When Spielberg’s monster hit Jaws arrived in theatres in the summer of ’75, the onslaught of rip-offs to follow was staggering, with such notable entries as 1977’s Orca,1978’s Piranha, and 1984’s The Last Shark, but such rip-offs were not relegated to creatures of the sea, and thus we got such “classics” as 1976’s Grizzly and the film we are looking at today, Razorback.
“There’s something about blasting the shit out of a razorback that brightens up my whole day,” and it’s these immortal words, spoken by a man Hell-bent on vengeance against the wild boars of Australia, that really sets the tone of the film Razorback, and this statement is provided by Jake Cullen (Bill Kerr), who in the film’s opening minutes has his life destroyed when a giant razorback boar attacks him in his home, making off with his little grandson — who he’d been babysitting — to devour the poor tyke alive. That is certainly a dark opening, but it’s only the beginning of director Russell Mulcahy’s descent into the abyss of despair, blood and pain.
You’d think having your grandson carried off into the night by a murderous beast would be pretty terrible, and as traumatic experiences go, that would be a hard one to top, but things go from bad to worse for poor Jake as he is then accused of murdering the child. He is put on trial, with a lawyer doing his best to float the idea of this particular razorback being a hybrid species — “a freak, an aberration” — and though most of the locals take his account of the events with a considerable amount of skepticism (I mean, who wouldn’t doubt such a story?), he is acquitted due to insufficient evidence to support the charge. It’s with this moment that we have our “Quint Analogue,” the one who will provide grizzled assistance to the hero before meeting an untimely death during the film’s third act.
The movie jumps ahead two years and introduces us to American wildlife reporter Beth Winters (Judy Morris), who exposes industries that abuse and kill animals, and her latest assignment takes her to a small outpost in the Australian outback, where a particularly nasty company is guilty of slaughtering kangaroos to make dog food. To say that she isn’t too popular with the locals would be a massive understatement, but things get downright ugly when she runs across Benny Baker (Chris Haywood) and his brother Dicko (David Argue), a couple of psychos who are the Australian equivalent of the rednecks from Deliverance, and whose dog food factory looks to have been designed by the family from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
How about some attempted rape to spice things up? The Baker brothers use their four-wheel death machine to run Beth off the road so that they can have a go with a little “ultra-violence” as Benny attempts to rape the poor woman, and it was at this point that I was sure that either Jake or the giant razorback was going to show up in the nick of time to spare Beth from this particular indignity, but I was only half right. The rampaging giant hog does show up, sending the Baker brothers running for the hills, but this was no rescue from a fate worse than death unless you consider being eaten by a giant razorback some kind of rescue.
Beth is declared missing, assumed to have fallen down an abandoned mine shaft, which means that the Australian authorities somehow failed to notice the blood all over her car during her struggle with the boar — I guess they don’t have a CSI: Outback edition down under — and so the missing American is pretty much forgotten. Enter Beth’s husband Carl (Gregory Harrison), who travels to Australia to find out the truth behind what happened to his wife, and for some reason this involves him going undercover as a Canadian tourist, which then leads to him convincing the Baker brothers to take him along on their next kangaroo hunt. Needless to say, things don’t go well for good ole Carl, for his inability to keep his stomach contents down during the slaughtering of kangaroo results in him being abandoned in the middle of nowhere, and the hits keep on coming as Carl is then attacked by a herd of wild pigs, spurred on by the giant boar, which then chases him through the night and forces him to take shelter atop a windmill. It’s at this point that the movie takes a hard right turn into surrealism, as Carl’s trek across the Australian outback causes him to suffer from dehydration-induced hallucinations.
From alien landscapes to bizarre manifestations these are some seriously trippy moments, and we owe much of this to cinematographer Dean Semler who was hired on the strength of his work on Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, and it is some of the most breathtakingly haunting imagery you’ll ever see. It’s touches like these, provided by Mulcahy and Semler, that makes Razorback stand apart from the countless other Jaws rip-offs. Sadly, the brilliance of Carl’s delusional journey is never repeated, and once Carl staggers into the homestead of Sarah Cameron (Arkie Whiteley), a young woman studying the wild boars as part of some government grant, the film dovetails into the standard “hero must avenge his woman” trope … well not too standard, as there is still a giant razorback boar to contend with.
• Jake had managed to tag the razorback with a tracking dart, which leads to all the locals whooping and hollering as they scramble into their vehicles to hunt down the killer boar, a scene that clearly mirrors the fishing armada sequence from Jaws.
• Jake finds Beth’s wedding ring in a pile of boar feces. Yikes.
• Carl doesn’t have the stomach to actually kill either Benny or Dicko, though they still both die horribly, but that Carl isn’t able to “properly” avenge his wife is a nice character moment.
• A romance between Carl and Beth seems to be in the offing, which is weird considering he just lost his wife, a pregnant wife, I must add.
• The razorback is hardly visible in this film, we only get quick glimpses of it during the attacks, much in the way that Spielberg did with his unworkable mechanical shark.
• The final showdown takes place in the dark confines of the dog food factory, with smoke and mood lighting that wouldn’t be out of place in a Dario Argento film.
Russell Mulcahy is mostly known for directing The Highlander, a film that has achieved some serious cult status, but his film Razorback is easily one of the more interesting entries in “Nature Attacks” and is quite superior to most of the Jaws rip-offs. If one had to point out a failing in this film, it would be that not all the actors bring their best to the roles — especially the two American actors — and some of the Australian dialogue and slang could leave some viewers in the dust, but overall this is a horror film that I highly recommend simply for how beautifully the thing was shot.
Movie Rank - 7/10
The cinematography is the true star of Razorback, turning the Australian outback into a Daliesque landscape, while wisely hiding the film’s killer boar from clear view, and as man against nature films go this one is a winner.