Rabid


1h 31m 1977
Rabid

Brief Synopsis

When Rose is seriously injured in a motorcycle accident, an experimental surgery is performed on her that saves her life. But after the operation, she finds that she craves blood, and as she seeks out victims to satisfy her craving, the city is sent into hysteria.

Photos & Videos

Film Details

Also Known As
Rage
MPAA Rating
Genre
Horror
Thriller
Sci-Fi
Release Date
1977
Location
Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 31m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Eastmancolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Synopsis

When Rose is seriously injured in a motorcycle accident, an experimental surgery is performed on her that saves her life. But after the operation, she finds that she craves blood, and as she seeks out victims to satisfy her craving, the city in sent into hysteria.

Film Details

Also Known As
Rage
MPAA Rating
Genre
Horror
Thriller
Sci-Fi
Release Date
1977
Location
Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 31m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Eastmancolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Articles

Rabid


Both a precursor to the "Golden Age of slasher films" (1978-1984) and part of the "Golden Age of porn" (1969-1984), David Cronenberg's early film Rabid (1977) overlays key elements of 1970s cinematic horror with the decade's feminist debates about sex onscreen. Unlike the horror films of the past, which were distinctly European, the 1970s-'80s were dominated by the North American horror film. Themes of unsafe suburban homes and schools, the mysteries of space, women's sexual liberation and unpredictable experiments in technology abounded. Cronenberg stands out, in part, for being a particularly Canadian auteur whose style recasts and remixes these themes, lending commentary on the body, often grotesquely transforming it, to test its social, psychological and physical limits. Rabid, for instance, features Rose, a female motorcyclist who, after an injury, is treated at the "Keloid Clinic" in Quebec. It's not a regular hospital, but a corporate facility specializing in plastic surgery. After her operation, Rose awakens with an orifice under her armpit, containing a phallic stinger with which she uses to feed on human blood. Soon, those that she feeds upon become infected, rabid zombies whose bites spread the disease, causing so much chaos that Canada's prime minister is forced to call for martial law.

With Rabid, Cronenberg recasts the archetypal male serial killer who uses phallic bladed tools, such as those men in Psycho (1960), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and, later, Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th (1980) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), as female - a Rose with a deadly thorn. Moreover, Cronenberg gave the role of Rose to famous pornographic film star Marilyn Chambers, inviting audiences to read her performance in Rabid in light of her work in the increasingly popular adult film industry, which was read by some feminist critics as a visual platform for violence against women and by others as a medium for female sexual expression. Yet in a 1979 interview with Canada's Public Broadcaster, Cronenberg cheekily says that there is "very little nudity and almost no sex" in the film, encouraging spectators to question what they believe is erotic on screen in the first place.

Tropes of adult filmmaking make their way into Rabid's slasher plot line in more ways than one. Firstly, several of the attacking scenes recall the near-comical, now clichéd seduction intros of pornographic film. Early in the movie, a bare-chested Rose seduces a fellow patient at the clinic before piercing him with her stinger. Later, she does the same with another woman in a whirlpool. Secondly, Cronenberg creates several layers of meaning when Rose actually goes to see a pornographic film, which were often screened in theatres at the time, hoping to find a man whom she could seduce and then feed on. Lastly, the film's theme of infection recalls the nascence of the disease that would later be called AIDS in the early 1980s, a sexually transmitted disease that while not taking many lives involved in adult film, certainly caused a scare. And socially, many believed the disease was a punishment for sexual deviancy, including promiscuity, a theme in adult film, echoed in the many people Rose attacks.

Another way to approach Rabid is via a not so subtle Freudian citation in the film. A young woman at the Keloid Clinic flashes her book, a copy of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud's theories, at the camera as if to tell spectators that there are intentional references to the concept, "castration anxiety": men's overwhelming fear of damage to or loss of their penis. In Rabid, as Rose pricks men with her armpit stinger, it is clear that she has a more powerful phallus than the men around her, robbing them of their sexual prowess and ability to penetrate.

