We review Arrow’s new release of David Cronenberg’s “Rabid”
From the synopsis:
When beautiful Rose (adult film star Marilyn Chambers) is badly injured in a motorcycle crash, Dr. Keloid, who is in the process of developing a revolutionary new type of skin-graft, seizes the opportunity to test out his as yet unproven methods.
The surgery appears successful and Rose seems restored to full health. But all is not as it should be – Rose has been transformed into a contagious blood-sucker, endowed with a bizarre, needle-like protrusion in her armpit with which she drains the blood from those unfortunate enough to be in her vicinity.
‘Rabid’, David Cronenberg’s follow up to his brilliant theatrical debut ‘Shivers’ explores many of the same themes of sex, disease, infection and violence, further cementing his trademark ‘body horror’ aesthetic.
Cronenberg takes full advantage of an increased budget, stepping outside the apartment complex confines of ‘Shivers’ into the great Canadian outdoors, with plenty of location work helping to provide a much bigger sense of scale to the story. There are a few nice moments of gallows humour, while Cronenberg’s comments on the social climate of the time are never preachy.
Marilyn Chambers is surprisingly good in the lead role, and how she got the part is certainly interesting; as an adult film star she wanted to break into serious acting, while the producers couldn’t afford a ‘real star’. Her casting her definitely suited both parties. It’s a shame that after this movie she seemed to give up on the idea of mainstream acting.
However, though it’s a bigger movie, ‘Rabid’ does suffer from erratic pacing, and lacks some of the ‘never-seen-that-before’ impact of its predecessor. That said, when the horror kicks in, enhanced by brilliant makeup effects from Joe Blasco, the movie really comes to life, and Cronenberg’s growing confidence is clear to see.
Video and Audio Presentation
Rabid arrives on Blu-ray with a new Full HD digital transfer.
Given the age and low budget of the movie you’d never expect the presentation to be pristine, but overall it’s very pleasing indeed.
Throughout there’s a good amount of detail in the image, with (intentionally) muted, natural colours, apart from the gore effects, which are very well served by a real standout burst of colour. Contrast is a little inconsistent, but there’s a nice texture to the image, with film grain being present but never obtrusive, and a lack of DNR. Very nice, all things considered.
The mono audio track is similarly limited by the source materials, but the clean-up done here is commendable, with no hiss, crackles or pops to distract. Dialog is clear and audible, while sound effects and music have a nice weight. Thankfully Arrow have resisted the all-too-common (and often futile) habit of trying to make a 5.1 mix from basic stereo or mono tracks, so while this is hardly a multi-channel demo disc, it’s a great example of the benefits of just leaving things alone.
The extra features are the highlight of any Arrow release, and Rabid is no different. This mix of archive and new content give great insight into the film itself, as well as the wider work of Cronenberg, and the Canadian film industry of the 70s.
First up are a couple of great solo commentary tracks. David Cronenberg talks us through his memories of the making of the movie, while William Beard, author of ‘The Artist as Monster: The Cinema of David Cronenberg’, discusses the movie within the wider context of Cronenberg’s career. Both tracks are excellent, but Cronenberg especially has always been one of the best when it comes to commentaries, and this one is no exception.
Next we get an archive interview with Cronenberg, lasting about 20 minutes. While it covers a lot of the same ground as the commentary, this is Cronenberg, so it’s still worth a watch.
The first of the new features is a 12 minute interview with executive producer Ivan Reitman (yes, the Ghostbusters guy), who shares his memories of the making of the movie. Strange to think that who brought us such mainstream family friendly hits like Ghostbusters, Beethoven and Twins started out producing movies like Rabid and Cannibal Girls!
Next we get a new interview with co-producer Don Carmody (approx 15 minutes) where we get some pretty interesting behind the scenes information. First up, it appears Cronenberg wanted to scrap the planned film at the last minute, in favour of a story that had come to him in a dream. Some weird tale about twin gynaecologists. Luckily producers managed to talk him out of it, and Rabid went ahead. That story continued to develop over the years, and eventually became one of Cronenberg’s best movies, Dead Ringers, so I for one am glad he waited!
Carmody also gives some background on the state-funded Canadian Film Development Corporation, and the controversy around their decision to use public money to finance horror movies, instead of more wholesome material.
Lastly there’s a brief 3 minute chat with make-u effects maestro Joe Blasco, who talks about his work on the movie, which had a typically Cronenbergian ickiness to it.
Next up we get a couple of documentaries. First up is an archive episode of the TV show ‘The Directors’, from 1999 (the year in which eXistenZ was released), which lasts an hour and features interviews with Cronenberg as well as actors including Marilyn Chambers, Deborah Harry, Michael Ironside, and Peter Weller as they discuss his career up to that point. For those who may be unfamiliar with his earlier work, this is a great introduction, and has lots of interesting anecdotes and detail.
The second documentary is a new one, the 15 minute ‘Raw, Rough and Rabid: The Lacerating Legacy of Cinépix’, which cover the early years of the Canadian production company, which also funded Cronenberg’s earlier movie Shivers, as well as a host of other films from the late 60s to the mid 90s. There really are far too few indie outfits like this left, so it’s nice to see one of them being celebrated.
Last but not least is a trailer for the movie.
Inside the box you also get a Collector’s Booklet featuring new writing on the film by Kier-La Janisse, reprinted excerpts of Cronenberg on Cronenberg and more, illustrated with original archive stills and posters, as well as a copy of the film on DVD
As a fan of Cronenberg’s early films I’m more than willing to admit this is not his finest work. However, as with Shivers, the building blocks are clearly being laid and refined for his ‘body horror’ movies like Scanners, Videodrome and The Fly.
As ever, this is another great Arrow release, with a quality presentation of the film itself and packed with a great selection of new and archive features.
Rabid is available in both Steelbook and standard packaging, and is highly recommended.
You can buy Rabid now from all good (and evil) Blu-ray sellers, including: