of the lives of the people she is supposed to be reporting on. She just wants the story, and she’ll cram whatever round peg into whatever square hole in order to get it. She doesn’t know her place. Even after her death she is disrespected, with no one calling her by her actual name. Also, gross hair. 

Sean: I like her hair.

Kristine: Sean. Stop. 

Sean: Remember that we first see her as the muckraker getting yelled at by working class folks on tv (“Honey, you and your ‘friends’ wouldn’t know the difference between a cattle prod and a pool cue”/”Not much difference in terms of pain”). You’re right that she doesn’t know her place, according to the movie… and so she “fell down a mine shaft.” Got swallowed up.

Kristine: So it’s not what’s up her hole, it’s that she’s down the hole. The rabbit hole. That local explanation for her disappearance is so vile. It makes me think of the death-hole in Onibaba.

Sean: Sure except remember that the real “hole” she fell down is the razorback’s gullet. And she gets shat out its other hole.

Kristine: This is really upsetting me.

Screen Shot 2013-06-04 at 11.32.15 AM
Mulcahy makes sure Gregory Harrison gets spooged in the face at least once.

Sean: Well, if it helps any, the movie condemns Benny to the fate that allegedly befell Beth. He gets dropped down a mine shaft. And Dicko is consumed/symbolically raped by the razorback. So it seems like Mulcahy is interested in “just desserts” for Beth’s assailants.

Kristine: That’s cold comfort. I want to take a moment to contrast how the film introduces Beth versus how we meet Sarah – we meet Beth when she stridently strides into her NYC apartment where her sweet man is cooking dinner for her. She’s wearing a blazer with über-brusque giant shoulder pads and is all dismissive of her broadcast, which sweet Carl is excited to watch. But then it turns out she can’t handle her shit in the mucho macho reality of the Outback. As for Sarah, we meet her buck naked and vulnerable in the shower and because she does know her place, she is able to survive in the harsh environment. It’s a problem. 

Sean: Oh I agree with all that. Sarah is horrid. The worst kind of male fantasy non-person. While Beth has a career and ambitions and a full life, Sarah seems to do nothing but all maternally feed little animals and wait around to just jump to it and do whatever Daddy Jake wants. Remember how Jake is like, “Sarah’s just a radio-call away”? She’s his symbolic adopted daughter who replaces the family he lost when the razorback killed his grandson. Sarah’s just a shill for the patriarchy. She does what daddy says, when daddy says it, no questions.

Kristine: Remember when she has a gentle lady orgasm when she sees Carl wearing her actual Dad’s clothes? I wanted to kill. 

Sean: I am vomiting. Holy Electra-complex, daddy’s-girl, Playboy-centerfold nightmare. The thing that made me hate her the most is when she says, “I didn’t agree with [Beth’s] politics, but I’m sure she was a good person…” I was like, “You wouldn’t know anything about it, daughterwoman.”

Kristine: ‘Xactly.

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Honey, what are you thinking?

Sean: But a lot of the gender/Beth stuff has to do with how the movie uses the kangaroo as a symbol…. I think that needs unpacking. First off, Jake refers to Beth as “Kangaroo Woman” after she’s dead and Carl – because he’s kind of awesome and starts off the movie as a feminist, before Sarah reminds him that women are so much better when they’re just tan, pretty little objects – is like “Kangaroo woman makes her sound like she has a goddamned pouch!” (Which is also an oblique reference to the fact that she was pregnant when she was killed). Then remember that when Carl is stranded in the Outback, he curls up with that kangaroo corpse almost like a lover… It is totes bizarre. He “put it out of its misery” and then he mourns for it – the fucking kangaroo is a symbol for Beth and its gross. Of course, Dicko and Benny treat Beth like a kangaroo when they assault her. They shine the spotlight on her, just as they do with the ‘roos during the hunting scene. This comes up again when they’re talking with Carl (who is pretending to be Bill the Canadian) and they ask him “You do any hunting in Canuckland?” and Carl says “Deer.”  Then Dicko makes a joke: “Sweetheart! Get it? Dear?” again twinning the heterosexual love object with a prey animal. Then Dicko says “What beautiful big brown eyes” about the kangaroo he is about to shoot. Remember how outraged Beth was about the status of the kangaroo in Australia, that there was this “economy of flesh and blood – 800,000 kangaroos and wallabies slaughtered – gutted, quartered and dumped at the PetPak plant to become dog excretia on the sidewalks of Sydney, Hong Kong and New York.” They’re living things that are transmuted into commodities in a global industrial capitalist system…

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In the Outback, this is how you play Twister

Kristine: Right, they are not valued. And then Carl turns the tables on DIcko and he becomes the kangaroo. That was weirdness. 

