Blu-ray review: Rabid

Starring: Marilyn Chambers, Frank Moore, Joe Silver
Director: David Cronenberg

In David Cronenberg’s 1977 follow up to Shivers, notorious porno star Marilyn Chambers plays Rose, a girl who is in a motorcycle crash and is saved by a plastic surgeon who uses pioneering grafting procedures to repair her internal injuries. Unfortunately, her grafts take on a life of their own, and Rose goes around stabbing people with a penile spike that comes shooting out of an orifice in her armpit, turning them into flesh-eating zombies in the process.

Much like the evil dwarves in the director’s next film, The Brood, it’s not as easy idea to make work on screen, and as a result Rabid lacks the shock power and sheer visceral thrills of Shivers. But while it may not be exactly packed with standout scenes, it still counts as a very interesting entry in Cronenberg’s filmography. For starters, there’s a suitably demented, animalistic and yet melancholy performance from Chambers, who on this evidence clearly had the chops to be a very good scream queen – she’s particularly convincing in the scene where she seduces a punter in a flea-pit cinema. Why she went back to straight porn after this is a mystery.

It’s also one of the best-looking of Cronenberg’s early films, thanks to the work of Rene Verzier, a cinematographer who had come up through the fledgling Canadian exploitation industry and with whom the director worked apparently only this once. His shadowy, earthy-hued, sensuously textured visuals lend the story an intensity and visual coherence it might not otherwise have.

There are intermittent touches of grain, but on the whole this is very nice transfer which makes the most of the movie’s sultry Eastermancolor film stock – the moment when the girl is discovered in the freezer, the scenes of Rose prowling around Montreal in a fur coat bristling in the cold and the barn scene where she bothers some farm animals – all these come up beautifully.

There’s an oldish but typically articulate 20 min chat with Cronenberg, in which he reveals that he originally wanted to cast Sissy Spacek as Rose. In a 12 min interview, producer Ivan Reitman reminisces about producing the film and reveals that it was his idea to cast Chambers after seeing her on the telly. A 15 min piece on Cinepix gives us a potted intro to the small Quebec film company which began by pedalling soft core flicks before backing Shivers and Rabid. The centrepiece of the extras is a 59 min documentary about Cronenberg made circa 2001, in 4:3 aspect ratio but presented in hi-def. A slick, thoughtful survey of his career, it’s most revealing moments come when the director talks about his troubles financing and casting Dead Ringers, and when he broods on the virulent press reaction to Crash: “I started to feel like Princess Diana.” There are also two audio commentaries – in one, critic William Beard provides plenty of background and explores the film’s themes, while in the other, Cronenberg – precise and professorial as ever – talks about how they decided to cast the infamous Chambers because they thought it would bring them some extra publicity and they couldn’t afford a real star, and he also tells us that the motorbike at the beginning was a Norton 750 (apparently it was very unreliable), and that most of the clinic scenes where shot at the headquarters of Lipton Tea.


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