BLU-RAY REVIEW: RABID / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: DAVID CRONENBERG / SCREENPLAY: DAVID CRONENBERG / STARRING: MARILYN CHAMBERS, FRANK MOORE, JOE SILVER, SUSAN ROMAN / RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 16TH
Being the spiritual successor to 1975’s Shivers, you’d expect plenty of the same themes and imagery at play, but the follow-up to David Cronenberg’s debut was a much more expansive, action orientated effort. It took the body horror out of an apartment complex and dragged it kicking and screaming into the streets of Montreal.
Rabid is a startlingly refreshing take on the vampire myth, which sees Rose and her boyfriend Hart involved in a motorcycle accident which leaves Rose fatally injured. She’s rushed to a nearby plastic surgery resort where, due to the lack of medical hardware, Dr. Dan Keloid uses a radical experimental surgery (proto stem cell treatment). Although completely curing her, Rose grows a phallic stinger under her armpit which she uses to rape victims and consume their blood. Those affected are left with memory loss before turning into zombies, driven to consume flesh and blood and spread the sexually transmitted infection throughout a frenzied Montreal.
Joe Silver has tremendous screen presence, even playing a character similar to his turn in Shivers, and Frank Moore is charming as Hart, but it’s Marilyn Chambers who dominates the screen. Best known for her adult films, Rabid was Chambers’ first, and sadly only, ‘straight’ dramatic role. Despite the controversy surrounding the casting decision, Chambers holds the film together and supports the weaker performances, playing Rose with a genuine intensity, plenty of sympathy and an abstract otherness.
Even on Arrow Film’s re-mastered Blu-ray release the film looks scuzzy, giving extra credence to the cold, oddly removed documentary style shoot. But to think Cronenberg’s intricate personality was absent gives the wrong impression, though it does lack the warmer, more personal touch of later efforts like The Fly. Fans of the filmmaker’s later works are probably going to be at odds with the picture quality, and unsure sure of the endearing oddness.
The soundtrack is overly syrupy, but there are scenes where droning industrial noises come into play, perfectly accompanying the nihilistic story unfolding onscreen. A re-score from Trent Reznor or Clint Mansell would give the film that extra edge. The prosthetic and FX hold up surprisingly well, due in no small part to how sparse and subtly they’re used. The zombies, given the lack of heavy make-up, have a tangible quality, and you really get a sense of the illness.
Included on the Blu-ray are two great documentaries, the first a Director’s Special from 1999, which offers a 60-minute retrospective of Cronenberg’s work, with interviews from Holly Hunter, Jennifer Jason Leigh and William Dafoe, among others. While it only fleetingly covers Rabid, there’s still interesting titbits for even the most knowing fans. The second is a fascinating 15-minute look at exploitation distributor Cinepix, who were behind the Ilsa franchise and My Bloody Valentine.
David Cronenberg is infamous for his metaphysical, intellectual and playful films and Rabid is one of the finest, if understated, in that canon. Proving how much of a punk filmmaker he was, Rabid isn’t to be missed this time around.
Special Features: Two audio commentaries / Two documentaries / Interviews/ Trailer / Production gallery / Collector’s booklet
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