What is the Powder Room?
What is the Powder Room?
Illustration for article titled Such Sights To Show You: Women in the Works of Clive Barker

Clive Barker is undoubtedly one of the best writers the horror genre has ever seen. Barker's macabre imagination has sprung numerous iconic characters; Pinhead, (every Cenobite, really), Candyman, etc. Clive Barker is also a feminist in much of his writing, which is why he is one of the foundations of my thesis work on women in horror.


Because the catalog of Clive Barker is so expansive, it's practically impossible to write about every one of his works in one post. Because of this, I'll focus on arguably his most feminist work.

Rawhead Rex is the second story in the third volume of Barker's series entitled Books of Blood. The Books of Blood are series of horror fiction collections.

At first look, the plot of Rawhead Rex seems simple enough. A large, children eating monster is unwittingly unearthed in rural Kent, corrupts several members of the local clergy to it's hedonistic causes, and forces the townsfolk to battle it to the death. An ancient terror fights against modern opponents, that in their evolution, forgot about that terror's existence. That being said, the story is much more than that.

Rawhead Rex is a monster that's imposing to behold. With shoulders twice as broad as a man, huge jaws filled with dozens of cruel sharp teeth, and a height of nine feet, Rawhead Rex is terrifying to behold. His lone weakness is the soft flesh of his head, hence the first part of his moniker (Rawhead), the second half, Rex, is a nod to the Latin word for King.

Interestingly, instead of targeting and devouring women like many monsters in the horror genre do, the titular Rawhead Rex is terrified of women and what they represent. Rawhead Rex first encounters a woman in a barn. Rawhead has hiddden in the barn, unseen next to the family pony, who has been panicking and making a ruckus at the presence of the hidden Rawhead. The owner of the house, Gwen Nicholson, fighting period cramps, checks on the pony and goes inside. Rawhead could have slain Gwen easily. But something makes Rawhead stop cold in his tracks.

"But there was no way he could bring himself to touch this woman; not today. She had the blood cycle on her, he could taste its tang, and it sickened him. It was taboo, that blood, and he had never taken a woman poisoned by its prescience."

Rawhead, ever the optimist, devours the pony instead, mulling to himself:

"Just because they'd tamed the wilderness for a while didn't mean they owned the earth. It was his, and nobody would take it from him, not even the holiness."

That line is significant, because it's not until the end of the short story that we see the holiness that Rawhead is referring too.

While Rawhead is terrorizing the village in his quest for child-flesh, the staff at the local Church find an interesting image emblazoned in the local alter. Not surprisingly, it's an image of the local villagers burying Rawhead Rex in the 14th century. Eventually, one of the local clergy, Declan, becomes swayed by Rawhead Rex, indulging in a bizarre baptism of Rawhead urinating on him in the churchyard. The lone remaining clergyman still dedicated to the cause of the Judeo-Christian God, called Coot, flees to the church, driving Rawhead away. Rawhead roars into the night, as he is desperately trying to obtain what is buried in the altar. Coot realizes that this object, hidden in the altar, may be the sole thing that can destroy Rawhead Rex. Coot then collapses, exhausted from his bout with Rawhead, and is brought to the local hospital by authorities that arrive to the scene.

Upon his temporary defeat at the Church, Rawhead Rex wanders in the moonlight, and is prone to existentialist musings. He recalls the first time he was subdued, those many years ago:

"He had been flushed out of his fortress with streaming eyes, confused and fearful, to be met with spikes and nets on every side, and that....thing they had, that sight that could subdue him."

Rawhead continues:

"Perhaps the women didn't forget him: he could smell them even through the earth, when they came close to his grave, and though they might not have known it they felt anxious, they persuaded their men to abandon the place altogether."

Rawhead goes on to think about the only revenge he and his brothers had on "the big-bellied sex," which was by raping women in the woods, and having them be forced to die from giving birth to the half-human, half-Rawhead hybrid. As Rawhead states, without an ounce of compassion for the human woman: "....no woman's anatomy could survive the thrashing of a hybrid, its teeth, its anguish."

Rawhead is confident that he'll succeed, and will live to terrorize the human race once more, saying confidently, "The only power that could defeat him, was apparently gone, lost beyond recall, its place usurped by a virgin shepherd."

Eventually, Rawhead goes on to eat more children. One of the father's of the children he consumed, Ron, furious at the loss of his son, goes on the warpath against Rawhead. After visiting Coot briefly in the hospital, and finding out that the object that can be used to defeat Rawhead is in the altar of the Church, Ron ventures there. After battling and smashing Declan's face into something unrecognizable, Ron begins his assault on the the altar. The heat emitting from the desecrated altar causes the wood to smolder. Using the altar cloth as a barrier, Ron finishes smashing the altar to bits, and reveals what he first believes is a stone. Exasperated, he begins to exit the Church, clutching the stone shrouded in the altar cloth. At this point, the townspeople start streaming in, shouting that Rawhead is burning the village.

It is upon seeing an image of a local woman, Mrs. Blatter, in her nightgown, that Ron realizes what he has in his hand. It is no stone.

"Her image was in his hand. God yes, she was there in his hand, she was the living equivalent of what he held. A woman. The stone was the statue of a woman, a Venus grosser than Mrs. Blatter, her belly swelling with children, tits like mountains, cunt a valley that began at her navel and gaped to the world. All this time, under the cloth and the cross, they'd bowed their heads to a goddess."

Ron barrels out of the Church to challenge Rawhead. Upon seeing the stone, Rawhead muses, horrified:

"To him the stone was the thing he feared most, the bleeding woman, her gaping hole eating seed and spitting children. It was life, that hole, that woman, it was endless fecundity. It terrified him."

This is "the holiness" that Rawhead mentioned earlier, that he so feared. Rawhead then promptly poops his proverbial pants, and with fecal matter dripping down his legs, begins to run away. Ron, and several other townspeople, sprint after him. Using the power of the stone in the shape of a woman to overtake him, they beat Rawhead to the ground, pummeling his soft skull until they kill him.


Rawhead Rex is terrified of women because although Rawhead can devour and take life, women can devour (semen) and give life. While Rawhead can only deal death, women provide life. This terrified Rawhead. This is an interesting change in the horror genre, as most monsters seem to target women to consume or kill. Rawhead Rex is one of the first monsters to have a fear of women on the whole. One could argue that this inherent fear of women as givers of life, as devourers that produce life out of their insatiable consumption, is one of the reasons that patriarchy started way back when.

Clive Barker continually stands out as a horror writer that has both heroes and heroines that crush genre expectations and gender roles. His view on this inherent equality in his works can be summed up in a quote from his Books of Blood series:

"Everybody is a book of blood; wherever we're opened, we're red."

Works Cited

Barker, Clive. "Rawhead Rex." Barker, Clive. Books Of Blood Volumes I To III . New York, New York: Berkley, 1984. 362-407.

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