Rabid Blu-ray Review (originally published 2016)
After undergoing radical emergency surgery, Rose (Marilyn Chambers) develops an insatiable desire for blood. She searches out victims to satisfy her incurable craving, infecting them with an unknown disease, which, in turn, swiftly drives them insane and makes them equally bloodthirsty. Follow the lovely but deadly Rose through her terrifying ordeal as victim by victim, the spreading circle of casualties grows, until no one can escape their grisly fate of becoming... rabid. (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)
Rabid (aka: Rage, 1971) is very much a companion piece to Cronenberg’s first film and surprise hit, Shivers (aka: They Came From Within and The Parasite Murders, 1975). Both movies revolve around grotesque physical manifestations of sexually transmitted diseases that drive victims to psychotic mania. Rabid is the more polished movie (the director had a slightly larger budget at his disposal and additional practice behind the camera), as well as the more refined version of Cronenberg’s then-developing cinematic ethos, because it gets him closer to the total body transmutations of Videodrome (1983) and The Fly (1986). However, like so many sophomore efforts, it tends to get lost in the larger discussion of the director’s career. It doesn’t have the incendiary originality of Shivers, nor the intense emotional component of Cronenberg’s third body-horror opus, The Brood (1979). This ‘middle child’ status leaves Rabid ripe for revisiting on Blu-ray, especially considering that I haven’t seen it in more than a decade.
Throughout Shivers, Cronenberg often appears to be poking fun at the idea of scariness. The infected are violent, sure, but their threat is subverted in the end, when the protagonist gives into madness. It’s almost a happy ending. That film’s mad scientist character and his motivations are also defined in such broad terms that they rarely feel ‘real.’ Rabid is still over-the-top, but its horror goes deeper than its shocking moments and its most frightening concepts aren’t muted by the director’s black sense of humor. Cronenberg uses hospital locations and surgical sequences to establish a sense of banality in the terror and, with an anti-protagonist like Rose, he comes closer to the kind of sympathetic monster he’d later achieve with Seth Brundle in The Fly. Credit is due to Marilyn Chambers’ morose portrayal and framing vampirism as a type of drug addiction (a common idea for vampire fiction these days, but still rare in 1977). Fans of our modern glut of zombie movies and television shows may also want to note that Rabid is one of the first movies to depict contagious violence on an epidemic level, along with George Romero’s The Crazies (1973). Romero’s own Dawn of the Dead (1978) didn’t step in to firmly establish the idea of a cinematic zombie apocalypse until a year after Cronenberg’s film was released. In the end, the fact that Rabid has so much in common with the more original Shivers and the generally better The Brood does hurt its long-term entertainment value, but it still has a lot to offer.
Rabid has been available on R1/North American DVD for some time, thanks to New Concorde Home Entertainment and Somerville House. Unfortunately, New Concorde’s barebones disc was cropped to 1.33:1 and, though Somerville’s special edition was widescreen, but not anamorphically enhanced. Meanwhile, Arrow Video released a Blu-ray version in the UK. Their 1.78:1 transfer was scanned by Lionsgate in the states, restored in Canada, and cleaned-up by Arrow. This brings us to Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray, which was created from a 2K scan of the original negative and presented in Cronenberg’s preferred aspect ratio of 1.66:1. This new transfer is an improvement on most levels. First off, the 1.66:1 framing doesn’t feature any more or less information on the sides, because Arrow’s 1.78:1 transfer was actually a slightly stretched version of the 1.66:1 original. The overall detail levels are pretty similar, but the 2K remaster comes out way ahead, because the older transfer is way too contrasty, leading to crush and white overload. Scream’s disc is more even-handed with surprisingly subtle gradations and natural grain levels. Above even this, the remaster has a much, much more eclectic palette. Skin tones are pink, neutral tones are cooler, and the warmer highlights pop beautifully.
Rabid is presented in its original mono, in 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. Despite the flatness of the single channel production and the fact that it’s a largely dialogue-driven movie, this is a relatively lively mix. The sound floor is low, distortion is limited to a couple of hard consonants, and only a handful of scenes feature an underlying buzz. There is no credited composer, though producer Ivan Reitman is credited as ‘music supervisor.’ Considering how much music there is in the movie, I assume Reitman and Cronenberg were raiding library vaults for appropriately eerie and sorrowful themes.
Commentary with David Cronenberg – This is an older track that, I believe, made its first appearance on Somerville’s DVD. Like every other one of the director’s tracks, this one is well-prepped, personable, and full of behind-the-scenes facts. Cronenberg rarely pauses for more than a few moments and keeps the discussion moving throughout the film’s entire runtime.
Commentary with writer William Beard – The author of The Artist as Monster: The Cinema Of David Cronenberg (2006, University of Toronto Press) explores the director’s career and the making-of Rabid in this commentary was originally produced for Arrow’s Blu-ray release. There is surprisingly little overlap with Cronenberg’s track, as well as a nice mix of intellectual analysis and historical context.
Commentary with writer Jill C. Nelson and Marilyn Chambers' manager, Ken Leicht – The author of Golden Goddesses: 25 Legendary Women Of Classic Erotic Cinema, 1968-1985 (2012, BearManor Media) and Chambers’ public manager discuss Chambers’ career in this audio interview, which Scream has included as a third commentary track. It runs just over 58:00.
Young and Rabid (33:05, HD) – A new interview with actress Susan Roman, who plays Rose’s ill-fated friend Mindy. Roman talks about her first film role, Cronenberg’s direction, working with Chambers, and her character’s ugly glasses.
Archival interview with David Cronenberg (20:36, SD) – This is another holdover from the Somerville DVD and sees the director covering the fallout from Shivers (which was partially funded with Canadian tax money), developing Rabid, shooting on a tiny budget, and casting Chambers.
Interview with executive producer Ivan Reitman (12:28, HD) – The second Arrow-made extra features the Stripes and Ghostbusters director discussing his early work as a producer on low-budget Canadian horror movies, including Shivers, Rabid, William Fruet’s Death Weekend (1976), and, much to his chagrin, Don Edmonds’ Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1975).
Interview with co-producer Don Carmody (15:37, HD) – The next extra borrowed from Arrow’s BD features Reitman’s sometimes-partner explaining the development of the Canadian Film Development Corporation (CFDC) and how it ended up blossoming into an ongoing industry.
From Stereo To Video (26:23, HD) – The final Arrow extra (though it was actually produced for their Shivers BD) is a clever and entertaining video essay by Caelum Vatnsdal, the author of They Came From Within: A History Of Canadian Horror Cinema (2004, Arbeiter Ring). Vatnsdal covers the early part of Cronenberg’s career (Transfer through Videodrome), including footage from his 8mm shorts and feature/near-feature length movies from that era.
Trailer and TV spot
US and UK radio spots
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.