Rabid was a low budget film made for just over $500,000 and distributed by Canada's Cinépix Film Properties (now Lionsgate) and New World Pictures (effectively defunct). It remains rather eclipsed by Cronenberg's subsequent films, such as his other horror movies with sci-fi feminist themes: The Brood (1979), his cult-hit The Fly (1986), his mega award winner Crash (1996) and his more recent mainstream blockbusters A History of Violence (2005) and Eastern Promises (2007). Nevertheless, the cultural impact of Rabid lingers. Its complex portrayal of gender, sexuality, infection and violence seems to resonate with a new generation of filmmakers as Canada's own Soska Sisters embarked on a remake in 2018.

By Rebecca Kumar
Rabid

Rabid

Both a precursor to the "Golden Age of slasher films" (1978-1984) and part of the "Golden Age of porn" (1969-1984), David Cronenberg's early film Rabid (1977) overlays key elements of 1970s cinematic horror with the decade's feminist debates about sex onscreen. Unlike the horror films of the past, which were distinctly European, the 1970s-'80s were dominated by the North American horror film. Themes of unsafe suburban homes and schools, the mysteries of space, women's sexual liberation and unpredictable experiments in technology abounded. Cronenberg stands out, in part, for being a particularly Canadian auteur whose style recasts and remixes these themes, lending commentary on the body, often grotesquely transforming it, to test its social, psychological and physical limits. Rabid, for instance, features Rose, a female motorcyclist who, after an injury, is treated at the "Keloid Clinic" in Quebec. It's not a regular hospital, but a corporate facility specializing in plastic surgery. After her operation, Rose awakens with an orifice under her armpit, containing a phallic stinger with which she uses to feed on human blood. Soon, those that she feeds upon become infected, rabid zombies whose bites spread the disease, causing so much chaos that Canada's prime minister is forced to call for martial law. With Rabid, Cronenberg recasts the archetypal male serial killer who uses phallic bladed tools, such as those men in Psycho (1960), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and, later, Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th (1980) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), as female - a Rose with a deadly thorn. Moreover, Cronenberg gave the role of Rose to famous pornographic film star Marilyn Chambers, inviting audiences to read her performance in Rabid in light of her work in the increasingly popular adult film industry, which was read by some feminist critics as a visual platform for violence against women and by others as a medium for female sexual expression. Yet in a 1979 interview with Canada's Public Broadcaster, Cronenberg cheekily says that there is "very little nudity and almost no sex" in the film, encouraging spectators to question what they believe is erotic on screen in the first place. Tropes of adult filmmaking make their way into Rabid's slasher plot line in more ways than one. Firstly, several of the attacking scenes recall the near-comical, now clichéd seduction intros of pornographic film. Early in the movie, a bare-chested Rose seduces a fellow patient at the clinic before piercing him with her stinger. Later, she does the same with another woman in a whirlpool. Secondly, Cronenberg creates several layers of meaning when Rose actually goes to see a pornographic film, which were often screened in theatres at the time, hoping to find a man whom she could seduce and then feed on. Lastly, the film's theme of infection recalls the nascence of the disease that would later be called AIDS in the early 1980s, a sexually transmitted disease that while not taking many lives involved in adult film, certainly caused a scare. And socially, many believed the disease was a punishment for sexual deviancy, including promiscuity, a theme in adult film, echoed in the many people Rose attacks. Another way to approach Rabid is via a not so subtle Freudian citation in the film. A young woman at the Keloid Clinic flashes her book, a copy of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud's theories, at the camera as if to tell spectators that there are intentional references to the concept, "castration anxiety": men's overwhelming fear of damage to or loss of their penis. In Rabid, as Rose pricks men with her armpit stinger, it is clear that she has a more powerful phallus than the men around her, robbing them of their sexual prowess and ability to penetrate. Rabid was a low budget film made for just over $500,000 and distributed by Canada's Cinépix Film Properties (now Lionsgate) and New World Pictures (effectively defunct). It remains rather eclipsed by Cronenberg's subsequent films, such as his other horror movies with sci-fi feminist themes: The Brood (1979), his cult-hit The Fly (1986), his mega award winner Crash (1996) and his more recent mainstream blockbusters A History of Violence (2005) and Eastern Promises (2007). Nevertheless, the cultural impact of Rabid lingers. Its complex portrayal of gender, sexuality, infection and violence seems to resonate with a new generation of filmmakers as Canada's own Soska Sisters embarked on a remake in 2018. By Rebecca Kumar

