Rabid (1977)

3 out of 5

Directed by: David Cronenberg

While I don’t think anyone would call director David Cronenberg exactly subtle in his body horror flicks, applying his often sexualized imagery to his fascinations with our bodies’ tendency toward decay and human beings’ destructive natures, he does apply a type of restraint to his works, choicefully applying what he shows us, and how, so that it maintains the desired tone. The tone of Rabid – while lightly touched by some of the disease-panic of Shivers – is pretty straight-forward, coming across as a slightly more grounded zombie movie variant – i.e. it’s a horror / thriller, first and foremost – and so that’s where Cronenberg keeps us, even when featuring scenes that could’ve easily been shot as leery exploitation, given the presence of known-for-her-X-rated-films star Marilyn Chambers. Sure, Rabid gives a genre viewer some requisite nudity, but none of it ogles; a scene in which Chambers, nude from the waist up and in bed, embraces a man checking in on her, is played for some shocks, but not at all for sultriness – the guy keeps his eyes on her face, and doesn’t seem to notice her lack of clothing. Not that sex isn’t present, of course, but it’s where Cronenberg wants it: Chambers, as Rose, repaired after a deadly motorcycle crash via an experimental surgery that gives her an extending stinger under her armpit that drinks blood (remember who our director is, y’all) allows plenty of men to pursue her – though not giving them any real feedback – to use them as food, and that stinger just happens to emerge from a spot that looks a little vaginal, or maybe a little butt-holey, but certainly something that’s meant to make you feel uncomfortable. This is the professional restraint of the director in action, even at this early stage, and it allows Rabid to tip-toe a line that’s good for intrigue – we’re not sure of Rose’s exact motivations, or what she plans to do next – and dark comedy, as well as some splashes of reliable zombie horror, when the fed-upon go rabies crazy and start biting others.

Unfortunately, it’s clear Cronenberg doesn’t know exactly where to take the story, as the concept grows excitingly into Montreal being quarantined, but illogically so – it’s interesting to hear some science and thought applied to vaccination attempts and being carded for those vaccinations to go anywhere, but this is stuffed inbetween some of those aforementioned stock zombie moments, with diners and malls full of people, so the sides of the story don’t really sync up. And Rose’s wanderings become more questionable as the movie goes on, with Chambers not given much direction or dialogue to clarify how aware of her actions she is. This leads to a pretty silly conclusion for her storyline, although the final shot is appreciably grim.

Taken as a straight up low budget horror, Rabid is a quality watch – a patiently, well-shot take on a zombie film. It absolutely has Cronenbergy elements, but it’s also ultimately rather underbaked, staying well within its genre guidelines.