Rabid Review: Bodily Material

 Rabid Large

Words: Brody Rossiter
Twitter: @BrodyRossiter


“The body is the first fact of human existence for me… my imagery tends to be body orientated, my narratives tend to be body orientated.” David Cronenberg

Cult Canadian auteur, David Cronenberg, forged an illustrious career upon a grotesque yet deeply layered bed of cinematic bodily horror. His startling imagery has ripped, pierced, transformed and exploded the human form in a multitude of memorable manners, and despite the extremeness of such visuals, the director and his visceral trademarks have managed to squirm their way into the psyche of pop-culture, becoming an incendiary collage of repulsion, science-fiction, and social commentary that is now unavoidable when tracing the origins of not just the horror genre, but contemporary filmmaking.

Cronenberg is now seventy-one-years-old, and while much of his content could still be considered shocking or perhaps just deeply impactful by audiences, his preoccupation with utilising the human form as a fleshy canvas has subsided in favour of a much more brooding (A history of violence, Eastern Promises) and indecipherable (Maps to the Stars) penchant for crafting sleek contemporary thrillers that veer toward both physical and psychological disruption.

Cronenberg’s highly successful and controversial government-funded feature film debut, Shivers, dealt in themes of disease, transformation and the subversion of sexuality – a factor which led to the film being infamously labelled “pornographic” by influential Canadian magazine Saturday Night. Cronenberg elected to enlist adult film star, Marilyn Chambers, for his second feature, Rabid, once again placing themes of sexuality at the forefront of his narrative. After Chambers’ Rose awakens in hospital following a motorcycle accident and experimental skin graft treatment, the beautiful young women is transformed into a bloodthirsty patient zero equipped with a lethal needle like protrusion – despite still appearing as her completely normal and attractive self on the surface.

In spite of being such an early film in Cronenberg’s career, Rabid, often proves his ability to juggle numerous carefully plotted aspects of storytelling as he relocates his bodily terrors from the confines of Shivers’ high-rise apartment block to the sprawling outskirts and bustling centre of Montreal via numerous carriers. His isolated depictions of the outbreak and its gory symptoms, alongside the expansive shots of Canadian highways, creates a constantly evolving picture of the rabies like virus as it  spreads and swells becoming more dangerous and widespread by the hour.

Though his signature shocking visual effects are present, Arrow’s fine restoration highlights Cronenberg’s stylistic flair and refinement beyond the more visceral moments of bodily material. Shot selection and framing manage to create some subdued and strikingly bleak moments that act as a stark juxtaposition to the rough and ready bloodthirstiness of the picture. A prime example of this being the depiction of Rose as she wanders through a lonely downtown Montreal, hunting for her next victim amongst the twinkling glow of moonlight and porno theatre awnings. This same contrast can also be applied to the film’s haunting score which effortlessly switches between drowsy lullabies to shrill, striking compositions packed with tension and alarm.

Beginning as an isolated study of physical abnormality before mutating into a horror film infused with dystopian imagery and venereal paranoia, Rabid is deep and arresting example of early Cronenberg that clearly highlights his ability to balance both style and substance while presenting the contagious notions of his own mind. This Arrow Blu-ray re-release carries many extra rewards such as contextual featurettes, interviews, and commentary options that only enrich this already infectious experience, creating something truly difficult resist.


Rabid is available on Dual Format Blu-ray + DVD February 16th courtesy of Arrow Video. Pre-order your copy here.

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