Razorback
“It's waiting outside and it can sense your fear. No nightmare will prepare you for it!”

Cast and Crew

Director:   Russell Mulcahy
Scriptwriter:   Everett De Roche
Cinematographer:   Dean Semler
Director of Photography:   Dean Semler
Producer:   Hal McElroy
Production Companies:   UAA Films
  Western Film Productions

Actors:       Gregory Harrison           Carl Winters
                  Arkie Whiteley              Sarah Cameron
                  Bill Kerr                       Jake Cullen
  Chris Haywood              Benny Baker
  David Argue                  Dicko Baker
  Judy Morris                   Beth Winters
  John Howard                 Danny
  John Ewart                    Turner
  Don Smith                     Wallace
  Mervyn Drake                Andy
  Redmond Phillips           Magistrate
  Alan Becher                   Counsel (as Alan Beecher)
  Peter Schwarz                Lawyer (as Peter Schwartz)
  Beth Child                     Louise Cullen
  Rick Kennedy                Farmer
  Chris Hession                 Television Cowboy
  Brian Adams                  Male Newscaster
  Jinx Lootens                           Female Newscaster
  Angus Malone                Scotty
  Peter Boswell                 Wagstaff
  Don Lane                      Himself

Release Dates:      Australia     April 1984  
USA           16 November 1984        
Sweden       21 December 1984        
Japan                   1 June 1985         
Finland       19 July 1985        
Norway       14 November 1985

Production Budget:      AUD $5,500,000
Box Office Figures:       (US) Total gross:  $150,140
                                   

Weekend Chart Record (US)

Date

Rank

 

Gross

% Change

Theaters

Per Theater

Total Gross

Days

11/16/1984

35

$89,331

 

50

$1,787

$89,331

3

11/23/1984

31

$25,281

-71.70%

13

$1,945

$138,643

10

                                                                                 *www.the-numbers.com

Razorback is listed as number 93 on the Australian Film Commission’s chart (in order of $ profit) of Australian films earning more than US$100,000 gross at the US box office, 1981–2006

*www.afc.gov.au

Awards:

Australian Cinematographers Society

Year

Result

Award

Category/Recipient(s)

1984

Won

Cinematographer of the Year


Dean Semler

Australian Film Institute

1984

Won

AFI Award

Best Achievement in Cinematography
Dean Semler

Best Achievement in Editing
William M. Anderson

Nominated

AFI Award

Best Achievement in Production Design
Bryce Walmsley

Best Achievement in Sound

Best Original Music Score
Iva Davies

Best Screenplay, Adapted
Everett De Roche

Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival

Year

Result

Award

Category/Recipient(s)

1985

Nominated

Grand Prize


Russell Mulcahy

*www.IMDB.com

Interesting Facts:

  1. Russell Mulcahy directed the music video for the song “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles.
  2. Eight crew members were needed to operate the giant boar

 

Interviews:
Interview with Gregory Harrison (found in the Special Features portion of the Special Edition DVD of Razorback)
“This is Jaws in the outback of Australia and it’s a pig with big teeth.  I took the script back to the hotel, sat down with it and I liked it.  It’s like nothing I’d ever seen.” – Gregory Harrison

Interview with Russell Mulcahy found in Cinema Papers No. 46 [July 1984] p.139-141, 178 [AU]
“I want to do another film now, but during the shoot I thought, ‘Bugger this for a life!’  It is fucking hard work.”

Reviews:
Film Review found in Metro magazine No. 64 [1984] p.51 [AU]
“In essence Razorback is a Mulcahy trade-off of his ‘history’.  He does, after all, utilize his pop-clip style whenever there’s a lapse in narrative structure.  And as it stands, Mulcahy reaches into Mad Max territory too often, without the power of the Mad Max movies.  The issues in Razorback remain too murky, often failing to provide the necessary motivational logic for the actions.”

Credits and Review found in Variety [1 January 1984] [USA] http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117794335.html?categoryid=31&cs=1&query=Razorback
“an extremely handsome production, beautifully shot by Dean Semler.”

Film Review found at http://www.cinephilia.net.au/show_movie.php?movieid=3119. no author given.  no date of publication given.
“it’s obvious we should be having more nightmares about the Outback.”     