Sean: Ok that moment when Dicko becomes the kangaroo is, for me, one of the queerer moments in the movie. Because we’ve got men slipping into and assuming roles marked “female” by the cosmology of the movie. Kangaroos are feminized repeatedly and used as metaphors for women, and so when Dicko is suddenly on the other end of the spotlight… Pardon my vulgarity, but at that moment he’s the bitch. And he’s also like, “Give it to me, baby, I’m the kangaroo!” He goes full bottom in that moment.

Kristine: I totally get that…. but it’s such a fucked up cosmology. Here is my question – is it simply the cosmology of this story and these specific characters, or is this a larger critique of Australian society? 

Sean: I think it’s intended to be a critique, somewhat. When it comes to Dicko, especially [that name]. I mean, the movie goes out of its way to show him as bestial, rapacious and vile. But I also think the movie buys into/revels in a certain macho attitude represented by “the Outback” way of life. Jake is the clearest representation and the movie’s true hero, I’d argue. Remember when Jake tells Beth: “There’s something about blasting the shit out a razorback that brightens up my whole day”? I think the movie loves that attitude and is like, Jake is the man.

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Dicko’s secret dream of being a rapper gets a test run

Kristine: I agree with that. Let me add here that I found the opening scene, where the razorback tears right through Jake’s house, to be genuinely scary and it shook me up. But that was not repeated ever again in the movie. It got too silly after that. Do you think the cold open is as effective as I do? I actually felt kind of… I don’t know, betrayed by the movie because I was totally on board with Jake’s plight and his primal scream at the beginning when he realizes the razorback has taken his grandson. But then there is a scene later in the movie, after Jake shoots at the razorback but it gets away, when he sinks to his knees and screams again, totally mirroring what he does in the open, but this time it is dumb and cheesy. There is even a lame echo effect on his scream. It made me mad because now Jake is just… some screaming man.

Sean: Well that’s the histrionics of the male melodrama. I mean, that opening scene is total ripped-from-the-headlines Australian social drama. Do you remember Lindy Chamberlain? “The dingo ate my baby”? 

Kristine: Yes. 

Sean: Well, Jake is a combination of Lindy Chamberlain and Captain Ahab.

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Hair by Salon Selectives, blood by misogyny

Kristine: I like that. For sure. I was going to say that the movie introduces an interesting plot point: Jake being viewed with scorn and suspicion by the community. That trial scene? And when the guy spits in his face? His own daughter not believing him? So he needs to find and kill the razorback not just for revenge, but to clear his own name. I liked that a lot and was looking forward to Jake’s character arc. But the movie totally lets it all go. A couple of times characters mention how the razorback ruined Jake’s life, but that’s it. There’s no more meaningful drama wrung out of it, and the relationship between Jake and the community is never explored again. I mean, his life doesn’t seem any different then it was pre-razorback. He was already living in the wilderness, being a hunter. I thought the sociological angle could have been very interesting and it’s just abandoned.

Sean: Yeah, they just do all that set-up to establish Jake as an Ahab-like figure and then let him loose to obsess over catching the boar. Not much more drama is wrung out of it… Though Jake does yell, “I wanna nail the bastard’s hide outside the pub so everyone can see!” at one point, so the movie does remember his motivation. But that overwrought, hysterical reaction to the death of his grandson in the cold open really works for me.

Kristine: Right??? I loved it. 

Sean: Yes, and I sort of love how it happens again later. Both Jake and Carl are portrayed as shrieking, wild, emotional crazies and it really satisfies me. So often masculinity is defined by control and containment. Think about some classic masculine role models – John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Steve McQueen – they never emote, they never lose control, they never scream and weep and tear at the earth in frustration and pathos. I love how the movie constructs masculinity as wild and operatic and overemotive, overblown. That feels radical to me. A masculinity of excessive emotion is a queer masculinity, regardless of the specifics of sexual orientation. Can I just point out how differently Carl is received in Gamulla as opposed to how the locals treat Beth? When the local guy just hands Carl the keys to his car as soon as he gets there? I was dying.

