Often written off simply as ‘that Australian giant pig film’, Razorback was popular on VHS but unfairly treated by the format. It’s also still not widely available everywhere on DVD. This is a genuine shame as one of the most striking aspects of the film is the visuals, which are better accentuated by watching the film in DVD or in a theater in a widescreen presentation (the various VHS releases were mostly poor quality pan and scan). The impressive cinematography would surely look even more impressive if a restoration was undertaken and I’m sure a Blu-Ray release would be well received.
The film begins with the brief explanation of the events surrounding Jake Cullen (Bill Kerr) who is babysitting his grandson when the Razorback attacks killing the grandson before disappearing into the outback. Jake reports this and goes to court to explain the circumstances surrounding the death but his story is not believed and he is publicly disgraced and treated like a crazy old man.
The film then cuts forward many years and Jake is living in the middle of nowhere, hunting razorbacks and searching for the giant one that killed his grandson and ruined his life. A journalist and animal activist Beth Winters arrives in the small town to do an expose on kangaroo poachers/Petpak workers (including a pair called the ‘Baker Brothers’) who are making dog food from kangaroo meat. She briefly encounters Jake who when asked about his hunting habits comments that “I don’t know. There’s something about blasting the shit out of a razorback that brightens up my whole day.” She also meets the local kangaroo poachers/Petpak workers who try and rape her. They are interrupted in this middle of this deplorable act by an attack from the razorback who kills Beth.
Upon learning off Beth’s disappearance her boyfriend Carl travels to try and find her or find out what happened to her. He arrives in town and infiltrates the gang of poachers, slowly realising the fate that befell Beth. The gang leave him stranded one night where he is attacked by wild boar, wanders the desolate landscape before being rescued by local woman Sarah and Jake. The film builds to a finale where Carl and Sarah fight it out against the giant razorback and the poachers in the dog food factory.
The most exceptional aspect to the film is without doubt the visuals which are truly stunning. Mulcahy began his career as a music video director and was given the chance to direct this feature film. Although this is now a common directorial trajectory, Mulcahy was one of the first to be given this chance and the studio took a risk in hiring him. Despite finding further success with Highlander Mulcahy’s career has somewhat stagnated and he has made some pretty poor films recently, such as Resident Evil: Extinction. Even Resident Evil: Extinction though has some striking visuals at times and you can clearly see the hand of Mulcahy in it.
One of the criticisms that is often leveled against music video directors turned feature directors is that they make films that are style over substance. There is some weight behind this argument and it is fair to say that there is certainly more style in Razorback than there is substance and the plot is a relatively simple Jaws derivative. The film though is visually sumptuous and although the plot is simplistic, the story is told efficiently and with expert pacing. Although I would never argue that films with style and no substance should be the goal for any filmmaker, there are examples where the exceptional visual style of the director can do a lot to carry the film. The films of Giallo filmmakers such as Mario Bava and Dario Argento are often treated kindly due to their exceptional talents as visual artists and although I do not agree with inadequacies in their films being ignored it is worth celebrating the talent of someone who can create shots so beautiful they would stand out as photos if removed from their source.
One sequence in particular stands out during Razorback; following Carl’s abandonment in the outback he wanders through the landscape, hallucinating and falling in and out of conscious. The scene is beautifully shot and is alone almost worth checking the film out for.
Razorback is available in varying formats of differing quality including the very cheap Starz DVD in the UK and the Warner Archive collection edition in the US.
Check out the stylish opening scene from Razorback below.