Rabid is the third film from cult director David Cronenberg (Videodrome, Scanners) in which he further plays with his ideas regarding body horror. Former porn star and 2004 and 2008 Vice Presidential Candidate, Marylin Chambers stars as the lead, a young woman named Rose. At the opening of Rabid, Rose and her boyfriend Hart are involved in a motorcycle accident. A catatonic Rose is hospitalized and given an experimental skin graft for her burn injuries. A month later she comes out of her coma only to find she has a mutated appendage that pops out of her armpit and feasts on blood. After feeding on them, Rose’s victims become infected with a need for blood themselves, and she inadvertently causes a zombie like epidemic throughout Canada.
The subtext of sexually transmitted diseases is fairly obvious, especially considering the time period. Rabid makes a nice companion piece to Cronenberg’s previous film Shivers, which was take on a similar concept, but with much less subtlety (Shivers has an entire apartment complex develops a need for sex due to an alien infection). Marylin Chambers performance in Rabid is amazing. Given her background, her acting talent is surprising. Her work in porn also adds a subversive undercurrent to the role. The penis-like appendage in her armpit comes out while embracing her victim, makes it look like she’s seducing them, and many victims make the mistake of thinking that is indeed what is happening. Mixing violence as sex (or sex as violence) in this context is disturbing enough on it’s own, but it’s the wanton look Chambers gives at times that give it a sense of hyper-realism. Sissy Spacek was originally going to star as Rose but was passed over for Chambers. I think it was the right thing to do, as Chambers adds an element of danger the movie otherwise wouldn’t have. Spacek went on to do Carrie the same year, and the film gives a tip of the hat to her for it.
Despite perhaps being a carrier of a disease that will end the human race, Rabid never looses it’s sympathy for Rose, and that’s what makes Rabid work. None of what Rose does is out of malice and she’s no idea of the virus she’s carrying until near the end of the film, at which point it’s far too late. Her heartbreaking last conversation with her boyfriend ends the film on a tragic note that is perfect for this film. If you enjoy 1970’s epidemic films like Romero’s The Crazies, or Cronenberg weirdness in general, Rabid is worth seeking out. Rabid is as downbeat and grim as horror was in that amazing era of horror films. I liked it.
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