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Carl tries out his barbaric yawp… Thanks Mr. Keating!

Kristine: Oh, I know. You might be winning me over a bit, because there’s also the issue with how Dicko and Benny are these rockabilly roughneck dandies and all the ladies are super plain Janes. God, those unfortunate looking ladies in the courtroom scene. They need some glamor, stat.

Sean: OMG, Benny and Dicko – redneck hillbilly Aussies in bloodstained saddle shoes, floral buttondowns and pinstriped pants?

Kristine: Do you have a theory on why the rockabilly look is so popular in certain places? It interests me because it is one of the only accepted ways for men to be clothing-obsessed dandies and  still be perceived as mucho macho (one other model is the male rapper with his swag and bling). Remember the rockabilly styling in Dead Alive

Sean: Did the world of this movie remind you of the American Southwest at all? 

Kristine: Yes, of course. Which was where I was going with my rockabilly thing…  Do you agree with my theory about it being a way for men to be fabulous and still be butch as hell? 

Sean: Yes. Just the hair upkeep alone. 

Kristine: Right???? 

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Savage dandies

Sean: The Australia/U.S. Southwest parallels continue to obsess and fascinate me. I mean, I’m in Arizona, you’re living in Texas. Yet the world of this movie feels SO familiar to me. Just take out the accents and switch out the kangaroos for coyotes and jackrabbits. It seems like the whole “man vs. Nature” thing is big in this movie, and maybe in Aussie horror in general? We’ll have to see how this pans out throughout the rest of the movies this month, but that certainly was a huge thematic impulse in Wolf Creek.

Kristine: For sure, yes. As evidenced by Carl’s crazy walkabout/peyote quest through the bush. But the man/Nature tension is what makes the loud prints worn by Dicko and Benny all the more interesting to me. It reminds me of Deadwood or any other super rough environment. People put on the frippery to distinguish themselves from the animals. These men who are barely human and barely socialized are using clothes as a way to maintain a link with society, or to prevent them from going full animal. I am thinking the Joker in Batman, etc. And how accepted it is for male superheroes and action heroes to be defined by one piece of “signature” clothing so much more so than ladies, even though clothes are suppose to be a girl thing.

Sean: Oh my god.

Kristine: What? 

Sean: This is an exact sentence from my notes: “Dicko’s dressed like a villain from the 1960s Batman tv show in the final confrontation – red, yellow and green.” 

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Robin, where’s your Batman?

Kristine: No way. 

Sean: Yes.

Kristine: We are… amazing. 

Sean: Hahaha.

Kristine: Yeah, all the trappings of civilized dress, but getting it all wrong, right? 

Sean: Dicko is a total dandy-gone-mad. For all of his highly aestheticized wardrobe and appearance, he is still rendered as half-man/half-animal, right? Dicko’s glowing red eyes during the assault on Beth?

Kristine: Yes to the red boar eyes on Dicko. Did you notice that as he is brutalizing her he says, “Do you wanna make love?” It’s all these niceties of society (fancy dress, the idea of “making love”) being horribly twisted and made to seem twice as creepy than if he was just in cargos telling her that he was going to fuck her. Do you agree? 

Sean: Yes. I love that point. I mean, in some ways, I feel like Dicko’s animal lust and savagery conjure the razorback, like the pig is just a manifestation of the primal/primordial… Like you said, there’s that scene of the razorback’s tusk in between Beth’s legs. The threat of rape (with Dicko) becomes a sexual sacrifice to a pre-Christian nature deity (with the giant boar).

Kristine: They abandon their rape because their alpha pack leader comes along and he gets rapin’ privileges. 

Sean: God. That rape-death is so horrible. So, I was wondering if you would have traumatic Wolf Creek flashbacks – Dicko’s truck is Mick’s truck, after all. And the tension of Beth at the Gamulla Hotel surrounded by potential rapists reminded me of the trauma of Wolf Creek a bit.

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Gwyneth’s true face

Kristine: Yes. The bar absolutely did remind me of Wolf Creek, but I wasn’t traumatized. Sorry, I am still thinking about my “brutal, animalistic men and their foppery” thing.

