As part of my MFA program, I’m taking a class on monsters in the horror genre. I read Rawhead Rex, by Clive Barker, as an assignment for that class. The below blog post may contain spoilers.
Rawhead, the monster in this story, is a nightmarish being who was buried for centuries, until some ignorant soul digs him up. Because this is a class about monsters, I’ll start with my thoughts about Rawhead as monster: brilliant! Rawhead gets his name due to having a head with flesh that looks like raw meat. He’s a giant, with a humongous mouth and teeth that he can extend from his gums at will. I especially loved the retractable teeth, because the story’s tension immediately cranked up whenever he extended them.
An interesting thing about this story was the use of omniscient point of view. I rarely read books with omniscient POV, and when I do, it’s not executed nearly as well as it was in Rawhead Rex. It worked well here, I think, because many characters turned out to be important in various ways. Each character experienced fear at some point, and it was great to see into the character’s head at that moment before death, or at a moment when a loved one was dying.
I can think of only two things I didn’t like about this story.
First, I was disgusted by the repeated references to bodily functions. It’s probably realistic for people to relieve themselves in some way or another in times of terror, but I don’t want to read about it. That’s not scary to me; it’s gross. It doesn’t heighten the horrifying events taking place; rather, it pulls me out of them, because I don’t want to hear about that.
But those moments of fear weren’t the only references to bodily functions there were in this story. At one point, Rawhead relieves himself on Declan, a man who worships him. I understand the significance of that scene. There’s something both worshipful and sexual in the way Declan welcomed this. And I would have no objection if this were the only such instance in the story. But it wasn’t. Later on, Declan smears his feces all over the church. Again, I see the purpose of this action, but the repeated references to the feces throughout the church and on Declan’s body turned my stomach—and not in a good way.
The second thing I didn’t appreciate in this story was the horror-movie moment that occurred when Ron’s family decides not to escape back to London. Presumably, they don’t know the nature of the “maniac” killing people in town, but they do know there’s a maniac.
“… You can go back to London. Take the kids.”
He sighed, heavily.
“I want to see him caught: whoever he is. I want to know it’s all been cleared up, see it with my own eyes. That’s the only way we’ll ever feel safe here.”
Reluctantly, she nodded.
“At least let’s get out of the hotel for a while. Mrs Blatter’s going loopy. Can’t we go for a drive? get some air—”
“Yes, why not?”
(Barker, Clive. “Rawhead Rex.” The Books of Blood. Vol. 3. Crossroad, 2013. Kindle file.)
In horror movies, characters make bad decisions. They run down the road instead of jumping into a perfectly functional vehicle. They know there’s a mass murderer, but they find a reason to split up anyway. The above conversation fits neatly into the realm of poor horror-movie decisions. Ron and his wife Maggie have two kids, and their small town is being threatened by a maniac. The decision to stay in town, and to go for a drive to get some air, is reckless to the point of unbelievable. While I might find this decision amusing in a horror movie, it has no place in the otherwise intelligent story that is Rawhead Rex.
Despite a few hiccups, I really enjoyed this story. It has great tension and a scary bad guy. I definitely recommend it.