Director: David Cronenberg
Script: David Cronenberg
Cast: Marilyn Chambers, Frank Moore, Joe Silver, Howard Ryshpan, Patricia Gage, Susan Roman
Running time: 91 minutes
Year: 1977
Certificate: 15

David Conenberg is a name synonymous with a very specific type of icky, uncomfortable body horror and while his recent output has veered away from that into more drama/thriller territory, his second feature film, 1977’s Rabid, shows the gestation of all off the hallmarks that would define his output of the 80’s.

Set against a bleak, snow-covered Canada, Rabid tells the story of Rose, a young woman who undergoes experimental reconstructive surgery following a motorcycle accident. As she recovers, she notices a horrifying change in herself; an insatiable thirst for human blood which she extracts through a protrusion in her armpit. Her victims  gradually become insane, feasting on their own prey and spreading a disease around the populace, creating a pandemic that the government struggles to control.

At its core, Rabid is Cronenberg’s genre bending take on zombie movies, albeit with a bit more thrown into the mix for extra flavour. Rose’s lust for blood certainly has a strong connection to vampire stories, while the psychosexual imagery of her penetrative appendage sways towards analogies of sexually transmitted disease. It’s hard to disassociate the film’s lead star from all of this as well.

Marilyn Chambers is entrancing as Rose, alluringly sinister in the role of the unwilling antagonist it’s unclear right up until the credits roll as to whether she fully comprehends her part in the pandemic. Chamber’s history as a pornographic actress hangs over and largely informs her performance here as her bloodlust and hunger begins to push through. She’s an arresting presence in among a rather mixed bag of a cast which is overall largely typical of a low budget late 70’s indie horror.

The lower budget keeps the tone consistent though, as does the bleak winter visuals, and the imagery switches between being stark and clinical to grimy and grungey as Rose moves back to her city apartment and the chaos around her starts to fully take hold. There’s an excellent clean up job done on both the audio and video here, with a new 2K scan – I’ve watched this film a few times before, mainly on crackly VHS and this is far and away the best quality I’ve ever seen it.

While the disparate narrative threads never totally seem to bind together into a satisfying whole, there are some compelling ideas at the center of Rabid, and the disease ridden story is likely to trigger a few hypochondriac nightmares. The film has recently been remade by the Soska Sisters (writer/director duo of the intriguing but uneven plastic surgery horror American Mary) and has recently hit Blu-Ray; it’ll be interesting to see if that expands on Cronenberg’s original in any way.

  • The Quiet Revolution: State, Society and the Canadian Horror Film – Part One: Gimme Shelter: Cinepix and the Birth of the Canadian Horror Film, a brand new feature-length documentary exploring the social contexts behind Canadian horror cinema from filmmaker and author Xavier Mendik
  • Audio commentary with filmmakers Jen & Sylvia Soska
  • Limited edition booklet: Includes ‘The Birth of Rabid’ by Greg Dunning and ‘Stunned. Shocked. Exhilarated’: Horror in the Early Films of David Cronenberg by Alex Morris
  • Audio commentary with writer-director David Cronenberg
  • Audio commentary with William Beard, author of ‘The Artist as Monster: The Cinema of David Cronenberg’
  • Audio commentary with Jill C. Nelson, author of ‘Golden Goddesses: 25 Legendary Women Of Classic Erotic Cinema, 1968-1985’ and Marilyn Chambers’ Personal Appearances Manager Ken Leicht
  • Young And Rabid – An interview with actress Susan Roman
  • Archive interview with David Cronenberg
  • The Directors: David Cronenberg – a 1999 documentary on the filmmaker
  • Interview with executive producer Ivan Reitman
  • Interview with co-producer Don Carmody
  • Trailer

101 films have done a stellar job, not only with the clean up on the main film but with the extras they’ve packaged it with. While most of them are archival interviews and documentaries which have some crossover in the anecdotes and material they cover, there is plenty to dig into.

The cream of the crop, however, is a new documentary entitled The Quiet Revolution: State, Society and the Canadian Horror Film. Full of fascinating insights, the first part of this documentary is presented on this release, with part two to be found on the Blu-Ray of the remake. While it doesn’t focus 100% on Cronenberg’s work, it is well worth a watch for fans of the genre.

Rabid (1977)
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