Widescreen Rawhead Rex and Transmutations

Clive Barker has essentially disowned the first two film adaptations of his writings, Rawhead Rex and Transmutations, even though he also wrote the screenplays for both. You don't have to search long or hard to find interviews where he talks about their low budgets and general "not getting it" that inspired him to become a director for Hellraiser, so he could make sure his work was represented properly. In fact, let's not mince words.  He's gone so far as to say, "Oh, I hated them with a passion! I haven't seen them for many a long year and hope never to see them again." But, while they're certainly not up to the level of Hellraiser, they're still enjoyable little films for cult and horror fans - certainly better than many - and it's a shame they're so poorly represented in most of the world by low-quality, full-frame discs.

Meanwhile, in France, there's a horror magazine called Mad Movies. I've never read it (it being in French and all), but I gather it's their Fangoria equivalent. And they've written that they have quite a good relationship with Barker based on articles in the past, and so they've released his first two films on their own line of DVDs. Now, I don't believe it went as far as Barker actually being involved with these releases personally - I don't imagine they actually got him to watch those movies again, and he he hasn't provided any interviews or anything for special features. And neither has anybody else, there are no extras, they aren't fancy special editions (::pokes Scream Factory::), but they are the first and only releases of the film in their OAR widescreen ratios.
If you've read Barker's story, it's easy to be disappointed in Rawhead Rex. It's a wild, over-the-top story of a mad demi-god running amuck in modern times, told from his perspective and full of crazy inner monologue. In the movie, he's a completely non-verbal monster. And the special effects, while a great design, were clearly not meant to be seen by the camera so directly or for so long; and so it looks like a big, phoney mask (in some shots they just about get away with it; in others they clearly don't). A few other clever bits of writing in the plot points are lost, too, as well as some social commentary. If ever a movie called for a remake, it's this one.
But if you can get past the coulda woulda shouldas of it, the movie we're left with is still pretty cool. It's a fun, violent monster movie that still retains enough remnants of Barker's script to set it above and beyond the generic monster movie. Not the least of which is the villainous priest character who rejects Christ to worship and serve Rex. Scenic locales, a nice score, a cool monster even if it is on the cheap and a collection of respectable performances are all enjoyable. This is the kind of monster movie that's not afraid to take out children, and while Rex doesn't speak, besides roars and growls, they do use the opportunity to have his crazy priest speak fir him ("he sees what I see!"). It may not be Barker's wild story fully realized, but it's still more cool stuff going on than your average monster movie of the period, a la the recently popular The Boogens.
Rawhead Rex is presented here in an anamorphic widescreen edition that's a nice improvement over the other discs. It's ever so slightly pillar-boxed to about 1.75:1, and while the film still looks digitally grungy, like the standard definition is struggling on the grain, seeing the movie like this helps raise the film from its "cheap piece of crap" reputation. With every shot looking better, it feels like a more intelligently created film. The budget still shows in the effects, and a new HD transfer would do wonders for the look of the image, this is at least a respectable, watchable version of the film... for the first time ever. To be fair to the past discs, at least the two I've seen, they were open matte. And otherwise, the transfers looked pretty similar. So they're not so much worse; but again, seeing this film framed properly helps a good deal.
Transmutations (aka Underworld) is more of a mess. Rawhead Rex disappointed audiences by over-simplifying, but this film could've done with a bit of that. It's full of Clive Barker themes, though, which should please fans at least. You've got a noir-ish detective as the lead, investigating the supernatural (a la Lord of Illusions). And he stumbles upon an underground collection of unique monsters who at first appear menacing but turn out to be the good guys (a la Nightbreed). The monsters turn out to be mutations, the result of an evil doctor, played by the always effective Denholm Elliot, giving them experimental drugs, which they also become addicted to. They're also some British mobster types, and a prostitute who's so beautiful everyone falls in love with her and who happens to have magical powers... or something. It makes enough sense to follow the story, but when you start to ask detailed questions, its internal logic kinda falls apart. Plus it looks cheap again. But it's energetic and entertaining enough for a casual viewing, and it's got a colorful 80s music video look.
Transmutations is once again slightly pillar-boxed to 1.75:1 and looks pretty nice. Sure there's room for plenty of improvement in an HD release, but it's pretty attractive for DVD. It helps that the film was shot with so many bright, neon colors that has a soft, smoothing effect. Unfortunately, I don't think this is as good as a movie even as Rawhead Rex, so I don't think there's as many fans interested in this film regardless of what's presented here. But if you are keen to watch this movie, this is certainly the version to see.
Neither disc has any extras, not even trailers. Since these are French discs, they both have French audio dubs and French subtitles. But the subs are removable, and the original English audio tracks are also present. I've seen these titles referred to as being out of print and hard to find, but I think that's just some confusion about them being available chiefly through Mad Movies' online store. They're actually quite cheap and in stock as of this writing; you can get them here and here. Mad Movies also has a host of other titles at very attractive prices, but I have no idea what their transfers and features are like. These two stand out, because they are exclusive, superior editions.

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