Sunday, 1 March 2015

Blu-Ray Review: Rabid

For me, the 70s were a magical time for cinema, and my local theatres became regular haunts for a steady stream of genre fare. 'The Vampire Lovers', 'Blood On Satan's Claw', 'Dracula, Prince Of Darkness' and 'The Blood Splattered Bride' were just a few of the films to light up the big screen, along with David Cronenberg's 'Shivers'. The latter introduced me to the weird and wonderful world of an exciting new director who followed up this startling slice of cinema unease with a companion piece titled 'Rabid'.
The film begins with a road accident that leaves biking pair Hart (Frank Moore) and Rose (Marilyn Chambers) as casualties. The on-screen diagnosis forecasts Rose has just 30 minutes to live, and with the nearest hospital some 3 hours away, she's despatched to the nearby Keloid clinic. Dr Dan Keloid (Howard Ryshpan) presides over an institute that's aiming to create a franchise operation for plastic surgery resorts, aided by Murray (the splendid Joe Silver). Rose's severe internal injuries force Keloid to resort to a previously untried technique of neutral field graft: a radical method which involves the placement of her own skin to form new tissue on her abdomen.
This technique had never been used internally, and the effects result in Rose developing an insatiable appetite for blood. A small sphincter opening under her armpit houses a phallus-like spike which pierces the flesh of her victims, turning the recipient into a vampiric being. The bloody results of this epidemic - pitched as a new strain of rabies by the authorities - soon covers a wide area, with the threat that an entire city and beyond will become infected.
While Sissy Spacek was an early contender for the character of Rose, Marilyn Chambers eventually got the role, following a suggestion from Ivan Reitman. At the time, Spacek was hot property due to the recently released 'Carrie' and her involvement would doubtless have considerably boosted box office takings. For all that, Reitman's call turned out to be a good one. It's a fine physical performance from Chambers, whose leap from hardcore porn to horror can be seen as a successful move, leaving one to wonder why she didn't continue in that vein.

'Rabid' certainly built on the promise of its predecessor, anticipating themes and imagery from Cronenberg's future work, and also installed him as something of a prophet with regard to surgical techniques which looked ahead to stem cell research which was still almost 3 decades down the line.
The mind/body split has featured in Cronenberg's work through a series of challenging, thought provoking films and 'Rabid still stands tall and proud in this body of work.

Arrow Video's Blu-ray features an excellent encode of the film which was digitally restored in High Definition by Lionsgate using materials supplied by the Toronto International Film Festival Group. All restoration work was performed at Technicolor in Toronto, Canada. The colour grading on 'Rabid' seems to have caused not a little controversy, with opinions ranging from "It looks great" to criticism that the colour scheme has been revised to the detriment of the picture. Well, it's been some 37 years since I caught 'Rabid' at the cinema and, like the overwhelming majority of patrons at the time, I have no recollection of how this film is supposed to look. Some of the colours do are perhaps over-saturated in places and the levels of grain fluctuate but overall, for a low-budget offering, I'm pleased with the look of 'Rabid' and it's abundance of detail.

The extras begin with two commentary tracks. The first is with David Cronenberg, who talks about his interest in medical research, believing we've never really accepted our own bodies and strive to modify and improve them. He also talks about Marilyn Chambers' performance; his thoughts on the initial choice of Sissy Spacek and explains the difficulties of shooting a film chronologically. It's a most enlightening, stimulating talk and the same can be said for the second commentary track where William Beard enthuses about the script; the impressive scale realised by a low budget film and Chambers' performance and the heroic qualities of her character.
The video supplements on this disc begin with a David Cronenberg interview (20 min 35s) where DC recalls the critical reaction to 'Shivers' and how he was frozen out by the Canadian Film Fund. He also chats about why he found 'Rabid' a difficult script to write, and that he began to realise the way he liked to shoot, feeling more assured when working on this picture.
An Ivan Reitman interview follows, running for 12min 29s. Reitman talks about 'Animal House'; recalls his first meeting with Cronenberg, and why he suggested Marilyn Chambers for the role in 'Rabid'.
A 15min 37s interview with Don Carmody - the film's co-producer - covers his relationship with the Canadian film industry; his memories of running production at Cinepix and of working as a driver for Julie Christie on Robert Altman's 'McCabe And Mrs Miller'.
Make up and fx artist Joe Blasco rounds off the interview section, with a brief chat (3min 11s) on his work on 'Rabid' and why he never got to meet Marilyn Chambers.

'The Directors: David Cronenberg' is a 59min 4s documentary which features Holly Hunter, Marilyn Chambers, Peter Weller, Debbie Harry and a host of other familiar faces who talk about working with Cronenberg. This episode in 'The Directors' series was made just after the release of 'eXistenZ' and covers a lot of ground, looking at the New York underground movement; the making of 'Scanners' ("a nightmare" according to its director) and the hideousness of the British press following attempts to ban 'Crash'. Having attended the UK premiere at the London Film Festival, I can well remember the hysterical coverage leading up to the screening and beyond and share the director's opinion on our 'gutter press'. We also hear about the problems he faced in casting the Mantle twins in his extraordinary 'Dead Ringers', and there are clips from the likes of 'The Fly', 'Scanners' and 'Crash'.
'Raw, Rough And Rabid' follows, being a 15min 4s documentary, courtesy of the excellent High Rising Productions and featuring Canadian critic Kier-La Janisse and Joe Blasco. Here, the legacy of 'Rabid' and Cinepix are discussed, with 'Shivers', 'Death Weekend' and the Ilsa films under the spotlight.
The aforementioned supplementary material gives significant added value to this disc, underlining the achievements of a film that continues to stand the test of time. As usual, Arrow provides an informative booklet, this time containing a beautifully written article from Kier-La Janisse which looks at the human bvody in a very different way; takes in Quebec's 1970 'October Crisis' and discusses the Rose brothers who remain folk heroes in Quebec.
Extracts from the book 'Cronenberg On Cronenberg' are also included and there's a Marilyn Chambers in interview conducted by Calum Waddell in 1995.
A highly recommended release.


  1. Love Rabid. But just want to add a little comment about the first paragraph.

    Where did it all go wrong Steve? It really was a golden age wasn't it. I live 8 miles from a multiplex and despite having a gazillion screens there has been nothing showing there to tempt me out for over a decade and a half! Rabid screened at our local too cinema back in the day too. Alongside the likes of food for the gods, squirm, the killer bees, earthquake, enter the dragon, freebie and the bean and so on. Just week after week of genre stuff. Luckily they'd let me i to the X stuff when I was with my dad, they just got used to me showing up (from the age of 3) so I had a childhood watching grindhouse fare on the big screen. It all seems crap these days in comparison. Anyhow, at least we got he memories and besides, he stuff comes out on disc.

    1. It was indeed a golden age, Nigel. The last double bill I saw was The Beyond and House By The Cemetery on the day Derby's ABC cinema closed down. Like you, I managed to get into plenty of X rated fare, and have some great memories though I do remember being refused admission to Cabaret which was an X.
      Thanks for your comments, my friend. You have some great memories. Man, I remember going to see Enter The Dragon, too.