Director/Writer: David Cronenberg
Cast: Marylin Chambers
Cronenberg’s films are always laced somehow with a couple of recurrent themes. Amongst them are: psychological woes, sexuality, body horror and violence. To this day, Cronenberg’s films are like this. History of Violence (2005) being a good example of just that. Cronenberg’s films started out this way with Shivers (1975) and continue to be this way all through out his illustrious career. Rabid, Cronenberg's second feature film is another example of how his films are sexually and psychologically charged head trips. I recently did a blog entry (in collaboration with two excellent blogs Cool Ass Cinema and The Celluloid Highway) on 16 Unusual Vampire Films. On this list we included a bunch of off beat vampire films that can be considered strange and unusual. Unfortunately, I failed to include Rabid on that list, but only because I had not seen it. I would definitely include it on that list now!
Marylin Chambers plays Rose
Rabid is the story of young girl named Rose who suddenly finds herself involved in a motorcycle accident. Her abdomen is horribly maimed so she has to undergo experimental plastic surgery. The procedure works, but a side effect of the operation is that she develops a taste for human blood! A phallic like tooth grows out of her underarm (of all places!) and she starts to feed on people like a vampire! It’s not long before the whole town is infected and turned into mad murderous zombie/vampires!
The oddest thing for me about Rabid is that Rose is a vampire who bites people with a tooth that emerges from her underarm. Essentially, she has to hug her victims in order to feed on them. This phallic tooth that emerges from her and bites people and infects them made me think about Cronenberg’s reoccurring themes, and that he was probably commenting on sexually transmitted deceases with this film. Leave it to Cronenberg to make a vampire movie that is actually about sexually transmitted deceases! The reason I say this is because Rose’s vampire tooth is phallic, it is introduced into another person, and this is how they get infected, that to me is a sexual reference right there no matter how you look at it. On the film, in order for Rose to feed on her victims she seduces them and when she finally has them in her arms, that’s when she strikes! When she has gained their trust and confidence, when they are most vulnerable. Kind of the same way a person who has an STD will lure you in and have sex with you even if they know that the end result will be infecting you.
There is another scene where Rose is confronted with the fact that she is infecting people with this decease and her answer to it is “I have to do it! I need to have it!” Kind of like the same plea that a person with a sexually transmitted decease might make when confronted with the fact that he or she is spreading a decease when he or she has sex with others. I mean, there is a reason why STD’s get spread around, it’s because people who have them have sex with people who don’t. And often times the people doing the spreading know what they are doing, but they do it anyways, because their sexual urges are stronger than their moral values. Same as Rose’s impulse to feed on human blood is strong in spite of the fact that every time she feeds, she turns her victim into a rabid, murderous zombie/vampire. A person who does this is type of thing is morally reprehensible, because essentially, you are harming other people just so you can get your own personal satisfaction. It is a selfish thing to do. Cronenberg makes his final statement on these themes with the last frames of the film, which I of course will not comment on so you can see it for yourself, but it is a chilling last frame.
The decease spreads through the town until at one point the whole town is infected with it and people go on violent feeding binges! At one point, one of the infected starts attacking people inside of a mall, so a cop starts shooting his gun and a dude dressed in a Santa Claus suit gets shot right in the middle of a shopping mall, while little kids are watching! One awesome moment has a doctor who is performing surgery suddenly turn rabid and he chops off a nurses finger with a pair of scissors so he can feed on her blood! A lady turns into a zombie while riding on the subway station, chaos ensues! Things get crazy after the contagion spreads. Will they ever catch Rose? Will the contagion be stopped or will it spread across the nation?
Cronenberg wanted Sissy Spacek to play the role of Rose, but the studio didn’t think she was a well known actress so they went with porn star Marylin Chambers instead. Thing is, that as they were shooting Rabid, Carrie was released and went on to become a huge hit! Unfortunately, it was too late to get her since they had already started shooting the film with Chambers who by the way does a decent job with her performance! I think having Chambers on this film actually helped since Rabid is a very sexually charged film. At one point Rose goes on a hunting spree and ends up actually walking into a porn theater to picks up her next victim! Having Chambers on this film was a plus for me, she was an porn actress trying to go legit in real films, she was hungry, she was giving it her all and it shows. There is one awesome scene in which Rose is twisting and turning in the floor because she hasn’t fed in a long time, she looks like a junky in need of her fix, awesome acting right there. Too bad her career never went any further.
This movie has a lot of similarities with Cronenberg’s previous film: Shivers (1975). It has the same basic premise of a decease spreading and turning people violent, but in my opinion, Rabid is the superior picture of the two. My guess is that Cronenberg was simply trying to do a better version of Shivers. One thing always amazed me about Cronenberg as a filmmaker: he improved by leaps and bounds with each movie he made. Rabid was his second feature film, and it was already a million times better technically speaking than Shivers ever was. To me Shivers is a very flawed film, I liked it, but technically speaking it wasn’t Cronenberg’s best, the sound and the lighting were very weak in that picture. This was of course due to the fact that Shivers was Cronenberg’s first feature film. I find it kind of strange how Rabid turned out to be one of my favorite Cronengerg films, I left it for last thinking it wasn’t going to be all that good and it turned out to be a solid sophomore effort from Cronenberg, and one that cemented Cronenberg’s career as a the king of psychological horror.
Rating: 4 out of 5