Sean: Well let me ask you this: What is the significance of Sarah being Miss Nude Australia when we first meet her?  How does it tie in? 

Kristine: Okay, in two ways. (1) Unlike Beth, who emasculates and threatens men (like when she drops Dicko’s darts in his beer and he gets laughed at in the pub, when she films the gross goings-on at Pet Pak, when her goal is to eradicate the hunting way of life a.k.a. their livelihood), Sarah is utterly non-threatening. I mean, nude in the shower is about as unthreatening as you can get. She just becomes another pinup girl, another centerfold to jerk off to. So, Sarah knows her place in this world and that (2) makes her more viable, a survivor in this patriarchal world. Naked = of the land.

Sean: Daddy’s girl. But this all gets so convoluted in my head, because patriarchy means order and the Outback is a place of chaos and brutality. There is no “rule of law” there. It is fundamentally wild. And we both know that there are all these centuries-old sexist paradigms that equate women and femininity with Nature and men and masculinity with Civilization.

Kristine: Exactly and so of course Sarah would be naked – stripped of clothes, which are markers of civility/society. Remember when Carl has that nightmare where Sarah has the face of a boar? She is little more than an animal, than one of the fucking wallabies she feeds with a baby bottle.

Sean: It annoys me that she is a male fantasy – the blonde, tan Aussie chick. She is the most boring tapioca pudding. Who wouldn’t rather take Carl is in his torn and tattered clothes wandering the desert? By the way how could you watch those scenes and not pick up on the gay beefcake sensibility? Change of pace – One of my favorite images in the movie is of that fat bear’s tv being pulled off into the night by the razorback. That little corner of the room detaching and vanishing into the shadows was a great bit of surrealism.

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Movie to Greg Harrison: “Take your clothes off and stop talking”

Kristine: I want to discuss wild pigs. I think it’s crazy that you and I both happen to live in areas where wild pigs are actually super-destructive and a real problem (more so in Texas than Arizona, but still). So, my questions are – do you find javelinas scary? Do you know about the wild pig plague in Texas? And has the razorback achieved its monstrous size and appetite because of human intervention?

 

Sean: It’s funny you should bring that up, because other than the ugly misogyny directed at Beth, the big thing about this movie doesn’t sit right with me is Jake’s/the movie’s attitude towards Nature (the razorbacks). I wonder if we’re supposed to see his vitriolic hatred of the natural world as being wrong and warped, another symptom of his Captain Ahab disease, or if the movie is actually channeling a true hatred of Nature/animals/the bestial and primal. Remember when Jake’s lawyer says, “There are all sorts of razorbacks. It’s a hybrid species – a freak, an aberration” and then Jake later says, “Vicious, shit-eating, godless vermin. God and the devil couldn’t have created a more despicable species. It doesn’t have a nervous system like most animals. It’s only got two states of being: dangerous or dead, nothing in between.” I kept thinking about all the javelina running around Tucson and felt sad. So to answer one of your questions, no I don’t find javelinas scary, I like them. They’re cool. I  mean, they’re mean and I wouldn’t want to tangle with one and I am afraid of one of my dogs getting gored by them but… I steer clear of them, they steer clear of me.

Kristine: The giant, killer razorback exists as a result of the PetPak plant somehow. Right? 

Sean: It’s unclear to me. Have you seen Princess Mononoke

Kristine: No.

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Carl always knew that Piggy was a bottom

Sean: Okay, well then let me just say that I read the razorback as an Old God, the “spirit of the Outback.” Princess Mononoke has some boar characters who fit that bill. I think the monstrousness that the razorback represents is the monstrousness of the primordial, the savage, of Nature. I didn’t catch any references to the monster being manmade.

Kristine: Well, can I just say a little about the wild hog problem in Texas? 

Sean: Yes, please. 