David Cronenberg's Rabid on DVD


Watching Rabid (1977) almost three decades after its original release is a vivid reminder that horror movies from the mid-70s to the mid-80s were one of film history's great genre peaks, worthy of being set alongside silent comedy, post-war film noir, 50s Westerns, 60s art film or what have you. The period, roughly from 1974's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to 1987's Evil Dead II, can boast an impressive stream of subversive and formally imaginative works from George Romero, John Carpenter, Dario Argento, Pupi Avati and others. Out of this crowd the greatest body of work belongs to David Cronenberg. Like the others he was making notable films fresh out of the gate but unlike his peers of that era he's deepened and expanded his approach and become a major director by any standards.

Rabid was only his second feature but is fully and recognizably a Cronenberg film. Despite being a bit clumsy in spots and with a screenplay that could have benefitted from another draft, Rabid has retained much of its power. The story might have come from numerous other filmmakers but benefits from Cronenberg's own twist. A countryside motorcycle drive results in a severe crash for the driver (character actor Frank Moore) and his girlfriend Rose (porn actress Marilyn Chambers). They happen to be near a secluded plastic surgery hospital so the doctor puts the critically injured Rose immediately into operation and tries out an experimental skin graft as the only way to save her. In a film with a title like Rabid this could never turn out well: Rose awakens from a month-long coma with an appendage in her armpit and a mind-numbing desire for blood. To make matters worse, everybody she drains becomes a frothing quasi-rabid maniac, not too far removed from the zombies that would become a horror film staple in another couple of years.

Not much of this is really explained and Rose is somewhat of a blank as a character. But Cronenberg has a deft touch with the pacing and a real knack for unsettling scenes that override such lapses. He puts most of the energy into the supporting characters so that their reactions tend to intensify the film's mood. The sexual connotations of Rose's attacks are so blatant and over-the-top that it's easy to imagine they were meant somewhat as a parody, though there's nothing of the tongue-in-cheek attitude that would sink horror films in a decade's time. One of the doctors mentions that Rose's pent-up emotions might have something to do with the transformation (the film's alternate title, apparently used mainly in Canada, is Rage) which is very nearly a Cronenberg obsession.

Cronenberg's first feature Shivers (1975) had been set almost entirely in a high rise apartment building due to budget constraints (and oddly parallels High Rise, a novel released the same year by British writer J.G. Ballard who would later provide the source for Crash). A slightly larger budget for Rabid meant Cronenberg could branch out and he made smart use of the opportunity. Much of the film's first half again occurs in a confined setting but then expands to a larger city, much as the disease moves from a personal health issue to a public one. Cronenberg gets off one astonishing crash of an eighteen-wheel truck before moving to an effective portrayal of Montreal as a city in collapse. The means are sparse--TV broadcasts, a few patrolling soldiers, a health services inoculation line--but have a strong cumulative effect.

The DVD from the Toronto-based Somerville House supercedes an earlier bare-bones release from New Concorde. Though the image is a tad grainy this is also a low-budget film from the 70s and it's possibly as good as it gets. Besides has a slightly rough image ever done anything but help a horror film? Cronenberg's views of the film are presented in an audio commentary and a 20-minute video interview. Finishing the disc off are the usual assortment of trailers, biographies and such. With this top-notch DVD of Rabid, Criterion Collection's sterling release of Videodrome and the respectful disc of the rarity Fast Company it's a great time for anybody interested in Cronenberg's movies.

