|Studio: Arrow Films||Release Date: February 16, 2015
|Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen||Audio Tracks: LPCM Mono
|Running Time: 91 min.||Region: B2
Audio Commentary by David Cronenberg
Audio Commentary by Author William Beard
Archive Interview with Cronenberg (20 min)
Independent Spirit: Interview with Ivan Reitman (12 min)
Northern Exposure: Interview with Don Carmody (15 min.)
Make-Up Memories: Joe Blasco Remembers Rabid (3 min.)
Raw, Rough, and Rabid: The Lacerating Legacy of Cinepix (15 min.)
The Directors: David Cronenberg (59 min.)
Original Theatrical Trailer
Illustrated Booklet with Notes by Kier-La Janisse and Excerpts from Cronenberg on Cronenberg
|Purchase from Arrow Films|
When she gets into a motorcycle accident on the back roads of Canada, Rose (Marilyn Chambers) is rushed to the nearby Keloid Clinic in order to treat her fatal burn wounds. With only a limited amount of surgical resources at their disposal for the procedure, Dr. Keloid (Howard Ryshpan) utilizes a new method to graft skin from the woman’s thighs onto the scar tissue that covers the majority of her body.
The operation goes smoothly and Rose seems to be healing in miraculous time, though when she awakens from her stupor she is greatly distressed by her situation. When an orderly attempts to comfort Rose, he’s mysteriously drained of his blood when he embraces her. For some inexplicable reason, Rose has developed a new orifice under her arm which projects a barb into her victims and siphons their life fluid.
After Rose escapes the clinic, her boyfriend Hart (Frank Moore) and his physician friend Murray (Joe Silver) attempt to track her down as she treks across the country. Their pursuit becomes a race against time, as it turns out that each of Rose’s living victims are being transformed into rabid zombies whose blood-hunger instigates a massive pandemic.
David Cronenberg’s second feature film after his mega-hit Shivers (1975) retains that picture’s wintry, clinical atmosphere while expanding upon the horror of the body to encompass a grander scale. The move from an isolated, claustrophobic apartment block to the wide landscape of the Great North gives Rabid the feeling of some of the best genre epics, a glimpse into a world going slowly but inexorably mad. The terror begins appropriately enough when Dr. Keloid announces to his surgical staff “What we’re going to do is a little out of the ordinary,” a sentiment that could just as well serve as the film’s tagline.
The simultaneous revulsion and fascination with the human anatomy that has been a fixture of Cronenberg’s other works is certainly on display here. Rose’s new mouth is a loaded symbol of sexuality if there ever was one: with puckered, pink lips on the surface of the actress’s armpit, the orifice looks like a comingling of both vagina and anus, and the penile growth that stems from it is more phallic in nature than your standard vampire fang. Rose’s predation is undeniably sexual; she moans in ecstasy as she feeds, stroking her victim’s hair after both of the lovers’ energy has been spent.
It seems only fitting that Rose is portrayed by noted porno actress Marilyn Chambers (Behind the Green Door), as her dialogue before each feeding has the seductive inflection of a come-on. Chambers has a natural presence in her role, but she still can’t quite convince in a part which is, admittedly, lacking in depth. But her girl-next-door looks and winning smile are still captivating to watch; the camera does admire her.
The other performances are generally solid, with Joe Silver returning from Shivers as another lovably irascible medico who bites it before the final reel. The film suffers a similar fate as Blue Sunshine (1978) in featuring a soppy leading actor, presented here in the form of Frank Moore who fluctuates between distracted sleepiness and whiny hysterics. Incidentally, Cronenberg probably would have been just as successful with Dead Ringers (1988) had he cast actor David Ryshpan and director Joe Dante as the two leads.
There’s a sly current of sardonic humor at work in the film. In addition to the inclusion of a winking pun (“keloid” is a medical term referring to scar tissue), Cronenberg works in an eye-popping bit when a man at the mall trying to hit on Rose (the event that has preceded her previous feeding) is attacked by another shopper who has become infected with the disease. This leads a policeman on hand to mow down the offender with a machine gun, slaughtering the mall Santa Claus in the process as children run away in terror. It’s an indelible scene of horror cinema that cannot be forgotten once seen.
These light touches (as sadistic as it may be to call them such) give the film’s graver moments an added weight, such as the shocking discovery Silver makes on his return home and the revamped Black Plague images of hazmat-suited government officials riding around in garbage trucks on corpse collection duty. With shadings of both George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead(1968) and The Crazies (1973), Rabid ends on a suitably grim note with a sequence that is haunted by the former zombie film’s stinger line: “There’s another one for the fire.”
All of this is wonderfully accompanied by a score that is, shockingly, made up entirely of library music that was selected and arranged by executive producer Ivan Reitman. The music complements the proceedings so well, from the elegiac tinkling of piano to the driving rush of strings, that it feels as if it were especially composed for the production. It serves, along with everything else considered, as a testament to the strength and dexterity of independent filmmaking.
Even for someone whose first exposure to Cronenberg’s film is this Blu-Ray release from Arrow Video, the disc looks stunningly impressive and only becomes moreso with closer scrutiny to its previous home market incarnations.