Documentary:
“Jaws on Trotters: The Making of Razorback” is a 70 minute documentary about the making of the film, found in the Special Features portion of the Special Edition DVD of Razorback.  The documentary includes commentary from cast and crew members Russell Mulcahy (director), Hal McElroy (producer), Chris Haywood (actor), Rob McCarron (designer), Judy Morris (actress), Iva Davies (composer) and others.
“Jaws on land, pig on water, jaws on trotters.  I don’t think there was much more of a tagline than that.”

Online Presence:
         A search for the title of the film, Razorback, on the major search engines such as Google brought up numerous amateur websites and message boards containing discussions of the film.  Most of these sites were fairly current, leading me to believe that Razorback enjoys popularity with today’s generations.  The message boards, however, were specifically meant for use by fans of horror and science fiction films.  This may mean the positive feedback regarding the film is somewhat biased.
Factual data such as names of the cast and crew members and release dates were easily found through the mighty International Movie Database (www.IMDB.com).  There were also a few sites containing US box office figures but none with AU figures.  The information that is not readily available is full texts of interviews and reviews done by credible sources.  This is because the film was produced in 1984, before the proliferation of internet usage.  I was only able to find two very brief synopses and reviews of the film.  The one that I consider to be credible can be found on Variety.com. Variety is a highly successful publication that seems to, unlike many smaller publications, have taken the time to convert most of its printed archives into a digital format.  The other review can be found on www.cinephilia.net.au.  This review is very poorly written including numerous grammatical errors and contains no information about the author or publication.

Critical Review:
        
         Razorback is a monster movie horror film based on the novel by Peter Brennan about a killer boar that terrorizes the outback of Australia.  In the film, the boar’s first victim is a small child who is staying with his grandfather in a farmhouse.  Jake, the grandfather, is accused of murdering his grandchild but is acquitted.  We find out later in the movie that he has become a boar hunter and is on a search for the razorback that devoured his grandson.  The lead female character, Beth Winters played by Judy Morris, becomes the massive boar’s next victim, during a trip to Australia for a film shoot of a documentary about kangaroo poachers.  After being told that Beth had died by falling down a mine shaft, Beth’s American husband, Carl Winters, suspects foul play and travels to Australia to uncover the real story.  He meets Jake, who suggests that the giant razorback who took the child may also be responsible for his wife’s death.  Carl quarrels with brothers, Benny and Dicko Baker, the operators of a factory where dog food is made out of poached kangaroos.  Eventually Carl and Sarah Cameron, a farmgirl in the area, meet and join together in a hunt for the razorback that will become a fierce battle between humanity and beast.
This grossly exaggerated monster movie is modeled after the 1975 American film, Jaws.  In the documentary of the making of the film on the Special Edition DVD, the crew describes it as, “Jaws on land, pig on water, Jaws on trotters.”  This is a pretty accurate description of the film.  It is about exaggerating a dangerous animal into a massive, ferocious, unnatural creature.  In both Jaws and Razorback, the beast was left unseen until late in the film.  Director, Russell Mulcahy, explains in an interview in Cinema Papers that this is because, “What you don’t see is usually more frightening than what you do, as long as in the end you get your money’s worth” [Cinema Papers, p. 139].   Usually I would agree with this statement but in Razorback the threat is so obscure that it did not seem real.  The absence of shark sightings in Jaws worked well because most people know what a shark is and are already afraid of them.  It is more difficult to instill fear in the audience when part of the audience does not understand why they should be afraid of a pig.  An added sighting of the massive beast in all of its fierce glory may have given the audience, especially the non-Australian members, more of an understanding of the dangerous nature of the animal.
Partially because of this ambiguous threat, I found the plot to be bland and disengaging.  I must admit that it is a very creative idea for a story but a story so extremely obscure needs much more explanation.  It leaves me wondering, how could the boar grow to be so huge without dying? and why would no one else have seen it?  Perhaps there were steroids or secret chemicals in the food it ate.  The film could have had an added element of science fiction in order to explain the boar’s existence and it would have seemed more realistic.
The element of this film that almost saved its reputation in my mind is the cinematography and photography direction.  Russell Mulcahy and Dean Semler successfully created a visually stunning masterpiece…about a killer pig.  The opening scene of the movie, of which I have placed I still photo at the end of this paper, gave me high hopes for the quality of the film.  Mulcahy and Semler make expert use of light, fog and camera controls to create absolutely amazing photography.  The movements of the camera are also expertly executed.  Mulcahy explained in the Cinema Papers interview [Cinema Papers, p. 140] that when they came across obstacles such as the tracking dolly stumbling over shots, they found simple, functional solutions like suspending the camera on two pieces of cloth before trying to move it so as to absorb the shock.  This inexpensive solution created fluid camera movement that looks like that of later films.  Also, when possible, the crew was careful to obtain the latest in film technology.  Given a larger budget than most Australian films of the time, the film was able to be shot on a new slow-speed film so that very dark lighting was possible.  The crew also insisted that the film use Dolby Stereo sound.  The use of this next generation technology and expert creation of visual, emotive images gave the film a sophisticated, professional feel.  Unfortunately, the visual style was not enough to make up for what the narrative was lacking.  In reference to producing music videos, Mulcahy states, “If you have a ratshit song nothing can help.  Even spending ten million dollars won’t help.”  Ah, the irony… Even advanced, expert-created visual elements could not help the ratshit narrative of Razorback.  Without both elements well executed, the film failed to gain my favor.

