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Rose is involved in a motorcycle accident, and has experimental surgery performed in order to save her life. However, she develops a taste for blood. Her victims grow in number as well as madness, turning the city into chaos. Written by
Paul Reynolds <email@example.com>
Fascinating second feature from the master of body horror
A biker called Rose crashes near an unorthodox surgery. She is taken there for emergency treatment which entails a new experimental skin graft operation. Rose develops a phallic appendage that she uses to attain human blood, the only thing that can sustain her new biology. In doing so she maims her victims, transmitting a form of rabies onto them.
David Cronenberg's debut feature Shivers was extremely bold, original and visceral. He followed it up with Rabid which explores similar territory. In some ways it's a more expansive film but overall less intense. In this story the virus affects a whole city, so Cronenberg is able to incorporate more locations and action. On the other hand it's less claustrophobic than the Ballardian nightmare that was the apartment block in Shivers. It would only be fair to say that the science is somewhat less clear and more ambiguous in Rabid too. We never really know how it comes to be that Rose develops the vagina/penis mutation. All we know for sure is that it's an unexpected side effect of the experimental skin graft surgery. We also never really understand Rose's motivations, although it does seem like she is unaware of her blood lust. What is for sure though is that Rabid is another extremely interesting entry in Cronenberg's cycle of body horror movies that underlines his genius. When the director was informed once that he was the king of venereal horror he replied 'it's a small field but at least I'm king of it'.
In order to give their movie an angle over the multitude of other low budget horror films, the production company Cinépix suggested Marilyn Chambers for the lead role. At the time she was the world's number one porn actress, so her presence would guarantee the film some automatic visibility. As it turned out, she was very good in the lead role and certainly suggested that she could have done more proper acting. The film itself is an interesting twist on the vampire myth, with the influence of George Romero never far from the surface with some references to the likes of The Crazies. Pleasingly, as well as being as idiosyncratic as Cronenberg is, Rabid also works as a pure horror film. There are plenty of gory set-pieces and grotesque rabid lunatics. The Canadian setting provides other value too. The cold landscapes and sterile urban architecture really accentuates the feel that Cronenberg is going for, while the ending is very nihilistic and just perfect for this story.
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