Friday, August 27, 2010

RABID (1977) Movie Review

RABID (1977)

When a young couple on a motorcycle are in a horrific crash, they are brought to the nearby plastic surgery hospital for emergency care, where the local surgeon uses an experimental skin grafting procedure to help heal Rose's (porn star Marilyn Chambers) wounds. After a month-long coma, Rose awakens to discover that she has an insatiable appetite for blood, which she draws from anyone who gets close to her via a penis-like growth that now protrudes out of her armpit. Scared and confused, Rose races out into the night, hoping to find her way back to the city where she can be safe. But with each victim that she attacks, she creates a frothing-at-the-mouth psychotic monster, who in turn attacks and creates more mindless raging creatures. By the time Rose has made her way back to the city, she has unknowingly created an epidemic which has forced martial law on the entire area!

Everyone's favorite gray-haired body-horror obsessed Canuck David Cronenberg is back after SHIVERS with his second feature-length nightmare, with partial funding from the Canadian government and Ivan Reitman serving as executive producer. This time around sex and desire are once again the enemy, with elective plastic surgery and the price of human physical perfection via experimentation added to the list. Though predating the AIDS scare of the 1980s, this is none the less a cautionary tale about the dangers of unprotected physical contact with strangers, and a warning about the consequences of unnaturally altering the human body. A majority of the film takes place at a plastic surgery institute, whose overseers discuss creating a plastic surgery franchise. Cronenberg deals with this installation and its inhabitants with pure disgust for those obsessed with human physical perfection.

Marilyn Chambers, the star and sensation of the 1972 porn classic BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR, shows off some solid acting chops here as Rose. Chambers' natural, innocent and intoxicatingly attractive look plays an important part in making RABID work the way it does. She performs with a vulnerability and slightly-spacey look on her face for most of the picture, which allows the seedier characters to attempt to take advantage of her. The twist is that she is the most dangerous character in the film, carrying a virus that will destroy any who get close to her within hours. That she is unaffected by the virus herself makes her all the more deadly. She is not shy about shedding her clothes here either, and thus we as viewers are filled with lust and become victims ourselves. Chambers appears in almost every scene, and even with her limited filmography, is able to muster a performance that keeps the film held together.

Taking some cues from George Romero's 1973 film THE CRAZIES, this virus turns its victims into grotesque mouth-foaming, eye-bulging lunatics who bite and claw at others, spreading the disease. The effects, even with the films obvious low-budget, are handled with a professional touch. They are effective, shocking, and above all disturbingly real. Cronenberg's takes another cue from Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, in which he keeps the viewer in the dark as to what exactly caused Rose's body to mutate the way it did and thus creating the virus, though several characters attempt to explain it throughout the movie. The film primarily revolves around Rose's subjective view about what is happening to her, and since no one explains to her what is wrong with her, we as viewers are left in the dark to the origins as well. It makes her character's experiences all the more frightening, and the more tragic.

Cronenberg's writing and directing style here is icy and already masterfully distant considering his short career at the time. He comes in close, whether literally with the camera or figuratively with the dialog, only when he absolutely has to, as if disgusted by the human race, the individual subjects at hand and what the species is capable of. Cronenberg doesn't flinch when showing what humans will go to whether it is a man trying to take advantage of a frail young woman, a bandaged patient nonchalantly discussing how many times they've had plastic surgery done, or the military's cold and calculating way of dealing with the epidemic through herding the masses like cattle and blindly executing anyone that has symptoms of the virus. This disgust is a stance that Cronenberg has taken again and again over the years in almost every project he's put his stamp on. Here in RABID though, it is particularly raw and unfiltered, and from the mind of an angry young man who sees the world a little differently than most, and wants those viewing to realize the ugly truth about what we are, what we do, and where we are going.


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