Rabid / Rage (1977)

“I feel strong; I feel very strong.”

Rabid Poster

Synopsis:
After undergoing experimental plastic surgery, a woman (Marilyn Chambers) craves human blood, and turns her victims into blood-seeking, zombie-like creatures.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
David Cronenberg fans will surely be interested to check out this early “low-budget horror film”, a “lively, if stupid” flick which is “sloppy in spots and not particularly inventive” but shows ample evidence of Cronenberg’s ongoing obsession with horrific bodily growths. Porn star Marilyn Chambers — “satisfactory” in her first R-rated role — is perfectly cast as a woman who, after being badly burned in a motorcycle accident and undergoing an experimental skin-graft operation, finds “what looks like a vagina-like opening in the skin” beneath her armpit. In a gruesomely creative twist on vampiric longings, Chambers secures blood from her victims by a “phallus-shaped projection” which emerges from her new opening and draws blood like a needle. It’s all really too gross and inexplicable for words, yet evokes provocative sexual metaphors: Chambers (the ultimate “sexually liberated woman”) is given hermaphroditic abilities, yet her “sexual” rampages result in sickness and death, starting a rabies-like pandemic (pre-AIDS) around Montreal. Meanwhile, her victims turn into zombie-like creatures, thus tapping into this horror genre trope as well. It’s all silly and low-budget, but shows Cronenberg’s firm directorial hand and unique sensibility, and thus will probably be of at least passing interest to film fanatics.

P.S. It’s interesting to note that Sissy Spacek was Cronenberg’s first choice for the central role; but Chambers, despite her limited acting chops, ultimately strikes me as the better fit.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A gruesomely provocative premise
    Rabid Premise

Must See?
Yes, simply as an early, representative Cronenberg film.

Categories

Links:

2 Responses to “Rabid / Rage (1977)”

  1. A must! Hadn’t seen it in way too many years and it has held up surprisingly well!

    Can’t say I agree with Peary’s quoted thoughts. I don’t find the film at all “stupid” or “sloppy” and I think it *is* rather inventive. As well, Chambers’ performance is, much to anyone’s surprise probably, a whole lot more than satisfactory. (I’ve still not seen her infamous ‘other work’ except in film clips, but she is right on the more-legitimate money here – kind of like a more freewheeling Cybill Shepherd.) It becomes difficult imagining who could have done a better job in this particular role.

    My favorite aspect of the film’s structure: For awhile we see Chambers looking for prey but as the film progresses we then stop knowing who was bitten when/where; mayhem can burst out at any moment.

    Does the movie make a whole lot of sense? …Does it matter? It does essentially work best as a popcorn chiller. But certainly served up with more intelligence than one would find in the average film of this sort.

    It may have been low-budget, but it sure doesn’t look or feel it. In fact, one is particularly struck by the film’s atmospheric quality and its wise use of locales.

    If you’re an ff like me, who thought once might have been enough for this one…seeing it again can be worth the trip back.

  2. I slightly disagree with you over the interpretation of the rabies-like disease in what I agree is a still interesting film (although I’m with Peary on ‘The Brood’ as Cronenberg’s best early film).

    I don’t think the disease is meant to be a STD metaphor (whether AIDS or anything else). The disease is spread when Chambers embraces another character which is an ambiguous action that could signify affection as much as sexual attraction. The contrast with ‘Shivers’ is clear where the disease is spread by unambiguously sexual action (French-kissing, the unspeakable bit in the bath!). The parasite in ‘Shivers’ was also more phallic in shape whereas the needle is again more ambiguous. Finally, it’s clear in ‘Shivers’ that infection is not meant to be seen as entirely a bad thing – the infected characters have a lot more fun!

    ‘Rabid’ is more ambiguous – and the more complex film as a result. I take it more as a meditation on human loneliness than as a puritanical “fear of sex” film.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.