in Review, Shocktober

Rabid (1977)

“What’s it like having sex with David Cronenberg?” That’s how I was going to start this review. The reason being that so many of Cronenberg’s films are about scary sex. Cronenberg’s first film, Shivers was about sex-crazed zombies, Naked Lunch and Videodrome were full of phallic imagery and things going in and out of various orifices, and don’t get me started about Crash. Not the Matt Dillon film. I’m not that twisted.

When I found out Cronenberg’s second film, Rabid was about a young woman played by a famous porn star with a bloodsucking hole in her armpit, I was sure I was going to see a healthy dose of triple X terror. I was going to dive into what makes Toronto’s number one provocateur tick. Instead, I watched a film that was a typical monster film. It’s a well made and well-acted monster movie, but it’s not perverted, it’s not even that explicit. If you ranked all of Cronenberg’s films I imagine Rabid would be right square in the middle? So what is the middle? More importantly, why did I still open my review talking about sex with David Cronenberg? Let’s find out.

Rabid begins with a couple, Rose (Marilyn Chambers) and Hart (Frank Moore), touring the Quebec countryside by motorcycle. After a collision with a van parked in the middle of the road, both are taken to the nearest medical facility, which just so happens to be a plastic surgery clinic. Hart suffers minor injuries but Rose is severely burned. As a last resort, she is treated with a radical morphogenetical skin graft. I have no idea what that means.

This is all explained by two medical professionals, Dr. Keloid (Howard Ryshpan) and Murray Cypher (Joe Silver). The latter of which has such a low voice I wanted to put on captions, but I didn’t know how to do that on Shudder. His dialogue is a mystery. At first, I couldn’t even tell if he was speaking English. Imagine Vin Diesel if he was 100 years old. Also, Joe Silver voiced the Creeper in Creepshow 2. The More you know, right?

While Hart makes a swift recovery, Rose is left in a coma. A month later she awakes, seemingly fine until we learn there was an unexpected side effect from the procedure. For whatever reason, Rose’s skin graft results in a mutation that leaves a mouth-like hole in her armpit. Yep, this is a David Cronenberg movie. The mouth contains a stinger and craves blood. This turns Rose into an unstoppable blood-hungry maniac. Think somewhere between a zombie and a vampire. Let’s call her a “Zampire”.

Note to self: Remember to write a horror movie called “Zampire”.

What follows is a typical horror narrative. Rose slowly discovers her condition, killing a cow, a nurse, until she escapes and goes on a feeding frenzy. Rose infects others with her condition and an epidemic spreads across Montreal. It is a nice change of pace to see a zombie plague spread slowly from person to person, but the film is a little too loose for my liking. The attacks and zombie sequences are always well shot and have a vintage 16 mm film look that I absolutely love. This is competent but during the experience, I couldn’t figure out why Cronenberg would want to make such a generic horror flick.

Performance wise Marilyn Chambers, known primarily as a famous porn star and multiple Vice Presidential candidate on the “Personal Choice Party” (off shoot of the Libertarian Party) is solid. I figured for sure they’d make her do scary sex stuff but they don’t. Though maybe they should have? It’s weird to say it but maybe Cronenberg movies need weird sex stuff. Because if they don’t they’re just regular horror movies. Not bad, not great, just regular. So I do wonder… “What’s it like having sex with David Cronenberg?”

“Uh Oh SpaghettiOs!”