“A young woman develops a taste for human blood after undergoing experimental plastic surgery, and her victims turn into rabid, blood-thirsty zombies who proceed to infect others, which turns into a city-wide epidemic.” — IMDb
I’m a fan of director David Cronenberg (The Fly especially, but also Videodrome), but Rabid didn’t do a whole lot for me, honestly, despite going into it with high hopes. As always, Cronenberg deals heavily in deeper themes than simple horror, injecting sexuality and desperation for an interesting twist on an almost vampiric outbreak.
It starts off with Rose (porn star Marilyn Chambers) getting in a motorcycle accident with her boyfriend, Hart (Frank Moore), in the Quebec countryside. She’s in critical condition and brought to a remote clinic nearby where Dr. Dan Keloid (a brilliant name, played by Howard Ryshpan) performs experimental surgery on her using morphogenetically neutral skin grafts in order to repair her terrible burns. When she finally wakes from her coma, it becomes clear pretty quickly that surgery didn’t go quite as planned. She has a phallic stinger-like protrusion in her armpit that is thirsty for blood, and everyone she feeds from turns frenzied and rabid (ah-ha!). Soon the infection has spread from Quebec into Montreal and no one is sure how to stop it.
It definitely has the aspect of slow dread to it — but the keyword here is “slow”. I definitely found myself bored at times waiting for things to happen. But Cronenberg is undoubtedly skilled at merging a cold, clinical atmosphere with hysteria and paranoia. This movie doesn’t focus quite as much on the chaos — you learn about much of the growing outbreak from TV clips and radio — but on Rose’s journey.
The aspect of sexual independence (and fear of sexuality) — especially when paired with a lead female character played by a well-known porn star — is awesome. Many of Rose’s victims deserve what they have coming — the old farmer who is all too happy for the chance to rape her in his barn, the sleazy movie theater goer who “accidentally” brushes against her — and it’s some kind of satisfying to watch her lull them into a false sense of seduction before stabbing her strange, phallic friend into them. Though she is clearly driven by a deeper force, as she also has many victims who are innocently in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Again, playing into the overwhelming dread, there are some scenes that fit well into the classic set-up of a world gone mad: the doctor cutting off the nurse’s finger in the middle of surgery, the man biting a fellow diner patron, the chaos on the subway (one of the best scenes of the whole movie). At some point, a doctor is giving the public some info during a news interview and says “What I am saying is very simple and it may not be palatable for your viewers: shooting down the victims is as good a way of handling them as we have got”. I think the very real fear of an epidemic spiraling out of control is utilized well, and the desperation that goes along with it. The scene at the mall — with Santa getting gunned down — is another highlight, with something as mundane as kids visiting Santa turning into a bloodbath. The boyfriend at one point is driving around and a rabid person attacks his car. A sniper picks off the attacker from a rooftop and men in hazmat suits just casually come over, spray down his bloody windshield, and wordlessly wave him on. CHILLS, man.
The boyfriend doesn’t seem too concerned about her throughout the movie — he spends almost the whole thing just trying to find her and, despite the fact that things are crashing down around him, he never gets quite as frantic as you’d expect someone to be in that situation. He knew she was in critical condition — in a coma, for god’s sake — and now she’s roaming free on the streets and he always just seems minorly determined to find her, like if it didn’t work out he’d just shrug it off and go back to his garage. His ONLY redeeming scene in the movie is at the end when he is screaming at her through the phone to get out of the apartment.
There was one bit of the music — “Hideout” by Brian Bennett — that gave me a serious John Carpenter vibe. It worked really well with the overall creeping vibe of the movie.
The ending is also KILLER. I feel like an ending can make or break a movie in some cases, but this one delivered in an even more hopeless and shocking way than I imagined. Awesome. There’s a remake in the works by the Soska sisters which supposedly has a 2017 release date — I will definitely be checking that out!