Review: Rabid

Posted by Peter Hall - February 15th 2006 @ 1:52 pm

Directed by David Cronenberg, 1977

I’ll tell you right off the bat, if the name David Cronenberg is meaningless to you, this movie will be as well.

Cronenberg’s earliest entries to the genre have strange qualities to them that I really dig. He has a way of creating scenarios that are obscurely atypical, but never absurd. He has a raw gift for setting stories in places that you just don’t expect to associate with horror.

Shivers took place at a revolutionary apartment building that functioned as an autonomous city. Rabid starts off on a rural highway where a couple get into a horrible motorcylce accident and are taken to a plastic surgery clinic nearby. The Brood revolves around a highly experimental psychiatric retreat in the woods.

But in addition to the unexpected settings, he always delievered quirky and original storylines. Shivers (my favorite of the pre-80s Croeneberg flicks) is about a parasite that turns those it infects into violently sex-crazed lunatics. The Brood is about a woman who, when undergoing psychiatric regression, gives birth to mutated children who do the bidding of her subconcious. And with Rabid we get a woman who wakes up from a coma with a thirst for blood which transmits a rabies-esque virus to all the people she ‘bites’, who then infect more and more people.

Cronenberg never explains the tiny mouth under Rose’s arm with which she bites her victims, but it doesn’t really matter because its so damn weird that it just works. Actually, not explaining it gives a real air of creepiness to the movie that wouldn’t be there otherwise. Before we see the thing, which in true Cronenberg fashion looks just like an anus, we don’t know how shes causing people harm, but damn is it freaky. Simple it may be, but creepy nonetheless.

The movie strays away from defining her new ability and shows the aftermath of her communicable disease as people all over the city start to turn. In this day and age, a cinematic disease which turns people into posessed ghouls with a passion for biting people’s necks is practically commonplace, so looking at it in the timeline of the Romero spawned zombie-verse (though the people in Rabid clearly aren’t the undead), this pre-Dawn of the Dead (but post-Night of the Living Dead) was among the pioneers of the field of city-wide-neck-devouring. And it still works 30 years after it was made, even though the amount of ghoul-ish movies I’ve seen has watered down my love towards the zombie sub-genre.

And once again, Cronenberg proves he is a benchmark for other directors in regards to coaxing career-high performances out of actors. This time its Marilyn Chambers, an adult film star from back in the day. Okay, well I’m probably jumping the gun here and just assuming any acting she did in porn was horrible since porn isn’t known for its thesbians, so if anyone who is a Marilyn Chambers fan cares to correct me, I welcome it. Why Cronenberg chose to cast a porn star as the lead is beyond me, considering there isn’t much sexuality (aside from the sparse nudity) at all required by her role or the movie as a whole. But he must have seen something in her, because she is solid throughout. I guess she has a subtle on screen look of lust which would normally be sexual in anything else she did, but in Rabid it’s simple blood lust. A dodgy casting call, but it paid off.

And man, throughout the entire movie I kept driving myself crazy trying to think of what modern celebrity she looked like, until I realized towards the end that she is a dead ringer of a slightly more mature Kelly Clarkson. Go figure.

Nowhere near as good as his genre landmarks The Fly and The Dead Zone, but Rabid can stand on its own two feet. Good if you’re a Cronenberg fan, just watchable if you’re not.


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