Rabid (1977)

APRIL 17, 2011


I have three DVD racks at home. One’s just for horror movies, and another is for all other genres. Both of those are in sight of my couch and thus don’t get neglected. But the third, which is primarily devoted to “Heroes” (Carpenter, Willis, Bruckheimer, etc), is off on the other end of the apartment, so I tend to forget about the movies in there, especially the horror ones. And David Cronenberg is one of those heroes, but unlike the others, I still haven’t seen a few of his films, including Rabid, which I’ve owned for years and was still in the shrinkwrap.

Luckily, Rabid didn’t threaten to make me reconsider my appreciation of the man; if anything, it’s the type of movie that would have made me love his work in the first place. But it DID make me (once again) bemoan the fact that he has seemingly abandoned the horror genre for good; a quick check of his IMDb revealed that his next movie and the ones in development are all dramatic thrillers. It’s great that he, unlike some of his peers, is able to secure financing (and even reach greater acclaim) when working outside of the genre, but it’s kind of insulting if he has the attitude that he’s “moved past” this type of film, especially when he’s the type of guy who can legitimize the genre with his original ideas. Christ, he did a King adaptation and a remake back to back and even THOSE are well respected classics.

Anyway, Rabid is similar to Romero’s The Crazies, albeit with a more personal story at its core, and seemingly more action. But both have a satiric bent and plenty of social commentary, and I was pretty impressed with how relatively undated it was (unlike Crazies). A shot of a gas station at 80 cents a gallon was about the extent of the film’s outdated-ness; hell, the whole thing kicks off due to a botched plastic surgery procedure, and that’s certainly not a fad that belongs to the 70s alone. I mean, hell, today have reality shows about morons trying to look young forever and what not – in some ways it’s actually MORE timely now than it was then (something Cronenberg seems to face quite often; Videodrome and Existenz were a bit ahead of their time as well).

The virus in the movie also brings AIDS to mind, another issue that hasn’t exactly gone away (indeed, its existence wasn’t first reported until four years after Rabid’s release, so this clearly wasn't an intentional parallel), as the “patient zero” of the film is an attractive young woman who spreads it almost unintentionally, and often in sexually charged situations. That she is played by a famous adult star (Marliyn Chambers) just adds to the allusion, though at least there is nothing appealing about the method – this sort of fleshy piston thing bursts out of her armpit and draws blood from the victim. Ew. But of course, one would expect nothing less from Cronenberg, who would go on to try to make leg wounds seem sexy in Crash.

Speaking of Crash, this movie has one of the best crash scenes ever, with a collision resulting in one car going over a bridge, only to be hit again by a truck. YES! There’s also a crash at the beginning of the movie that results in a motorcycle exploding, and a few other minor vehicular based action bits throughout the movie. Cronenberg actually followed this movie with Fast Company, a racing drama, so I guess he was just sort of getting his feet wet before diving into a full blown car movie. Maybe he should do Fast FuriouSix.

Back on point, another thing I liked was how accessible it was. It’s got the social commentary and such, but it’s got a relatively fast pace and a lot of varied “zombie” action (yes, it’s a virus – maybe I should just make a ‘virus” sub-genre?). The movie is chock full of exciting and creepy mini-setpieces, such as a subway attack, a mall outbreak that results in the shooting death of a department store Santa, and a really random bit where a crazy (they’re actually called “Crazies” at one point) drills a hole into the side of a car and impales a driver. Oh, and Chambers tries to feed on a cow at one point, only to discover that she can only take in human blood.

I was actually quite charmed by Chambers, I must say. I haven’t seen any of her adult films (not lying, I’d admit it if I had! If this was Kay Parker...), and it’s a shame she made only one other non-porno film. Not only is she actually quite attractive (adult film actresses sure used to be more conventionally attractive; nowadays they all have that trashy look to them), but she’s also a pretty good actress. There’s a bit in a movie theater where an unsuspecting guy is trying to hit on her, and it’s almost perverse in how good she is at making him think she’s the one that needs to be protected. I was also kind of tickled how porn-like a lot of the situations were; at one point she’s in the nude and screaming from a nightmare, and a guy rushes in to see what’s wrong. She asks him to hold her and keep her warm... except instead of fornication her armpit piston interrupts his obvious “holy shit is this happening?” mentality.

