Rabid (1977)

I’ve stayed away from talking about David Cronenberg movies on here because, well, better and smarter people have already done so. After all, there’s an entire zine devoted to discussing his works, House of Skin. And friend of the site Bill Van Ryn has already written an incredibly well-written appreciation of this one. But hey — I made it through the whole Joe Bob Briggs marathon and am trying to share my thoughts with you. So please indulge me. Thank you.

The film starts with Rose and her boyfriend Hart getting into an accident in the remote countryside. With no other option, they are sent to the Keloid Clinic for Plastic Surgery, with Hart suffering only a broken hand, separated shoulder and a concussion. Rose, however, is barely alive, needing several operations and skin grafts from being burned. Dr. Dan Keloid decides to try something new: he uses “morphogenetically neutral grafts” to heal her damaged tissue, hoping that it will heal on its own. A month later, Hart is ready to go home, but she remains in a coma.

Sometime later — time isn’t really of the essence in this nightmare world — Rose awakens screaming. When Lloyd, another patient in the clinic, comes to help her, she somehow cuts him. He doesn’t remember how it happened, but his blood no longer clots and he can no longer feel pain. And Rose? Well, now she has a wound in her armpit that looks sexual — male and female at the same time. Shades of God Told Me To?

Now, Rose can only subsist on human blood, which she discovers after cow’s blood causes her to puke. A farmer watches and tries to rape her, but she is the predator now, soon devouring him and turning him into a zombie-like monster.

All hell soon breaks loose — Lloyd attacks a taxi driver after escaping from the clinic, killing them both. Dr. Keloid attacks everyone within his own clinic. Rose tries to get Hart to save her, but escapes on her own, infecting people all along the way.

Soon, Quebec is a nightmare city, with maniacs using jackhammers to tear people from cars, Santa Claus getting shot and a shoot to kill martial law policy being enacted on anyone showing signs of the virus.

Hart tries to reason with Rose — she is the cause of all of this and needs to be stopped. Of course, things can’t work out well. The world of Soylent Green has become near truth — there are so many dead people, garbage trucks are the only solution.

Cronenberg wanted to cast Sissy Spacek in the lead, but her accent didn’t work for the film’s producers. He heard from Ivan  Reitman, the executive producer, that adult film star Marilyn Chambers was looking for a mainstream role. Her being in the film would help sell it and she put in plenty of work, so Cronenberg was happy with the results. In fact, he had never seen the movie that made her famous, Behind the Green Door.

Chambers was quite literally a pure Ivory Soap girl — appearing on a box of that cleaning product as a young mother with the tag “99 & 44/100% pure.” Her appearing in the Mitchell Brothers’ film — released at the height of post-Deep Throat porn chic, when adult films entered mainsteam consciousness — was a sensation. It didn’t hurt that she was also the first white women in a major adult film to have a scene with a black man, Johnnie Keyes.

Chambers was in the midst of trying a singing career — her song “Benihana” can be heard in this film — and she was married to Chuck Traynor, ex-husband of Linda Lovelace. You could write a novel about the mania of that dude.

That said — for being a sex queen, Chambers comes off as cold in this film. That’s probably Cronenberg’s goal, to subvert notions. Even his heroes are no heroes. No one can stop what is set in motion and everyone is ineffectual. Such is the Cronenberg universe.

One thing I’ve always wondered — why did they spoil the ending of this film in the original poster?

If you want to see Rabid, you can grab the Shout! Factory reissue. Or turn in to Shudder, who has versions with and without commentary from Joe Bob Briggs.

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