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Director: David Cronenberg
Writers: David Cronenberg
Cast: Marilyn Chambers, Frank Moore, Joe Silver
Length: 91 min
Label: Arrow Film’s and Video
Release Date: February 16, 2015
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: English: LPCM 1.0
Subtitles: English SDH
- Audio Commentary with David Cronenberg
- Audio Commentary with film scholar and professor William Beard
- Interview with David Cronenberg
- New Interview with Ivan Reitman
- Interview with co-producer Don Carmondy
- Interview with special effects artist Joe Blasco
- The Directors: David Cronenberg Televised hour-long documentary piece on Cronenberg
- Raw, Rough, and Rabid Short documentary featurette featuring Kier-la Janisse and Joe Blasco
- Isolated music and effects track
- Reversible Artwork and illustrated booklet
Often directors will go an entire career without really carving their niche. However, even among some of the most respected elite, it usually takes a few films for them to begin to develop not only the stylistic but also thematic elements that will define their career. David Cronenberg is a director who defies this norm, and perhaps no film best proves this than his sophomoric effort, the 1977 zombie-body horror film Rabid. With his second feature, Cronenberg builds upon the basis he begun with Shivers, a line that will run through nearly his entire discography — certainly one that pops up in all of his cult favorites. While overshadowed by some of his better-known efforts, like Videodrome, The Brood or The Fly, Rabid is a deeply fascinating and entertaining effort. It stands up with the best of them. Now, thanks to Arrow Film’s and Video, Rabid is finally remastered and available in high definition format. However, sorry to you North Americans, this release is Region B locked…
In one of the amusing anecdotes featured in the collection, it is revealed that amidst the start of production of Rabid, Cronenberg got cold feet and decided that he couldn’t make the film. In a fit of nerves he penned a new script overnight, one about twin gynecologists — sound familiar? Well, I guess we can thank this situation for two things. First, it gave birth to what would become Dead Ringers and, second, that Cronenberg was talked out of his jitters and the result is the bold and creative take on the zombie, body horror genre that is Rabid.
After getting in an accident that leaves her in a critical state, Rose (played by Marilyn Chambers, famous at the time for being a commercial-turned-porn star) is rushed to the nearest medical facility. Located on the outskirts of Montreal in the Canadian countryside, the sole facility is more of a plastic surgery center than an actual hospital. But, with no other options, the center accepts her and performs an experimental grafting surgery that will rebuild her organs, the only chance she has to survive. At first, the surgery appears to be a success but it is not long before Rose grows more than an appetite for blood. The rest of the film sees Rose attempting to make her way back to Montreal to be reunited with her boyfriend, while potentially unleashing an epidemic that threatens the state of humanity.In terms of plot, Rabid is a bit more pedestrian than Cronenberg’s more mature pictures. With that said, we still see him working through many of the concepts that will go on to inform The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome, and The Fly — among others. Most prominent is the role of the body in direct relationship to psychological anxieties. Like The Brood, Rabid (perhaps less problematically) depicts mutations of the female body that have a direct relation to societal pressures. Where Rabid differs, is in the role of victim. In a strange turn, Rose is both victim and villain. It is clear that Cronenberg is attempting to comment on the subjugated role of women, especially in late 70s cinema. In fact, there are many elements that exist in Rabid that seem to go on to inform the very familiar feature from last year, Under the Skin. Marilyn Chambers really shines in the lead, beautifully capturing the ambiguities between the two poles that her character demands. It is a shame that her career didn’t blossom after the film.
Beyond the thematic realm of the film, stylistically Rabid marks a real growth for Cronenberg. While it is not as polished as any film he worked on after, it is a major improvement from Shivers. For Rabid, Cronenberg stepped outside of his comfort zone, expanding his style to incorporate massive on-location shooting and larger action pieces. It really stands as a nice testament to a growing but still young great in the making.
After the debacle with Shivers — although we have to admit we think that many people blew that out of proportion — we were more than happy to see that Rabid appears to be issue-free. After having seen the film only on DVD, I must say that the restoration that Arrow licensed for this release is absolutely stunning. The color of the print is the most noticeable improvement. While I have read that this is the result of a new color correction, I must say that it is for the improvement of this picture. Reds are bright and crisp and black levels are strong. The result gives the rather low budget picture a look beyond its production value. The grain is left intact, really giving the film that gritty feeling it needs. There are some noticeable elements of print degradation but they are minute and are not distracting. We really couldn’t be more pleased; Rabid has finally found a home worthy of its value.
Not much to report on here. You have to keep in mind the budget of the film. There is no possibility that the audio track would be on par with larger productions, but, still, what we get here is a fine representation of the film’s original mono track. The LPCM 1.0 is well balanced, leaving enough room for Ivan Reitman’s assembled score to shine.
In addition to the always stellar Arrow designs and booklets, this package comes with quite a few impressive features. Probably the most interesting interview is the ported over piece with Cronenberg himself. The conversation is a fascinating journey through the creation of the film, including some of the controversy that Cronenberg caused in Canada in the wake of the film’s release. Cronenberg also discusses the problematic claims of misogyny that have been leveled at his work. While I do not believe him to be a misogynistic director, I will admit that his reasoning, here, seems rather outdated. Of the other interviews, Ivan Reitman’s newly commissioned piece also comes as quite a nice surprise. Reitman, known for his comedies, speaks candidly about his love of genre cinema and his time working with Cronenberg. It is a refreshing to see those who have left the genre world still speak highly of it. Also featured here are two short documentaries about Cronenberg. The first is an hour-long television feature — which probably appeared around the time eXistenZ was released — that features interviews with various cast members who have worked alongside Cronenberg. Stylistically, the piece is a bit dated but that comes with its own form of entertainment value. The second documentary is a shorter piece featuring Diabolique favorite Kier-La Janisse and make up effects artist Joe Blasco called Raw, Rough, and Rabid. While Kier-La’s segments are fantastic, they don’t mesh well with Blasco’s always. This causes the piece to feel a bit thrown together. It is, however, more than worth a watch. The disc also features two great commentary tracks, one with Cronenberg and the second with writer and film professor William Beard.
The decision couldn’t be more easy, if you are a fan of Rabid this is really a worthwhile pickup. With a stunning transfer, beautiful packaging, and more than enough features to satisfy, this is currently the definitive presentation of the film. The only downside is the fact that it is currently only available locked in Region B. Our advice…buy a region free player.