Kristine: Okay. Basically, no one knows what to do because the wild hog population has grown to staggering numbers and they are fucking shit up. They outsmart every trap, can track odors for up to 5 miles, are tough as hell and super-destructive. Exactly like Jake says about razorback in the movie, they are (I’m pretty sure) the only wildlife you can hunt year round. There is no season or limit because we are desperate to control them. Eradication is no longer feasible. We are just trying to maintain some kind of control over the pigs’ reign of terror. But the things we are coming up with are so ridic, Sean. One of the major plans to deal with this is trying to promote fancy wild hog hunting trips and trying to get fancy restaurants to serve the meat and make it desirable. It’s like the fall of Rome, where man has gotten so fancy and out of touch with Nature that we think Top Chef is going to solve this serious problem. And even though of course I feel for the people whose land and crops are getting utterly destroyed by the hogs, it’s hard not to root for the hogs. They are doing it the human way – they got smarter and now they are taking what land and resources they want. Reaction?

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This pig is thinking, “Did Arnie Grape climb the windmill AGAIN?”

Sean: Oh my god. Well, I know that they are a problem here, too. And I am all for sensible regulation of animal populations, especially for species that breed easily and plentifully and that impact the environment negatively. But I feel like the movie exaggerates the “evilness” of the pigs, turns them into unnatural, demonic things. Sarah goes on and on about how they’re sick with worms and parasites, they’re hungry, they’re cannibalizing their young. She says, “It’s not normal” and then describes how she found a stress ulcer on a dead sow because she was “worried” –  so the presence of the giant boar has a corrupting/de-naturing effect on the environment… I am not down with demonizing animals. Animals are not demons. Am I being Beth right now?

Kristine: No, you’re fine. I guess my main point is this: the reason the pig thing got so crazy in Texas is because Texas was being fancy and building stadiums and museums and whatever and was just ignoring what was happening in Nature. I’m sure there were rural folk being like, “Umm, this is a problem” but they were ignored. I think it is a hallmark of the Western U.S. that a lot of it’s inhabitants want to deny the reality of the landscape, right? But you and I both live in places that are still very much a part of Nature, despite being urban. I mean, I live in urban Dallas, not in the outskirts or the suburbs, and we have possums and coons and armadillos and coyotes and bobcats all over the place. And Tucson is much the same – javelinas and coyotes running through the city streets. It’s just hubris to think that because humans have lived somewhere a certain amount of time, or have a certain amount of technology or creature comforts, that now we can just forget the natural world.

Sean: I do run into javelina and coyotes on dogwalks all the time. 

Kristine: Remember the car stuck up in the tree branches in Razorback

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Seven and the Ragged Redneck

Sean: Yes.

Kristine: That was a great visual metaphor for society being taken over by Nature. It was here before us and it will be here after us. I also liked all the visuals during Carl’s walkabout. The crazy landscape, the desolation…

Sean: That animal skeleton that bursts from the ground. 

Kristine: Another good example of mankind’s accomplishments looking so flimsy and foolish when confronted with Nature – Carl clinging to that rickety windmill that the pigs casually push over.

Sean: Yes.

Kristine: Loved it.

Sean: Were the pigs scary? Was the giant boar? 

Kristine: The regular pigs were sort of scary because of their sheer numbers. You get enough of anything in one place and it can fuck you up, right? The big pig, I was not impressed by. It was no river monster from The Host. You? 

Sean: I love it. I love it. The gross nose close-ups are my fave. 

Kristine: Cool. Yeah, just not my thing I guess. 

Sean: So my favorite visual motif was how the movie turned the Outback into a Gothic landscape, choked with fog, haunted by ungodly noises – and then later, the PetPak plant becomes the Gothic castle. 

Kristine: Yes.

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Gothic man-rape

Sean: The pig stalking Dicko through the fog was a total Gothic moment. 

Kristine: I loved the ungodly noises, too, and the totally unexplained surrealism. 

Sean: Yes. 

Kristine: Just like… “It’s the Outback! Go with it!” 

Sean: So I hope over the month we can come up with a theory of Australian horror. And maybe even think about how Australian horror films might connect to the Southwestern U.S. and its regional concerns.

Kristine: I’d say that the Nature vs. Man theme has got to be part of it. Australia is this country with very sophisticated cities that still needs to pay close attention to the land. I feel like I didn’t clarify my Texas/Australia/Nature/City thing as well as I wanted to. I wanted to say that part of the obtuse thinking, I believe, stems from the fact that these are places that are insecure about their ranking in society, right? Dallas is so wicked insecure, it is always throwing money at international architects. All the art collectors here buy New York artists, not Texan artists. They really are desperate not to be perceived as hicks. I think Australia might have some of the same anxieties. They are sick of the Crocodile Dundee thing, they want to be seen as sophisticated and urbane. But they keep being confronted with their past and their, um, earthier roots, right? Kind of like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Do you think that’s a valid theory? Certainly not all-encompassing but… 

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There’s a suspicious amount of buttcrack in this movie…

Sean: I think it sounds pretty plausible. We’ll have to keep this in mind as we watch films over the next few weeks.

Kristine: Yes. Do you think Aussies love Razorback and think it is badass or are they like, “Jesus, more gun-toting hicks in the Outback. How embarassing!” 

Sean: I have no idea. I mean, it’s a B-movie, but I think it’s a kind of cult classic.  We’ll have to see if any Australian commenters chime in. 

Kristine: Cool. I have one last question for you. 

Sean: Yes.

Kristine: At the end of this month, will we be dying to go to Australia, or will we be totally terrified of the entire continent? 

Sean: I am dying to go.  But I am also a bit terrified – remember when Kath, one of our favorite commenters, said that people vanish in the Outback “all the time”?

Kristine: Yeah, she did say that.  Sean, I can so see the headlines about you and me disappearing in the Outback. 

Sean: I will have no qualms about eating you if you expire first.

Ratings Roundup

The Girl’s Rating: It’s fine but it’s not for me.

The Freak’s Rating:  Stylistic triumph AND Queerer than you’d think AND Problematic but fun as hell.

This little piggy went "I'M GONNA FUCKING KILL YOU" all the way home!
This little piggy went “I’M GONNA FUCKING KILL YOU” all the way home!

15 thoughts on “Movie Discussion: Russell Mulcahy’s Razorback (1984)

  1. Yet another great write-up. I am so glad that I found this site. You guys are the best.

    I love the mise en scène of this movie, especially all of the surreal bits that you mention.

    A big point of reference for Razorback is the 1971 movie Wake In Fright, directed by Ted Kotcheff (from Canada who went on to direct First Blood). It’s the story of an urban Australian man who has been teaching in the Outback. Now it’s the school holidays and all he wants is to get back to Sydney, but he loses his airfare in one drunken night of gambling and becomes trapped. It’s like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, except instead of wanting to kill and eat with you, they want you to drink with them. (And drink, and drink, and drink… I come from a binge-drinking culture in New Zealand, and I was still gobsmacked by the level of drinking in this movie.) It also features a scene where he’s taken on a ‘roo hunt, which is closely copied in Razorback. Wake In Fright is not exactly a horror movie, but it is very nightmarish, and has an amazing role by Donald Pleasance as a drunken doctor.

    When it first came out, Australians were horribly offended by it and complained about a foreigner coming in and making such terrible slanders against them. Eventually they came around and admitted that an outside perspective had captured a side of their culture that they had never previously liked to admit to, and now (after being lost for many years and then found again) it’s an Ocker classic.

    Another parallel with Razorback is the “nature bite back” Long Weekend, which is also from scriptwriter Everett De Roche, who wrote a large amount of Ozsploitation flicks. I hope that one’s on your roster. If Razorback is misogynistic (and it is) then Long Weekend is just plain misanthropic.

    1. Thanks so much for the kind words – all the more flattering because the writing is so good on your own blog. Our roster for this month: Picnic at Hanging Rock, Patrick, Wake In Fright, Mad Max. It was so hard to narrow my list down to just 5 movies! Long Weekend is definitely one of the movies it was difficult to cut. There are definitely enough great movies to do several more Australia-themed months… Roadgames, Thirst, Next of Kin and Walkabout are all films I still want Kristine to see…. Too many movies, too little time. Sigh.

    2. Pearce! We just watched Wake in Fright and … wow. Just wow. I was deeply impressed and deeply horrified. The ‘roo hunt was one of the toughest things I have watched, period. Terrific performances all around. We’ll be putting up a review soon and I am very eager to hear your thoughts.

      1. Oh fabulous – I can’t wait to read the review! That ‘roo hunt was punishing, I agree – not least because it was all real. I might steel myself and have another look at the movie before I chime in.

