Directed by David Cronenberg.
Starring Marilyn Chambers, Frank Moore, Joe Silver, Susan Roman and Howard Ryshpan.
After receiving experimental plastic surgery a young woman develops a taste for human blood and begins to infect everyone around her with her bloodthirsty madness.
Following on from their excellent release of David Cronenberg’s Shivers last year, Arrow Video bring the Canadian director’s second commercial feature film to Blu-ray with another strong package that breathes new life into a film nearly 40 years old.
In Rabid, porn star Marilyn Chambers plays Rose, a young woman involved in a motorcycle accident who receives some experimental plastic surgery to help with her severe injuries. However, the surgery results in the growth of a stinger in Rose’s armpit that attaches itself to anyone Rose gets close to and feeds on their blood, turning the victim into a zombie-like creature that spreads infection through its bite, creating a city-wide epidemic of crazed lunatics.
So, much like Shivers, Rabid is essentially a zombie movie but filtered through the mind of David Cronenberg, which means its ideas are not coming from the conventional place that zombie movies came from in the 1970s. The virus that infects the characters in Rabid isn’t the same as the death-dealing plague of the George A. Romero zombie movies (curiously, Rabid has a lot in common with Romero’s post-Night of the Living Dead movie The Crazies) or the sexually-charged infection of Shivers but is quite literally that of rabies. As with most of Cronenberg’s movies there is metaphor but unlike his later movies like Videodrome or The Fly, where the ideas of the body being invaded and turning on itself are wrapped up in stories about the video tape culture or genetic splicing, the rabies doesn’t seem to be representing anything other than disease in general. Quite why Rose develops a stinger under her arm is never explained, which means we cannot pin down on what Cronenberg was actually trying to say; to paraphrase Freud – who gets a nod or two in the film – sometimes a stinger is just a stinger…
Whilst Rabid is a step up in terms of technical quality from Shivers and it shows David Cronenberg’s growing confidence as a director it doesn’t hit its mark in the same way, ultimately coming across as slightly dull in comparison and making 91 minutes feel a lot longer than it actually is. This isn’t helped by some pretty awful performances, which blighted a lot of early Cronenberg films, but here the amateur actors aren’t helped by a script that feels like it could have done with a bit more development, Also, except for Marilyn Chambers, who does at least have something of a presence about her, you’ll be hard-pressed to remember any character’s name or anything that they said five minutes after the film finishes.
But despite Rabid’s shortcomings there are some moments that are pure Cronenberg, most notably the sight of the stinger coming out of the vaginal opening in Rose’s armpit (it’s that Freudian thing again) which despite not being overly gory is still quite disgusting. There is a bit of the red stuff flying about and the rabid victims spit and spew all sorts of coloured goo from their mouths, à la Bava’s Demons, but it never goes into full-on gore territory and that is intentional, giving Rabid the more cerebral stamp that Cronenberg gives to the horror genre. Coming packed with extra features such as a commentary by David Cronenberg, a 1999 episode of The Directors dedicated to Cronenberg, interviews with producers Ivan Reitman and Don Carmody, a featurette focusing on the special effects and several other goodies that’ll appeal to the Cronenberg die-hards, Rabid isn’t essential when put up against the director’s other works but it is something of a curiosity and could be seen as a forerunner to 28 Days Later and the current crop of running zombie movies.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★