Sure we usually think of horror films as being stories about things like zombies, or vampires, or some sort of paranormal nastiness. But we also have a whole other category of horror films about animals that attack. Jaws is probably the most famous example. The Steven Spielberg blockbuster spawned a ton of other films about nasty creatures from under the sea…Orca, Piranha, Barracuda, and Tentacles, just to name a few. There were plenty of land-based killer animals too like a bear in Grizzly or bees in The Swarm. But how about pigs? More specifically wild boars. Well leave it to the Australians to explore the potential of a giant killer pig in 1984’s Razorback.
The film takes place deep in the Australian outback. A kangaroo hunter named Jake Cullen (Bill Kerr) is watching his young grandson one night when suddenly his home is crashed by a giant razorback boar. In the process of destroying the house, the boar steals the youngster out of his crib and runs off into the night. Forget “the dingo took my baby,” this time it’s a boar! Of course, nobody believes Jake’s story about a killer razorback. He is put on trial for the assumed death of the child, but is eventually released due to lack of evidence.
Two years later, reporter Beth Winters (Judy Morris) is dispatched to the outback to do a story on illegal hunting of animals which are then turned into dog food in a rundown factory. Beth ends up encountering two brothers, Benny (Chris Haywood) and Dicko (David Argue), who are running this operation. They chase her down and attempt to assault her, but they are chased off by the giant boar. Beth doesn’t escape, however, as the boar ends up attacking her.
A short time later, Beth’s husband, Carl (Gregory Harrison), comes to the outback to get to the bottom of her mysterious disappearance. Carl’s search leads him to Benny and Dicko, who take him on a nighttime hunt and end up leaving him in the middle of nowhere. As he wanders the outback, he encounters the giant razorback. He even has to spend the night perched atop of a windmill. When he gets down, he makes his way to the farm of a young woman, Sarah (Arkie Whiteley), who has been tracking the wild pigs of the area with an electronic system. When Jake finds out that Carl encountered the razorback, he is anxious to learn more and go after the beast. Meanwhile, the two brothers are attempting to utilize the killer boar to eliminate Jake and Carl, as they fear they are about to be implicated in the disappearance of Beth. It all culminates in a big showdown between Carl and the boar in the factory.
Razorback is definitely borrowing more than a few pages out of the Jaws playbook. Most noticeable is the fact that, like in Jaws, we really only get fleeting glimpses of the killer pig. This was a relatively low-budget production and its probably a safe bet that there wasn’t enough money for a big, impressive, fully-articulated giant boar. It looks like they were able to create a nice big ugly head, and that’s about it. In the end, that’s really all they needed. Director Russell Mulcahy (in his debut after a string of successful music videos) handles his limitations beautifully and manages to create a solid amount of suspense and tension. When we do get a good look at the razorback, it never seems clunky or fake.
Though the horror element of Razorback works quite well, what impressed me most about the movie is its unique visual style. The shot composition in this film is quite striking and really adds a unique element to the film. Mulcahey creates a silhouette effect in many shots, which is a wonderful way to photograph some of the barren and gnarled trees of the outback. The visuals go a bit surreal in one sequence in which Gregory Harrison’s character begins to hallucinate as he wanders across the outback. He see’s the earth start to bubble, large cracks form in the desert and monolithic rocks surround him. It looks a bit like a Salvador Dali painting. He even sees bizarre skeletons of long-dead animals seem to come to life. The sequence was completely unexpected, yet I loved how out-there it was.
At its heart, Razorback is fun little piece of oz-ploitation about a giant killer pig. It has some nice shock moments, a strong amount of excitement, and it’s one of the most visually intriguing films I’ve seen in a long time. You could say that it’s Jaws in the outback…but if only all Jaws rip offs were this good.