Critical Uptake:

Determining the societal response to the film at the time of release is difficult because the only box office figures that I could find were those of the film’s United States release.  The film grossed $150,140 in the US.  This seems quite pathetic, even for its relatively small budget of AUD $5,500,000.  I would like to think that the film must have done better in Australia due to the fact that wild boars are more of an issue in the outback than in the California traffic or the corn fields of Iowa, but I fear it couldn’t have done well enough to earn as much money as it used in production.
         The user reviews on websites such as Amazon.com and IMDB.com indicate very mixed feelings about the film in more recent years.  While some users praise it very highly, others seem to passionately despise the film and all those involved in its creation.  More often than not, users seem to think it is a great film.  The problem with concluding that this is the overall consensus is that users most often go to the effort to research and contribute to film feedback when they enjoy the film, not when they hate it.  I believe the general response to the film is summed up in one user’s 2004 review of Razorback, “It's pretty good and it's pretty bad, but it's worth a taste if only to see if it appeals to yours.”  Unfortunately films do not make much money when “pretty bad” elements go along with the good parts of it.
         Razorback was, however, nominated for a number of awards.  Dean Semler won awards for the cinematography from both the Australian Cinematographers Society and the Australian Film Institute.  The film was also nominated for awards of best achievement in production design, sound, music score, screenplay, and direction.  Even though it does not appear to have ever been extremely popular with the general public, Razorback did seem to make quite an impression on the film panels.

Circumstances of Production and Release:

Razorback was allotted a good chunk of money for its production.  Most Australian films of its time had budgets of less than AUD $3million.  Razorback’s budget was approximately AUD $5,500,000.  With this money, the film was able to incorporate much of the latest technology including quality slow-speed film and Dolby Stereo sound.  This gave it a more professional feel than many of the other films produced in the 1980s.
Unfortunately, the large budget failed to produce a film that would capture enough of an audience to earn a significant profit.  In the US, the film earned back less than 3% of the money it spent.  Although there are no available box office figures for the release of the film in Australia or other countries, we can assume that it did not earn the $5,349,860 that it would have needed in order to break even.

Prior Work of Russell Mulcahy:

         Before directing Razorback, Russell Mulcahy had worked solely on music videos and short films.  He directed videos for rock artists such as Duran Duran and Billy Joel.  His great work with setting visual images to music influenced the way in which producers thought of his work.  He claimed in a Cinema Papers interview, “Before Razorback, I was only offered musicals: Flashdance 2 and one called Space Riders, which was a science fiction musical.  But I didn’t want to do them because I’d been doing music clips for the past five years.  The script for Razorback was different and a little more challenging” [Cinema Papers, p. 139].   He mentioned that directing a full length film required much more focus and concentration than any of the 4 minute clips he had worked on previously.  Because the scenes may be shot separately and out of order, the director has to be aware at all times of what is happening in each scene and how it relates to the others.
Through his career in music videos, Mulcahy developed a talent for creating magnificent visual images in accompaniment with lyrics and music.  In Razorback, this talent is obvious.  He constructed fantastic still images as well as cinematography using vivid colors and carefully placed lighting, fog, and props.  Every shot could have been a striking still photograph. 
Much of this visual success was also due to the work of Dean Semler.  Semler had previously worked on films such as Hoodwink and Mad Max.  In 1984 Semler won the Cinematographer of the Year from the Australian Cinematographers Society and the Best Achievement in Cinematography award from the Australian Film Institute, both for his achievements on Razorback.  This helped to spark his career and soon after he worked on Dances With Wolves, Waterworld, and The Bone Collector, leading to an Academy Award for the cinematography of Dances with Wolves in 1991.  Recently he has helped create Dragonfly, The Longest Yard, and Click.