I do wish there was a little more consistency with the attacks, however. Sometimes the guys she “bites” seem to die after (such as the aforementioned movie theater guy), others seem fine only to discover later that they’re rabid, and others seem to get disoriented/go crazy instantly. Furthermore, some seem to act like zombies and biting folks, others (like the guys with the drill) just act more like crazed murderers. They don’t really explain the scientific concepts behind the virus (or the “armpiston”), so it gives the movie a bit of a random feel at times.

On the commentary, Cronenberg mentions that there was a bit more of an explanation for the hows and whys, but it was cut somewhere along the way. Apparently part of her distaste for non human blood stemmed from the fact that the accident at the beginning of the film destroyed her intestines (and thus she isn’t feeding for hunger), so the non-human blood was rejected by her body. It’s a pretty good track, in fact, as he rarely gets silent, nor does he narrate the movie. He occasionally gets more general, talking about horror or his perception as a filmmaker by some critics (some label him as misogynist – he points out that the hero of the movie is actually a woman), but for the most part it’s focused on the movie at hand, and chances are any questions you might have after viewing will be answered. And if so, you can pretty much skip the interview that’s on the disc as well, since he covers everything on the commentary anyway, and the bland presentation (a mostly static shot of him in a chair, no clips to illustrate the scenes or ideas he is talking about) does it no favors. The spoiler-filled trailer and some stills/filmographies are also included, but the only other real extra is actually inside the DVD case – production notes printed on the folded side of the inner jacket. I used to see these a lot more often, and it’s a shame the practice has been seemingly phased out (most discs I get don’t have any inner print material at all, let alone one with genuine content). Companies simply don’t put as much effort into their disc releases anymore, thanks to Netflix and Redbox (which just gives you the disc) or streaming (which just gives you a subpar image of a movie). Oh well.

And now I’ll finally watch Spider! Not horror, but I think I’ve owned that one even longer.

What say you?


  1. I seem to recall this being the most ridiculous commentary track ever. Things like "it has always been a dream of mine to kill Santa with an automatic weapon. So that was good".

  2. Holy crap I love Cronenberg... SPIDER is amazing, although it's been a while.

  3. Dude-- Spider is one of his most under-appreciated movies, you ask me, AND it does kinda qualify as horror, too...

  4. Great review. Of course I love Rabid and Cronenberg. But I also love love love the late Marilyn Chambers. behind the green door and insatiable are both genre classics. Behind was actually treated as a respected film with ideas before gonzo and the vhs revolutions. Behind is directed by the Mitchell Bros and includes the first interracial porn scene. A scene that so disturbed viewers for decades that the sex industry still treats interracial sex's as nearly a fetish. of her later work Edge Play is a wonderful film with scenes that celebrate women's sexuality and orgasm. EP also has at least one scene that is a commentary on the supposed misogyny in behind the green door.

  5. He doesn't have an attitde of being above the genre, nor has he turned his back on it. It just depends on the project. After eXistenZ he stopped because he felt he was repeating himself (which is why he killed his "Painkillers" script). Like Ridley Scott, he only wants to come back if its the right project (like Scott is doign right now). In the words of DC himself:

    "I would never turn my back on the genre. I don’t even think in terms of genre when I’m considering what I might do; it’s really, as I say, the project itself. If it’s exciting, that’s great; then, I go for it. I’m not saying that I can ignore what the implications are. I can’t. But, creatively, I don’t have a problem with [horror]. It’s like eXistenZ. I’ve gone through this before. When I did The Dead Zone, a lot of people said, “Oh, he’s becoming more mainstream now”. And then I did The Fly, which was an out-and-out horror film. I feel the same now. I would do it in a heartbeat if it were the right project."

    Besides, he's attached to "As She Crawled Across The Table" which is horror/sci-fi.

  6. Don't forget he just did the Fly Opera, so he hasn't forgotten the genre at all!

  7. I gave you "Spider", right? For some reason, I can't get rid of that movie-- I've owned copy after copy, and every time I give it away I somehow acquire a new one.

    "Rabid" is all well and good-- and I love it-- but it's no "The Brood".


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