        1. Wake in Fright has been haunting me for a couple days now. I watched the Drafthouse films’s 40th Anniversary trailer while I was at work today and just those two minutes shook me up. I cannot even imagine how my emotionally reaction would be heightened still by seeing it in a theatre – have you seen it on the big screen?

          1. Yeah, I saw it on a really huge screen (in a classy local movie theatre that’s been around since the ’20s). It was intense. I don’t think I would go to the Yabba.

  2. I can’t say I think that Razorback is “badass” — it’s a bit too misogynist for me, and I agree completely with your reading of how the film positions Beth and Sarah.

    The people I know are tired of the Crocodile Dundee stereotype, and have been for many years. We enjoyed the episode of the Simpsons which lampooned those stereotypes, in particular the “I see you’ve played ‘knifee-spoonee’ before” humdinger. As for a greater national sensibility? A desire to be seen in a particular way in the international arena, in terms of film? I really don’t know. The incredible decline in funding going into the Arts (and therefore Film Australia) means that any kind of agenda in this context is on the backburner. (Sorry to be a downer — this is actually something that concerns me!)

    Thanks for watching Razorback. My rating: Bluurk! But I’m glad I watched it.

    ps. My dog eats kangaroo meat. I feel bad about it every time he does.

    1. First off Kath! So glad to have your voice back with us. Yes this film is awfully sexist. And also, YES, that Simpsons episode is brilliant. I was wondering if there’s ever been a “meta” approach to tackling that stereotype in Australian cinema. As far as horror goes, Mick in Wolf Creek is as close as we get right? (And he barely qualifies). I’m sad to hear that Australian cinema’s facing a funding crisis… I’ve been happy to see “The Loved Ones” slowly grow into a word-of-mouth/cult artifact [Sharon Needles Facebooked about it! omfg!]. Also Aussie thrillers have been on fire the last few years [Animal Kingdom, The Square, Red Hill, The Horseman, et al]
      I tried to watch “Tomorrow, When the War Began” (which I understand was a big hit Down Under] on Netflix but found it to be very, very silly and stopped after 30 minutes or so…. Should I try again?

      1. Hmm, a meta-approach to the stereotype(s)? I’ll have to think about that. Nothing much comes to mind straight away.

        I love “The Loved Ones.” Just the trailer makes me cackle wickedly — although have to bite my nit-picky tongue when I hear the word “prom,” as we don’t call it that. I wonder how it would have fared in the international arena had it had oodles of money poured into it. I agree that our thrillers have been well done, particularly in light of their relatively tight budgets. (I suppose I should be looking at the funding issue in a different way: look at what is achieved with a tight budget; increase funding and film will dazzle you.)

        Another sidebar: does my suggestion (insistence) that public monies should support the Arts puzzle or perplex you, as Americans? (just interested)

        I couldn’t watch “Tomorrow, When the War Began”, either. It was made for TV, and that really showed. I tried to watch it the first night, and ended up watching a DVD of some sort of chewing-gum-for-the-mind instead. It really was silly. And then it was on, night after night. And then there were re-runs, as if Channel 10 was hoping we’d unintentionally missed it the first time around. They marketed the re-runs as “encore” showings. The encores were moved to late night.

        1. Public monies being used to fund art is more of a “fine arts” concept here in the States (through things like the NEA [National Endowment for the Arts]), so in a sense, yes, the idea of the Fed giving money to something as populist as cinema is a bit strange. But Hollywood is such a huge cultural and economic force here that it would be hard to make the argument for government funding. I don’t if you guys have Kickstarter, but there’s been a lot of media coverage the last year of it being used by established talent [the guys behind the cult tv show Veronica Mars, or Zach Braff who wants to make a sequel to his indie hit Garden State] to raise funds for things that couldn’t get made in “the system” here. It’s been quite controversial, especially in regards to Braff, who is getting framed in media stories as a Hollywood “insider” who is grifting decent, hard-working Americans for his vanity project. But in a country without a Hollywood, I could see a legit argument being made for government funds….

  3. Oh, forgot to say, Sean, that Kristine would probably go bad in the sun before you’d get the chance to eat her.

    Just kidding. It’s Winter.

    1. One time Kristine & I spent the afternoon swimming here in Tucson in the middle of summer and wound up with like, second-degree sunburns over 60% of our bodies. The truth is, we’d die by the end of the second day….