For more information about Rabid, visit Ventura Distribution. To order Rabid, go to TCM Shopping.

by Lang Thompson

David Cronenberg's Rabid on DVD

Watching Rabid (1977) almost three decades after its original release is a vivid reminder that horror movies from the mid-70s to the mid-80s were one of film history's great genre peaks, worthy of being set alongside silent comedy, post-war film noir, 50s Westerns, 60s art film or what have you. The period, roughly from 1974's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to 1987's Evil Dead II, can boast an impressive stream of subversive and formally imaginative works from George Romero, John Carpenter, Dario Argento, Pupi Avati and others. Out of this crowd the greatest body of work belongs to David Cronenberg. Like the others he was making notable films fresh out of the gate but unlike his peers of that era he's deepened and expanded his approach and become a major director by any standards. Rabid was only his second feature but is fully and recognizably a Cronenberg film. Despite being a bit clumsy in spots and with a screenplay that could have benefitted from another draft, Rabid has retained much of its power. The story might have come from numerous other filmmakers but benefits from Cronenberg's own twist. A countryside motorcycle drive results in a severe crash for the driver (character actor Frank Moore) and his girlfriend Rose (porn actress Marilyn Chambers). They happen to be near a secluded plastic surgery hospital so the doctor puts the critically injured Rose immediately into operation and tries out an experimental skin graft as the only way to save her. In a film with a title like Rabid this could never turn out well: Rose awakens from a month-long coma with an appendage in her armpit and a mind-numbing desire for blood. To make matters worse, everybody she drains becomes a frothing quasi-rabid maniac, not too far removed from the zombies that would become a horror film staple in another couple of years. Not much of this is really explained and Rose is somewhat of a blank as a character. But Cronenberg has a deft touch with the pacing and a real knack for unsettling scenes that override such lapses. He puts most of the energy into the supporting characters so that their reactions tend to intensify the film's mood. The sexual connotations of Rose's attacks are so blatant and over-the-top that it's easy to imagine they were meant somewhat as a parody, though there's nothing of the tongue-in-cheek attitude that would sink horror films in a decade's time. One of the doctors mentions that Rose's pent-up emotions might have something to do with the transformation (the film's alternate title, apparently used mainly in Canada, is Rage) which is very nearly a Cronenberg obsession. Cronenberg's first feature Shivers (1975) had been set almost entirely in a high rise apartment building due to budget constraints (and oddly parallels High Rise, a novel released the same year by British writer J.G. Ballard who would later provide the source for Crash). A slightly larger budget for Rabid meant Cronenberg could branch out and he made smart use of the opportunity. Much of the film's first half again occurs in a confined setting but then expands to a larger city, much as the disease moves from a personal health issue to a public one. Cronenberg gets off one astonishing crash of an eighteen-wheel truck before moving to an effective portrayal of Montreal as a city in collapse. The means are sparse--TV broadcasts, a few patrolling soldiers, a health services inoculation line--but have a strong cumulative effect. The DVD from the Toronto-based Somerville House supercedes an earlier bare-bones release from New Concorde. Though the image is a tad grainy this is also a low-budget film from the 70s and it's possibly as good as it gets. Besides has a slightly rough image ever done anything but help a horror film? Cronenberg's views of the film are presented in an audio commentary and a 20-minute video interview. Finishing the disc off are the usual assortment of trailers, biographies and such. With this top-notch DVD of Rabid, Criterion Collection's sterling release of Videodrome and the respectful disc of the rarity Fast Company it's a great time for anybody interested in Cronenberg's movies. For more information about Rabid, visit Ventura Distribution. To order Rabid, go to TCM Shopping. by Lang Thompson

Quotes

Potato man loves ketchup man.
- Murray Cypher

Trivia

Sissy Spacek was David Cronenberg's first choice to play Rose. Ivan Reitman suggested 'Marilyn Chambers' because he wanted sex appeal.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States July 1977

Released in United States Summer July 1, 1977

Began shooting November 1, 1976.

Completed shooting December 5, 1976.

English and French versions available.

Released in United States July 1977

Released in United States Summer July 1, 1977