The colors are fabulous. Though there is an appreciable amount of grain in a few sequences, the hues and shadings on screen pop out with verve, with the rhyming scheme of green seen in the hospital scrubs, neon lights, and frothy spittle of the infected bringing the viewer’s attention to its significance. There are several misty-blue night shots that are also stupendous, almost making you want to stand up and cheer. Gone are the faded, pink flesh tones of dilapidated VHS and DVDS; in Arrow’s Blu-Ray, you can see the blood rushing to Chambers’ face as she screams her head off. Now that’s definition.
Very little print damage has made it to the disc. The only instances that we could glean were a slight shutter of horizontal bars in a car crash sequence and a faint vertical scratch during Ryshpan’s examination of Marilyn’s armpit formation.
There’s also good body to the audio track, even with the persistence of a soft hiss during a few moments. It shows particular depth in the mall scene; the voices of children and shoppers realistically echo in the distance.
The disc comes with twelve chapter stops for the film.
The Directors: David Cronenberg
This 1999 episode from Robert J. Emery’s series provides a comprehensive capsule of Cronenberg’s career up until the development of Spider (2002). Chronicling the director’s initial desire to be a writer of science fiction stories and “obscure” novels, the feature takes pit stops at each of Cronenberg’s major releases (though it does totally brush aside M. Butterfly ) as it studies the course of the director’s inherent fascinations with sex, the body, and their respective politics. From early successes with the Cinepix releases to blockbusters like The Fly (1986), Cronenberg and a gaggle of actors are on hand to comment on the unique and provoking trend of his career. The feature provides an abundance of anecdotes—one telling how Cronenberg wrote the script for Scanners in the dead hours of morning before each day of shooting—that are entertaining and insightful for those both new and seasoned to the director’s fleshy, mystical world.
Raw, Rough, and Rabid: The Lacerating Legacy of Cinepix
Canadian critic Kier-La Janisse (House of Psychotic Women) shows knowledge and passion for the horror and exploitation genres as she relates the story of Cinepix, the production company headed by former cinema exhibitionists Andre Link and John Dunning. Joe Blasco is present to offer some first-hand narration, but the feature focuses primarily on Janisse’s oral history. Documenting the company’s beginnings as purveyors of softcore Euro fare and transitions to low-budget horror and overdone action flicks while putting them in the wider context of definite brands of Canuxploitation, Janisse proves a most informative guide, occasionally gushing on some of her favorite films like Happy Birthday to Me (1981) and My Bloody Valentine (1981) with the ardor of a true fan. We suddenly find ourselves in the mood for Moosehead now…
Make-Up Memories: Joe Blasco Remembers Rabid
This terse featurette provides a little peek into the construction of Rabid’s memorable make-up pieces, most notably the armpit mouth and accompanying stinger (it was one of Blasco’s students who actually modeled for the cast). Blasco’s recollections are warm and funny, most notably his winking admission that he charged big bucks for the saliva effect that was brewed using only Bromo-Seltzer and food coloring.
Northern Exposure: Interview with Don Carmody
Don Carmody comments on his start in the producing game in Canada and his work with Cronenberg on his two first films. He speaks of the country’s grassroots filmmaking effort, which was originally restricted to the French-speaking districts of Quebec and Montreal, and the notorious “heat” that Cinepix suffered after a review of Shivers riled up the movie-going public when it was revealed that tax payer dollars were going towards “pornography.” Along with keeping his director away from the distractions of record stores and motorcycle shops, Carmody also shot down Cronenberg’s idea to film his idea about twin gynecologists in favor of doing Rabid.
Independent Spirit: Interview with Ivan Reitman
Famed producer and director Reitman (Ghostbusters) shares some of his own stories from the frontline in this interview. He speaks of his wrangling of actors in the absence of directors—such as his handling of Brenda Vacarro’s scenes for Death Weekend (1976)—his distaste for Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS (1975), and his being schoolmates with future funny men Eugene Levy and Martin Short. Further bits of trivia are offered when he reveals that it was he who suggested Chambers for the role in Rabid after seeing her in a television interview and Cronenberg’s planned involvement in an adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (!) before he moved on to The Fly.
Archive Interview with David Cronenberg
This older interview shares some common ground with Cronenberg’s input from The Directorsfeature but is just as elucidating and worthy of inclusion. We get more comments in direct relation to Rabid and they bring to light the director’s struggles and insecurities making films that have been considered works of genius. From having difficulty staggering the simultaneous events in the film to the “crisis of confidence” he suffered when he thought the whole picture a waste of time, Cronenberg’s thoughts will be sympathetic for anyone else who has undertaken similar artistic endeavors. He brings up his original intention of casting Sissy Spacek in the lead (who can be seen in a poster for Carrie in the film) and offers a somewhat backhanded comment when he says that Chambers was “really not bad.” His thoughts on subversive art are erudite and absorbing, as always.
*We could not access either of the commentary tracks due to our Blu-Ray playing device, and the screener copy that was sent by Arrow did not include the illustrated booklet.