We are back in my (rather corrupted, it must be said) childhood here, with David Cronenberg‘s continuing (at the time) exploration of ‘body horror’. This time around, he drew a bravura performance from perhaps the greatest porn queen of her generation, Marilyn Chambers. Sadly, despite the fact that she obviously had what it took to be a talented mainstream actress, she never went back to straight film roles and died in 2009. However, in the 2004 United States presidential election, Chambers did run for Vice President on the Personal Choice Party ticket, a libertarian political party, and received a total of 946 votes.
Now, we were talking about Rabid (1977), were we not? In fact, of Cronenberg’s early, breakout horror films, I think that this is probably the least effective, certainly when compared with Shivers (1975) or The Brood (1979), but there is nevertheless much to appreciate from a horror afficionado’s perspective here.
A very seriously injured woman (Chambers), victim of a motorcycle accident, is taken to the plastic surgery clinic of Doctor Dan Keloid (Howard Ryshpan), where some of her intact tissue is treated to become ‘morphogenetically neutral’. Whatever that may mean, and this is the only serious problem that I have with the film – it is actually never really explained why, when the tissue is grafted to fire-damaged areas of her body in the hope that it will differentiate and replace the damaged skin and organs, she unexpectedly develops an orifice under an armpit, with a phallic stinger hidden within, which she uses to feed on the blood of other people. It soon becomes apparent that every victim whom she ‘bites’ transforms into a rabid zombie who then spreads the disease, but again, why?
Appaently, there is the famous ‘director’s cut’ of this film out there somewhere, which better explains my questions above, but one might have thought that a director of Cronenberg’s obvious talent would have seen to ensuring that it was crystal clear, at least in the confines of splatter horror, why what was happening was happening first time around.
That aside, Rabid was still way above what was to be expected from a genre which, at the time, was busy getting into little more than stalk ‘n’ slash. It is a remarkably powerful, disturbing horror – definitely one for grown-ups.