Sunday, December 5, 2010

Rabid: Is That a Penis in Your Arm Pit Or Are You Just Happy To See Me?

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 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 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.


B.STANK said...

Great review! It really is weird how we both were on this at the same time! Love the close up shot of the armpit penis. I too am on the hunt for Shivers...if I find an inexpensive oppotunity, I'll let you know!

matango said...

I love this movie. It was one of the first movies I watched that got me started being into horror. I think it was the first Cronenberg movie I had seen since I saw the Fly as a kid in the 80s.

When you need bleakness and anomie for horror, could one ever do better than 1970s Canada?

deadlydolls said...

I really enjoyed Rabid when I saw it for the first time last year, although I find Shivers a little more entertaining in a monster-y way. Chambers is quite good, and Cronenberg's strange little psychology looks like it's just getting started here. Like you said, the film has its flaws, but as an example of a filmmaker developing his style and themes, it's pretty awesome.

Plus, vagina armpit!

Genruk said...

This movie was a mix for me. The boyfriend's acting was painfully comic. What saved it was the sickly sweet and sticky sensuality that Ms. Chambers could not but help to exude onto the screen. This one seems to have set the stage for Cronenberg's later work, though I say this without having seen Shivers. Overall it was a worthy venture.

Andre Dumas said...

I feel like there are far too many of us that have not seen Rabid. Re-release! Re-release!

Franco Macabro said...

I dont know about you but I saw this movie as a metaphor for sexually transmitted deceases. Rose has a decease, but she lures people close to her by getting intimate with them. She uses her sexual attraction to satasfy her needs, and then infects whoever she is with.

Then, she screams at one point that she knows what she is doing, but she needs to feed! She has to do what she does, just like a person infected with an std will have sex no matter if they know they are deceased.

Interesting how in the end of the film, she is thrown in the garbage. A deceased person, rejected by society, is seen as garbage.

Interesting film, really liked it. My favorite part was the crazy guy killing Santa Clause at the mall.

Andre Dumas said...

I did notice that connection. I think in his interview Cronenberg addressed this and said how everyone related it to AIDS when it came out, as it was in its heyday. He didn't say this was necessarily his intention though.

But it did fit quite nicely...!

Anonymous said...

Had never noticed this before but it's weird the first-cousiny-type resemblance Cronenberg bears to famed magician/debunker Penn Gillette. With the main differences being hair and weight, either could go as the other at a costume party with only a little preparation, I think. Of course Cronenberg would have to try speaking much more loudly and brashly and Gillette would have to work on sounding a lot more quiet and restrained. Interesting how both artists have made shaking people up a big part of their life goals/professional lives. And it really is a shame and kind of a mystery why Chambers never did more non-sex films. She was a real hidden talent and judged solely on her work in "Rabid," better than most so-called "legitimate" actresses of the 1970s.