Touch Me I’m Sick
by Emmet Barlow
There should always be a space for one of David Cronenberg’s tantalisingly terrifying movies in any and every list of horror films. whether delving into fetishism and the underbelly of sexuality in the opprobrious Crash, or presenting the garish and startlingly violent imagery of Videodrome, or just accommodating Jeremy Irons’ performance in Dead Ringers, the director commands such a consistently strong body of work.
From the plethora of horrors under his belt, the film I would like to focus on and introduce to your good selves in this season of scare is Cronenberg’s 1977 picture, Rabid. Taken in by a remote plastic surgery clinic following a motorbike accident, Rose (Marilyn Chambers) goes under the knife of the fantastically named Dr. Dan Keliod. Despite his drastic experimental surgery saving her life, Rose is left in a coma, with the addition of a phallic succubus now living in her armpit and a newfound vampiric lust for blood.
Cronenberg manages to use every penny of the films extremely limited budget wisely, producing genuine feelings of hysteria and panic in the film’s subway sections and beyond, creating a piece that, in my opinion, feels fresh and evocative even now. Although Rose’s victims don’t join her weiner-in-yer-pit blood sucking ways, they become rabid, crazed zombies that inflict violence and terror upon the streets of Montreal. Like Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, this film takes a lot from George A. Romero’s The Crazies, featuring a more mobile, less emaciated and ‘intelligent’ alumni of the zombie fraternity. Nevertheless, Rabid may be the one of the few instances of zombies using tools to catch their prey, in this case a jack-hammer to not only rip off a car door, but tenderise the unlucky soul behind the wheel.
I’m not going to fib, the films shoddy dialogue on occasion tilts Rabid towards the dustbin full of instantly forgettable b-movies – the type of VHS flick your Dad would tape over with the snooker. What makes Rabid stand out to me is its slow burning anxiety, its subversion of sexual imagery, and its playfulness with themes such as female to male impregnation. Cronenberg‘s use of hugging is a more subtle act of affection, replacing the overtly sexualised methods of infesting the world with a plague of undead.
The end result is a film that is an exploration of the sexual, animalistic side of human horror, and a welcome escape from a heroic protagonist’s quest to survive the onslaught of undead. Rabid is a far more intelligent film that it is given credit for, and a worthy escape from this month-long fest of zombies, vampires and their many clichés.