I realized the other day that I hadn't spent time with my friend David Cronenberg in a while. I didn't have many other horror-ish films from one of my favorite directors to see, but there was Rabid sitting patiently and blending in with all those other "sick" titles. Luckily, Rabid was just the thing I needed for my brain that was craving another suggestive phallic symbol, protruding out of someone's body.
Rabid is Cronenberg's 2nd major film after Shivers--a film I've been desiring to see for quite some time now but it's one of those rare DVD's that cost about 40 bucks on Ebay. Oh well someday Shivers, you and me. Anywho, Rabid is about a woman who after a horrific motorcycle accident, gets some experimental surgery done and wakes up craving a strange need for blood. The plot thickens as every person that she bites with her arm pit penis turns into a rabid zombie-like person who wants to bite people, therefore spreading the disease further.
Like most of Cronenberg's movies, Rabid deals with the terror of an inner threat as opposed to an outer one. Diseases especially run rampant in this category, and what makes Rabid nice is that it takes that inner fear and flips it nicely to the outside by having the rest of the population be in fear of the rabid people. It's a curious kind of movie that on the one hand is much easier to understand then Cronenberg's later work, but on the other hand...I feel like it's a lot more intelligent than you think.
What I think is the most interesting is that the experimental procedure used to cure Rose, is basically the work of stem cells. In his interview David Cronenberg claims he "saw" the future and attributes his prediction to his previous dabbling in bio-chemistry. Man, the guy really is a genius! Wouldn't this be an interesting story to update to now time? Although second thought maybe not...as it may prevent people from fully embracing the idea of stem cell research...hmmmm never mind.
Anyways, there is of course the typical confusion, although in Rabid's case I think most of it stems from the low budget. For one, Rose is supposed to be in a terrible accident that leaves her "disfigured" according to a plot synopsis. In the crash footage, the motorcycle exploded, trapping her underneath, yet when we see her on the operating table she has flawless skin.
Where's the disfigurement you say? My thoughts exactly. Apparently, the fatal wounds were on her insides, but still you must wonder that if one is trapped underneath a burning motorcycle, burn wounds must be somewhere..am I right? Secondly, a lot of people get confused about the whole penis in the arm pit gag. Which I should point out, at first I thought it was a butthole....
or a vagina...
and then finally I saw the penis.
What makes this even more confusing is that we don't really see the penis until quite awhile. Before that Rose just hugs people
and suddenly they are bleeding and end up like this.
Although I should mention, the butthole/vagina hole in her armpit is terribly disgusting in true Cronenberg form. It's such an invasive little gaping hole...bleck.
People explain the confusion away by using science--apparently the stem cells grafted from Rose's legs were used to rebuild her internal organs. Somehow those cells mutated and caused Rose to get her nourishment from a different source---blood. Which I guess makes sense if someone is just randomly explaining things to you.. Regardless, I find that accurate explanation of a phallic symbol's presence is less important than being like hey--there is a crazy red penis coming out of her arm pit that she is biting people with!! You know? Just go with it.
Rabid had its fair share of problems of course typically involving the editing--but for the most part the movie stays true to Cronenberg's eventual trademark of the sublimely weird and disgusting. I also loved how gross the rabid people were. It was just shot after shot of yellow oozing pus eyes, and green foam at the mouth. I'm hesitant of course to call them zombies, but that is kind of how they act. In any case they made me second guess that bowl of macaroni and cheese and that's always fun.
My other favorite part about Rabid is how it does such a great job of showing us how creepy the 70s were. Apparently wherever a semi attractive woman went she was immediately molested. All Rose had to do was walk someplace, then a man would sit down next to her and be like "hey, want to touch my penis?"
I mean wow, I heard stories but to see it there as plain as day, jeesh! Of course maybe this is due to the fact that Marilyn Chambers starred as Rose. Originally Cronenberg wanted Sissy Spacek but they opted for Chambers due to Spacek's strong accent. Marilyn Chambers actually doesn't do such a bad job. Compared to Traci Lord's acting job in Not of This Earth--Marilyn Chamber's is Oscar worthy. Those porn stars...always surprising us.
So what did I think of Rabid? Slow at times but overall a solid second entry into Cronenberg's body of work. I especially enjoyed that repetitive piano score, so simple and annoyingly consistent. Something about it really just gave the film a creepy vibe that would have otherwise not been as present. Overall I think I can safely say that I like Rabid. It was original for its time, and challenged more than a few conventions. I mean really how can you go wrong with a penis hidden in someone's arm pit? By the way if you get the chance, watch an interview with Cronenberg about any of his films, if you're anything like me you'll be smiling gleefully at the screen for hours. I think my bedroom needs a poster of David Cronenberg as well...
Oh looks here's one!
I love how one day he just realized that it made no sense--oooh David.