RABID (1977) – The Dungeon Review!
David Cronenberg is my favourite horror director and has received all sorts of love on ye olde blog. His films have appeared on my top ten favourite lists for the 1970s and 1980s and he has four films on my top 100 favourite horror films of all time. Oddly, I have not given many of Mr. Cronenberg’s films the full review treatment. In fact, I have reviewed only one previously; The Brood. The only other full Cronenberg review you’ll find in the Dungeon is Scott Shoyer’s excellent guest review for Videodrome. It only seemed right to review at least one Cronenberg flick during this trek through Canadian film. My favourite Cronenberg is Videodrome but The Brood, Shivers (aka It Came from Within, aka The Parasite Murders) and Rabid are right up there. It was a toss-up between Shivers and Rabid for reviews. My video store made the decision easy, they only had Rabid. There was a neat interview with David Cronenberg on the disc who speaks on getting Shivers and Rabid made. Canadian journalist Robert Fulford gave Shivers a cover story on Saturday Night magazine stating “You should know how bad this movie is, after all you paid for it.” Shivers was financed by the Canadian government and when one of the countries leading journalists labels a project they funded repulsive and pornographic it makes the guys in the suits pretty antsy. Cronenberg got froze out of the film fund for a long while. It was later pointed out that Shivers was the only government-funded film that made any money at the time. After much hoopla Cronenberg did get funding for Rabid. Cronenberg wanted Sissy Spacek to play Rose, the film’s central character. The producer however did not like Sissy Spacek’s accent, Ivan Reitman suggested adult film star Marilyn Chambers for the role and horror history was made.
Cronenberg carved out his own little niche in the genre with his “body horror” or “venereal horror” entries. Almost all of the director’s horror films could boast the body horror tag. Cronenberg is a master at melding the physical with the psychological always making for an engrossing and disturbing experience quite unlike any other. Parasites, infections, mutations all designed to alter and/or destroy the human body. In the case of Rabid “venereal horror” seems particularly fitting. A radical surgery involving tissue grafting is performed on Rose after a motorcycle accident. The surgery appears to be a success but Rose remains in a coma. A month later Rose awakes screaming but almost completely recovered. The surgery however had an unexpected side effect. Rose has grown a vagina looking orifice in her armpit and craves human blood. From the armpit orifice emerges a penis-like proboscis with a stabby point that punctures her victims so she can feed. “Unexpected side effect” may be a bit of an understatement. Rose’s feedings also infects the victim causing them to go into a rabid state and attack and infect others.
Rose and Hart are traveling by motorbike and hit a camper turned sideways on the road. Hart was thrown and sustained minor injuries while Rose fell with the bike becoming pinned underneath when it caught fire. Dr. Keloid the head of a plastic surgery clinic nearby rushes to the scene to find a critically injured Rose. Keloid concludes Rose needs immediate care and takes her back to the clinic. Mad movie doctors have been responsible for much horror movie mayhem over the years. Dr. Keloid is actually not mad at all. Keloid’s speciality is plastic surgery and he treats Rose’s badly burned body accordingly. Well, except for the part where he seems to be conducting some manner of experimental skin grafting technique that has never been performed on a human being before! Otherwise, he is a real mild-mannered guy. Rose will thank Dr. Keloid personally for “saving her” later in the film.
Dr. Keloid has no idea what he has unleashed! The infection caused by Rose spreads fast and furious and martial law is declared. Military men are all over the streets of Montreal. Once you have contracted the infection there is no cure and you will be taken out. The infected have sore, watery, blood-shot eyes and pallid complexions and crave human flesh. Their bite passes on the infection. It is definitely zombiesque but these folks aren’t dead and they are reasonably easy to kill. The effects are top-notch in Rabid. The film is not terribly graphic but it does have some moments. Rose’s armpit vagina and proboscis are very well done and quite unique. Rose’s kills are intimate in nature mainly due to the fact that she has to get very close to her victim to kill and drink. The victims survive the attack and are left with no memory of what happen to them. This is a smart, memory erasing parasite. I must admit, when I think of Rabid the first thing that pops into my head is Rose’s armpit vagina and proboscis. Those that become infected are more erratic and uncontrolled. Cronenberg constructs some really beautiful scenes of horror for those who become Rabid. One of the best scenes takes place in a mall at Christmas. One of the infected bites a mall patron and the shopping center security guy goes on a berserk shooting rampage. Mr. Mall Cop shoots the hell out of the place including the poor guy playing Santa! A scene in a subway train is also very well done and delightfully chaotic. The violence is not overly graphic but it is certainly memorable. Great practical effects, violence and a heaping helping of intensity all combine to make Rabid a perfect work of genre filmmaking.
I would not say Marilyn Chambers was a household name but she did get some press for being an adult film star who was formerly an Ivory Snow Girl. 99 44⁄100% Pure she was not. Rabid was the film Chambers hoped would allow her to make the move away from adult films. Unfortunately that never happen for her. That seems a damn shame to me; I thought Chambers was excellent in Rabid. She had a good balance of strength and vulnerability that made her character empathetic. Chambers is also a beautiful woman who is very watchable. I quite liked Frank Moore as Hart. He is very natural and his character is a good guy even if he does ride his bike a little recklessly. Hart feels a lot of guilt about the accident. At the end of the day it was the motorcycle accident that caused the entire chain of events. The rest of the cast does a decent enough job as support although no one particularly stands out.
Rabid is well-paced and constantly moving with well-executed scenes of violence at regular intervals. It is smart, well-written and intense with concrete performances from its two leads. It was completely unnecessary for me to re-watch Rabid; I’ve seen it at least a dozen times over the years. I think Rabid is a masterpiece and like so many of Cronenberg’s films is one I will continue to revisit for years to come. Rabid of course gets my highest of recommendations; a perfect score. Including huge picture galleries has become my modus operandi lately so in keeping with that here are images from David Cronenberg’s 1977 film Rabid…
Rose awakes from her coma screaming.
Rose attempts to feed off of a cow but it makes her sick.
Back at the clinic Rose introduces herself to fellow patient Judy Glasberg.
A spectacular car crash is instigated by Rose’s first victim.
Dr. Keloid examines Rose’s armpit vagina.
Dr. Keloid is infected by Rose.
The police find Judy Glasberg in the freezer.
One of the Rabid…shot dead.
Rose makes a friend in the local porn theatre.
Rose’s best friend Mindy Kent.
Rabid woman on the subway train.
Dead mall Santa.
Hart and Rose; together again.
Rose in furs.
“Produced with the financial assistance of The Canadian Film Development Corporation and the Famous Players Film Company.”
Dungeon Rating: 5/5
Directed By: David Cronenberg
Starring: Marilyn Chambers, Frank Moore, Joe Silver, Howard Ryshpan, Patricia Gage, Susan Roman, Roger Periard, Lynne Deragon, Terry Schonblum, Victor Désy, Julie Anna, Gary McKeehan