26th Aug2019

Frightfest 2019: ‘Rabid (1977)’ Review

by Paul Metcalf

Stars: Marilyn Chambers, Frank Moore, Joe Silver, Howard Ryshpan, Patricia Gage, Susan Roman, Roger Periard, Lynne Deragon, Terry Schonblum, Victor Désy, Julie Anna, Gary McKeehan | Written and Directed by David Cronenberg


Rabid has always been one of my favourite David Cronenberg movies, there is just something about the strange little film that makes it more accessible than some of his others like Shivers. When I was younger I remembered it as the film with the women with the strange bloodsucking thing under her arm, but as with most of Cronenberg’s work as I grew older I started to understand his vision of the film and his use of body horror.

When Rose (Marilyn Chambers) is involved in a bike accident she has to undergo experimental emergency surgery to save her life. When she awakens from her coma though she has an insatiable taste for human blood. Once bitten her victims become crazed, suffering from the same lust for blood leading them to attack others, spreading the disease with speed, creating a plague which threatens to endanger all of society.

The casting of Marilyn Chambers isn’t a sly reference to her work in porn and the sexual themes shown in Rabid, it was just a casting decision that was made in the hope it would gain the film more exposure. This proved to be a masterstroke though as Chambers really makes an impact with her portrayal of Rose. She is able to play the irresistible predator with the lust for blood, using her sexuality as a weapon to entice her victims while also showing the vulnerability of actually being a victim and not the truth monster at work in the film. She may be the origin of the plague but that does not make her the plague itself.

Unlike Shivers which preceded it, Rabid is actually a more subtle approach to the theme of sexually transmitted disease and how quickly it can spread within a society, though at the time I doubt Cronenberg envisaged it would be seen that way. When talking about the film Cronenberg always talks about how he envisaged the evolving of Rose to the creature she becomes as her bodies means of survival, which makes for interesting reading; but we don’t really see this in the film itself but that comes as no real surprise with Cronenberg’s work. The fact that her body is meant to have evolved based on the surgery that has taken place is connected (by the director himself) to the idea of stem cells and the adaptability of the human body to survive. All confusing stuff but very interesting especially coming from Cronenberg.

The reason I like Rabid more than some of his other work is that it is more accessible, and while his commentary track may reveal a deeper meaning within the director’s mind this is still a film that we can connect to the vampire legend, so something we as the audience can easier understand. While the idea of the new appendage under Rose’s arm being her means of attack is definitely a strange idea, Cronenberg fans buy into this with a certain understanding of the bizarre nature of is movies. Comparing it to his other films which included parasitic creatures and exploding heads it fits a world where the bizarre is believable as long as it results in a horrific payoff. If the weird thing works as a weapon that kills people who are we to complain about it?

Although Rabid is one of my favourite David Cronenberg movies it isn’t one of his best. However this new restoration gives this cult classic the love it deserves and shows the importance of the film and where it fits in the history of Canadian genre filmmaking. Cronenberg is one of the legends of cinema and screeningRabid at Frightfest shows him the respect he deserves. It also works as an apt reminder of how good Marilyn Chambers was in the movie and reminds us what a loss it is that she is no longer with us.

**** 4/5

Rabid screened at this years Arrow Video Frightfest on Sunday August 25th 2019.


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