One the last interesting Ozploitation efforts from the 70s-80s heyday of the genre, Razorback plays a bit like a compendium of previous successful Aussie pictures, with a setting and secondary characters straight out of Wake in Fright (1971), even going so far as to shoot in the same locations (Broken Hill, NSW), the vehicular fetishism of The Cars That Ate Paris (1974) along with the original Mad Max (1978) and it's sequels, as well as the Man-Against-Nature theme of Long Weekend (1978).
The plot is a pretty straightforward retread of "Jaws"(1974), with the marauding shark of Spielberg's seminal picture here replaced by a man-eating wild pig, inexplicably grown to Rhinoceros dimensions, and the earlier film's coastal New England setting here becoming a ramshackle rural backwater in the Australian Outback.
Opening with a nod to the infamous Azaria Chamberlain dingo-baby case, the film quickly establishes both its breakneck pace and a peculiarly perverse set of supporting characters, as Old Jake (Bill Kerr), whose grandson is taken by the boar, is charged with murdering the child and acquires and Ahab-like obsession with killing the animal. Some years later, a crusading American TV journalist (Judy Morris) arrives in town to report on illegal Kangaroo hunting, and is killed by the giant pig after running afoul of the locals. Her wet-behind-the-ears Canadian husband (an ineffectual Gregory Harrison) arrives in town following her trail, eventually joining forces with Jake and a conveniently pretty blonde ecologist (Arkie Whiteley) to hunt the monster down.
So stated, it would seem pretty standard stuff, but what matters about this tale is the telling. Being the feature debut of director Russell Mulcahy (fresh from a successful run making music videos for Duran Duran and others), who would go on to helm the original Highlander (1986) shortly after this, and with future oscar-winner Dean Semler (Mad Max 2, Dances With Wolves) behind the camera, the film is shot in a richly textured, bold and often hallucinatory style which, while at times excessive, both effectively captures the vivid colours of the Australian landscape and sharply evokes the inhospitable environment of the country's interior.
Clearly aspiring to more than simple genre status, the film's kaleidoscopic visual language sketches a uniquely uninviting portrait of Australia's rural landscape, and peoples it with some of the most bizarre examples of humanity ever committed to celluloid. By wisely keeping the titular beast mostly off-screen, or glimpsed only fleetingly (through the iris of a camera or scope of a rifle), Mulcahy allows the creature to acquire a semi-mythic quality, equating it directly with the character of the land itself. Like in the Speilberg film, the monster pig is explicitly drawn as a broad metaphor for the hostility of the natural world; a ferocious, devouring archetype devoid of sense, reason or purpose, but simply opposed to the human protagonists as implacably as a natural disaster. Its purity is contrasted with the degraded state of many of the Outback's human inhabitants, largely depicted as unwashed, hard-faced, beer-swilling neanderthals, whose deaths by boar-tusk would almost seem to be a mercy. These themes are adroitly highlighted in an extended sequence where the lead character is marooned in the desert overnight, chased by a pack of feral pigs, and suffers hallucinations brought on by thirst, exposure and sunstroke. The film even takes a deep dive into the more rancid aspects of rural Australian life, particularly in the portrayal of two (possibly inbred) brothers who run a Kangaroo meat-packing operation out of a dilapidated, Blake-esque factory and live in a disused mine-shaft decorated with Barry Manilow posters.
Although at times the film's assembly is a little rough-shod, with a patchy script, scrappy editing and poor sound quality all problematic features, and with Mulcahy's exaggerated visuals sometimes detracting from the suspense as much as adding to it, this picture still manages to stand out by virtue of its bold style, nimble sense of humour and its undeniably ambitious attempt to be more than just another monster-on-the-loose popcorn stuffer.