Value of Australian Cinema:
        
Unfortunately Razorback does not bode all that well for Australian cinema.  As we can tell from the box office figures mentioned earlier, it did not fare well in the United States.  There were no figures from other countries that were remarkable enough to be mentioned at all.  As a piece of entertainment it does not represent Australian cinema well.
         Looking at it through the eyes of a critic, however, it does have many positive elements.  Disregarding the narrative, the film was very visually appealing.  Several critics took notice and the film won multiple awards.  With a higher budget than most Australian films at the time, the crew was able to create greater effects.  Razorback did prove that with a little more money Australian filmmakers are able to produce professional style films.
         Many great directors of photography come from the Australian film industry.  Dean Semler is no different.  Mulcahy and Semler were paired perfectly.  They each had great talent in creating visual images and together showed the world just how magnificent Australian cinematography can be.
The film also further established the Australian theme of quirky narratives.  There is no film review that doesn’t make some sort of joke about the fact that the film is about a killer pig.

Genre:       

         Many of the film reviews of Razorback that I found describe it as a horror/science fiction film.  I think of it as more of just a horror film (even though it may not be successfully horrifying).  To me, science fiction involves the altering or creation of something.  Usually this involves either machinery or chemical alterations.  The film could be considered to be science fiction if the razorback had been somehow created by humans.  Then it would be more of a Frankenstein sort of film rather than a model of Jaws.
         The genre that I think it fits into very well is the “monster movie” genre.  These films tend to involve living creatures that pose a threat to humans in an intimidating and terrifying way.  I believe this is the effect that the razorback was meant to have on the humans.  The monsters in these films have wills of their own but their thought patterns seem to be nil.  They usually attack humans because of a natural instinct to do so and their power over humans is due to their strength rather than their wit.  The razorback is a giant boar that seems to randomly attack people in the outback.  It has no clear motive for doing so.  In the end we see the humans conquering the boar by tricking it into falling into a meat grinder.  It is not shown to be an intelligent animal.  Its entire ability to destroy humans is due to its size.  Because of these elements, I classify Razorback as a monster movie within the horror genre.

 

Print resources:

Cinema papers.  No. 46.  [July 1984]  p. 139-141, 178 [AU]

Metro Magazine.  No. 64.  [August 1984]  p. 51  [AU]

Internet resources:

Amazon.com.  “Razorback (1984)”.  [online].  <http://www.amazon.com/Razorback-Gregory-Harrison/dp/6300270599>.

Australian Film Commission.  “What Australians Are Making: Release Success of Australian Productions”.  [online]  25 April, 2007.  <http://www.afc.gov.au/GTP/mrboxus.html>.

DVDActive.  “Razorback: Special Edition”.  [online].  25 April, 2007.  <http://www.dvdactive.com/reviews/dvd/razorback-special-edition.html>.

The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Film and Television.  “Razorback [1984]”.  [online].  25 April, 2007.  <http://www.eofftv.com/r/raz/razorback_main.htm>.

International Movie Database.  “Dean Semler”.  [online].  25 April, 2007.  <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0005871/>.

International Movie Database.  “Razorback (1984)”.  [online].  25 April, 2007.  < http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0087981/>.

Internet Movie Poster Awards.  “Razorback (1984)”.  [online].  25 April, 2007.  <http://www.impawards.com/1984/razorback.html>.

Nash Information Services, LLC.  “Movie Razorback – Box Office Data”.  [online].  25 April, 2007. 
<http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/1984/0RZRB.php>.

 

 

Critical Review by Katie Wertsch. 27 April, 2007.