David Cronenberg’s follow up to the unexpectedly successful Shivers (1975) is an equally bizarre and suitably warped take on the Vampire movie. Coming to Blu-ray with the usual handful of Arrow extras it is an interesting time to be revisiting Cronenberg’s back catalogue. These early works may lack the finesse of his later masterpieces, and certainly the slick style of his more recent works, but they offer fascinating insight into the auteur’s mind and set the tone for what was to come. Even his work on more traditional ground like A History of Violence (2005) and Eastern Promises (2007) owe much to these early forays into dark body horror.
Bigger in scope than Shivers, Rabid follows young couple Rose and Hart (Chambers and Moore) who find themselves in a horrific motorcycle accident. Taken to a clinic for surgery, Rose finds herself at the mercy of a group of doctors using experimental techniques. She awakes to find herself thirsting for human blood, and through a strange phallic lump under her arm proceeds to drain and infect everyone she comes in contact with.
Cronenberg has always preferred scientifically inclined horror to the supernatural. Offering up strange contortions of the human form and a juxtaposition of the body’s physical resilience with its vulnerability to disease, he has always found new ways to shock and disturb. And he has certainly never been afraid to go to some very controversial places in his career. Like Shivers (1975) before it Rabid represents early steps towards the greatness that would be fully realised in films like Videodrome (1983) The Fly (1986) and Crash (1996). Rabid is structurally very similar to Shivers, and uses a similar set-up and template; albeit on a slightly bigger canvas that before. Again, Cronenberg seems preoccupied with ideas of medical malpractice and venereal disease and how they warp and mutate the very essence of what we are. The casting of the late Marilyn Chambers, a porn star by trade, seems to hammer the point home; ideas of sexual exploitation are suggested and then turned around as the films predators ultimately become the prey.
For all its big themes and big ideas however, Rabid strangely feels less confident than its predecessor, and as such hasn’t aged as well as it could have. Essentially a B-grade exploitation flick, it has ideas well above its station and as such feels more relevant than similar films of the era. But where Shivers still feels relevant Rabid feels like an historical footnote in Croneberg’s career; suggestive more of things to come rather than feeling like a complete vision in itself. This is especially apparent in the film’s final scene, which seems to have accidentally wondered in from a George Romero movie and is at odds with the more singular vision Cronenberg has tried to create. That’s not to say Rabid is a failure; it has plenty of hints and ideas that would develop over later films and help shape Cronenberg into one of the foremost auteurs working in cinema today.
Arrow have put together another decent package for fans and completists here. Most of the material is retrospective but there is plenty to enjoy and it is always interesting to see how filmmakers react and respond to things differently over the years. Cronenberg as always, makes for an engaging interviewee and his recollections are worth the cover price alone. There is also a brilliant 1999 documentary called Directors that examines Cronenberg’s career up to that date and features fascinating insight from many of the people that have worked with him over the years. There are new interviews with producer Ivan Reitman (of Ghostbusters fame) a big champion of Canadian cinema and pivotal in kick starting Cronenberg’s career. The director himself provides an audio commentary as does William Beard, author of the book The Artist as The Monster: The Cinema of David Cronenberg.
The film is presented as well as could probably be hoped, and it looks okay in hi-def. Some scenes fare a little better than others, but it will probably be the supplemental features that talk fans into swapping their DVD’s for the Blu-ray. All in all it is another quality release from the folks over at Arrow and it still amazes me that they are able to put together such quality releases in an increasingly difficult market. Now if only someone would put out decent Blu-ray versions of Scanners, Videodrome, and Crash…