Pray it doesn’t happen to you

Writer: David Cronenberg
Director: David Cronenberg

Rabid is an early David Cronenberg film. It’s his take on the zombie genre which at that time was being moulded by George A Romero.

The film starts with Rose (Marilyn Chambers) badly burnt in a motorcycle accident. At the amusingly named Keloid Clinic she is given cosmetic surgery using an experimental skin graft technique. Unfortunately the operation has an unforseen side-effect: it gives Rose an insatiable thirst for fresh, warm blood. A thirst that she passes on to everyone else she bites.

An interesting variation on the usual zombie setup is that patient zero – Rose – retains her humanity and intelligence. Subsequent victims become traditional mindless flesh eaters, but she is still human. This allows Cronenberg to present her as a likeable character, just a slave to needs that she is unable to resist… with all the symbolism inherent in that.

And that symbolism is definitely there. Rabid doesn’t have the bizarre quality of some of Cronenberg’s later films but it’s recognisably him. When Rose is biting people, there is a clear element of sexual pleasure involved – one scene actually takes place in a porn cinema! The violence we associate with Cronenberg is also present. Although mild by today’s standards it’s explicit and nasty.

The problem I have with Rabid is the pace. The outbreak spreads very slowly, partly because of a long incubation period and partly because these zombies can be killed by any normal means. So there’s never really an apocalypse. Concentrating on Rose is interesting, but unfortunately it means there’s not much of an element of tension until right at the end.

There’s a lot to like with Rabid. It has plenty of style and an interestingly different viewpoint on the zombie theme. However storywise it’s a bit of a let down.

Worth watching for the zombie and/or Cronenberg movie completist, but not a classic.