After a motorcycle accident and then subsequent experimental plastic surgery, a woman develops a strange disease, which makes her thirst for blood.
It was nine years after George A Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead”, and zombie-craze had taken the cinema in full force. Though Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” wouldn’t come out until the following year, we’d received dozens of zombie and pseudo-zombie movies like the “Crazies” (1973), “The Omega Man” (1971), and “Let Sleeping Corpses Lie” (1974).Even Cronenberg’s previous film, “Shivers” (1975), has many elements of the Zombie storyline. This is one of those zombie films that came with the massive influx from that genre; it’s by no means a perfect movie, nor is it by any means one of the best zombie movies. I watched this movie because I generally enjoy the works of David Cronenberg, particularly his body-horror entries. Cronenberg did things in the 70s and 80s that other people were really too afraid to try; he created movies that showcased the grotesqueries and horrors of the human body. He made movies that made us question the nature of our very selves, and he did so in ways that made us squirm and squeal with the images he imagined and brought to screen. As this is one of Cronenberg’s earlier features, and one that was made for a much smaller budget than some of his other, more mature works, this film isn’t quite as polished, but it still has moments that will make you uncomfortable; and that, for Cronenberg fans, is exactly what we want.
Rabid’s premise is extraordinarily simple. A woman named Rose (Marilyn Chambers, “Angel of H.E.A.T.”) and her boyfriend Hart Read (Frank Moore, “The Long Kiss Goodnight”) get into a motorcycle accident; he escapes with barely any scratches, and she winds up in a coma. Rose is forced to undergo plastic surgery before she awakes, and when she does awake she finds she has a strange scar on her armpit and an inexplicable thirst for blood. Rose begins to prowl the town, at first feeding on animals, then later, on men. As the disease spreads, Hart begins to realize that Rose might be the one responsible. The premise is something we’ve seen umpteen times now that the zombie subgenre has become so popular, but that’s all right... it’s a zombie movie.
In high school, I considered myself quite the connoisseur of zombie films, and I came to realize that it’s hard to judge zombie movies on the same standard we judge other movies. Zombie movies have more or less become their own thing by creating a genre where most of the rules and problems are already established. Zombie movies rarely focus much on plot, because the goal is usually just survival. So, for serious zombie aficionados, we have to compare apples to apples, meaning when we say that a zombie film is great, we usually have to compare it to other zombie mobies. What will set one zombie movie apart from other zombie movies is its ingenuity, characters, and usually its extraordinarily inventive death sequences... I know that’s a little morbid, but hey, really, that’s what people come to see zombie movies for. Show me a person that said they saw “Dawn of the Dead” (2004) because they thought it might mirror the political commentary of “Dawn of the Dead” (1978) and I’ll show you a bloody liar. People come to these movies to be grossed out, to squeal in delight and disgust at what they’re seeing, and to get a few thrills along the way.
This film succeeds in shocking and startling people, but it fails to give us anyone to really connect to, and it also tries to do far too much in the final half hour. The best part of this film is easily the practical effects, and the small twist that Cronenberg himself added into this piece. While normal affected zombies are usually infected by a bite or a swap of saliva or body fluid, Cronenberg adds an extra level of weirdness by making Rose feed on people from a wound in her armpit. The way the armpit wound is first revealed is disturbing and shocking; it’s exactly what Cronenberg body-horror fans want (though it doesn’t go nearly as far as “The Fly” or “Videodrome”). There are plenty of scenes featuring grotesque, disfigured people; there’s a decent amount of blood and violence in this film too, and that, for the most part, holds up. The film’s pacing is relatively quick, moving from one attack at a decent clip. But though the actual pacing feels quick, the story feels a little disjointed. The story suddenly takes a leap forward in time in a few scenes, and those transitions could’ve been handled a lot better. If you glance down at your phone or loose interest for even a moment, you might return to the screen wondering how things suddenly became so chaotic. There are a few plot holes in this film too; things that don’t make sense or seem out of place. Towards the end of the film, the scale increases exponentially as the virus escalates from a small facility to the whole town, and we never really feel that scale. I feel like this movie could’ve been better if they’d have kept the ending small, rather than show us a bunch of new characters and places that really have nothing to do with the protagonists. The final scene in particular feels rough, as if Cronenberg didn’t really know how he wanted to end the film.
I’m sure most people could take or leave this film, but I actually enjoy it quite a bit. It is not a prefect movie, or even a very good movie, but it’s from a director that I’ve come to really admire over the past few years, and it’s always interesting to see from where directors come; plus, it’s a low-budget zombie movie that predates “Dawn of the Dead”. As a zombie fan and a Cronenberg fan, this is almost a much watch for me. This movie shows inklings of the amazing things to come from Cronenberg. “Rabid” shows Cronenberg’s incredible ability to craft a story with a micro budget, and for fans of the zombie genre, it’s still got some of the bloody, gross, squirm-inducing stuff we love.
This is part of our 31 Nights of Thrills Series. Not all of the movies we review for this series will be strictly horror, but all will have something to do with the spirit of things spooky or scary. If you like those types of movies, be sure to check back throughout the month of October!
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