Friday, February 27, 2015

Review - Rabid (1977)

I have a fond association with David Cronenberg's second major film, Rabid. It was one of the earliest film novelisations that I ever read, and I may have even read the novelisation before I saw the film ... and I remember a local cinema down in Newquay, Cornwall, had the poster in their frame showing the girl in the deep freeze ... and this image tantalised and thrilled me ... it wasn't until I saw the actual film that I understood who the girl was and why she was frozen!

And now the lovely people at Arrow have released a remastered version of the film on Blu-Ray, complete with a nice little selection of extras ... so let's dive in! But be warned, on this occasion I do give away the ending ... so if you've not seen it and intend to, then stop reading now.

The film itself looks lovely. There is some black speckling around the opening title cards, but I suspect that this is on the original prints too, and would perhaps take too much to remove digitally. But aside from this, the print looks clean and is very watchable. The film itself is actually a little pedestrian to be honest, but it has a seventies charm about it. It's interesting to note that it was released the same year as another favourite film, Dario Argent's Suspiria as both films seem slightly ahead of their time. Cronenberg always comes up with the goods, and here it is former porn actress Marilyn Chambers who astonishes as Rose, a biker-chick girl who gets into a nasty motorcycle accident outside a place called the Keloid Clinic near Montreal  (after Doctor Keloid, and not after the keloid as a type of scar tissue - though the medical meaning of the word is obviously deliberate in the context of the film). Rose is taken into the Clinic and given emergency treatment and plastic surgery to repair damage to her breasts and hpper body - flesh is removed from her thighs and treated to transform it into generic tissue which can then take on the attributes of wherever it is used on the body.

Unfortunately for Doctor Keloid and Rose, some of this generic tissue decides to develop into a puckered anus-like lesion under Rose's arm, and inside the hole is a chitinous barb, through which Rose can ingest blood from victims. Thus Rose heads off on a bloodsucking spree, taking from patients and nurses at the surgery. Unfortunately, these people then develop a fast-spreading madness, similar to rabies (hence the title of the film) and before long, Montreal is under martial law as people head off foaming at the mouth, biting others, and spreading the 'zombie plague'.

The film meanders a little, but always comes back to Rose, who ends up living with a friend ...but Rose gets sick when she doesn't eat, and she doesn't want to feed off her friend ... but then ends up killing her anyway ... she has a fight with her boyfriend who wants to help ... but Rose is an independent sort, and doesn't believe that she is the source of the infection, so she picks up another man and feeds from him, locking herself in a room with him to prove that he won't go mad ... but of course he does and the film ends on a somewhat bleak note, with Rose's body being thrown in a dump truck with the rubbish.

As a cycle, it's quite neat, as the ending removes the source of infection, and, presumably, all the other crazies will be hunted down and killed, and the problem is resolved. But for Rose, as an innocent and helpless victim, it's bleak and unremitting. She has been turned into a quasi-vampire by doctors, and can't help her hunger for blood - when she tries to resist it, and even to eat normal food, her body can't process it and she's sick and vomiting, or writhing on the floor clutching her stomach in intense pain. She HAS to feed to survive, but that feeding spreads the madness. She even tries feeding from a cow, but this too fails - she can take only human blood.

So in this sense, the film is very tightly constructed, and Rose's trajectory really only has one arc, and can really only end in one way.

Also on the disk among the extras is an episode of The Directors series which focusses on Cronenberg, covering off all his films, and revealing that, in actuality, The Fly is his most commercially successful film to date. It also reveals that Cronenberg has had to withdraw from projects because of studio interference, and that he feels he has to remain true to his own visions in his filmmaking, and, to be honest, this is why his oevre is so intense and personal, and has resulted in works as diverse and surreal as Shivers, The Brood, Scanners and eXistenZ, not to mention Crash and Naked Lunch.

The film was released in a dual formal Blu-Ray and DVD format by Arrow on February 16th 2015.

All in all, it's a great little package, showcasing a good slice of early eighties horror from a director who always makes films which are thoughtful and entertaining, never forgetting that at the heart of any good horror story, there is a personal viewpoint.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:
  • New High Definition Digital Transfer
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the feature
  • Original mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Audio Commentary with writer-director David Cronenberg
  • Audio Commentary with William Beard, author of The Artist as Monster: The Cinema of David Cronenberg
  • Archive interview with David Cronenberg
  • Brand new interview with executive producer Ivan Reitman
  • Brand new interview with co-producer Don Carmody
  • Make-up Memories: Joe Blasco Remembers Rabid – A short featurette in which Blasco recalls how the film’s various gruesome effects were achieved
  • Raw, Rough and Rabid: The Lacerating Legacy of CinĂ©pix – Featurette looking back at the early years of the celebrated Canadian production company, including interviews with author Kier-La Janisse and special makeup artist Joe Blasco
  • The Directors: David Cronenberg – A 1999 documentary on the filmmaker, containing interviews with Cronenberg, Marilyn Chambers, Deborah Harry, Michael Ironside, Peter Weller and others
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Nat Marsh
  • Collector’s Booklet featuring new writing on the film by Kier-La Janisse, reprinted excerpts of Cronenberg on Cronenberg and more, illustrated with original archive stills and posters.

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