Cronenberg disturbs Jarv: Rabid

Before I get into this review of Cronenberg’s sophomore film, I just want to hand out a “twat of the day” award to Richard Corliss of Time Magazine for this comment in Marilyn Chambers’ obituary:

The sad news is that Chambers, to quote the title from a 1974 movie she did not appear in, is 99 and 44/100% dead.

There’s being rude, and there’s poor taste in an obituary. That comment is offensive for the sake of being offensive, and seems so pleased with its own cleverness that I didn’t read the rest of the article after that. Aye, very good Corliss, you know she was the Ivory Snow soap model. Revolting.

All digressions aside, Rabid is Cronenberg’s somewhat disappointing follow up to the promising Shivers, and I can’t say that I really like it. I think, if anything, Rabid represents a real step back for him.

Ex-porn (well, more of a sabbatical from skin flicks really) actress Marilyn Chambers stars as Rose, the victim of a horrendous motorbike crash and dubious experimental surgery that transforms her into a blood crazed vampire. Rabid follows her development as she feeds on strangers (including a sleazy guy in a skin flick, a nice trucker, an innocent female in a hot tub, her doctor and so forth) with her very typical of Cronenberg armpit mouth. She retains a modicum of control, however her victims turn into mindless crazed zombies. The film builds to a crescendo (martial law is declared on Montreal), before a surprising and depressing climax.

I didn’t like this film, and I also really don’t rate it highly. It’s not particularly innovative, and it isn’t particularly interesting. Rabid does touch on Cronenberg’s trademark body horror (the armpit mouth is both unsettling and disgusting) but a lot of the film seems to trundle along without really engaging me.

Marilyn Chambers was foisted on Cronenberg, and she was an inspired choice. The porn actress has an unexpected range, and a nice screen presence. Joe Silver, returning from Shivers playing basically the same role, supplies able support and Frank Moore is OK as the boyfriend who’s carelessness caused the motorcycle accident and led to the tragedy. However, this really is Chambers’ film- although I do have to wonder if Sissy Spacek (who Cronenberg originally wanted to cast) wouldn’t have been better.

The direction is also, and I can’t believe this, not as good as it is in Shivers. Cronenberg seems to almost be lacking a bit of confidence here. There’s still the odd flash of genius (the frozen body used on the cover for example), but it feels lackluster compared to both his earlier film and the forthcoming The Brood. He’s comfortably at his happiest in such instances as Chambers writhing in agony on the floor, or the Doctor investigating the pit mouth, but the film doesn’t contain enough of these moments. The initial bike crash, in particular, doesn’t look at all threatening or dangerous and really pales in comparison to some of the automobile crashes in Crash.

I think, however, that a lot of the problems in Rabid come from the script. There’s a huge gap in the film where the audience is asked to make an enormous suspension of disbelief based on terrible unconvincing cod science. Rose goes wrong because the Doctor treats her skin grafts with some scientifically dodgy thing that make them “neutral” cells and so will adapt faster as a graft. The problem comes in that this doesn’t explain at all how they morph into a blood sucking mouth, and furthermore doesn’t explain  how the rest of her physiology is affected. Really, this is a prime example of less being more- if there was no explanation at all of the grafts and instead they called it “unnamed experimental treatment” or some such without any detail at all then I’d comfortably be able to ignore it. Instead I spent a lot of the film wondering “why is this happening” and I really think this spoilt it for me.

There are things I like in this film. Vampirism is clearly an STD here, and Cronenberg has Rose feed in situations that look, at the very least, intimate. Her first victim, for example, is gripped between her legs and she clings to him to feed. The guy in the porn cinema  is bitten on his hand while copping a feel of her breasts and so forth. I really like the way that the feeding looks explicitly like sex- it’s effective and uneasy.  Furthermore,  the novel location of the feeding mouth allows Cronenberg to film the vampirism in a more overtly sexual way than the usual bite on the neck.

At the end of the day, Rabid isn’t a good film. There are good things about it, and it’s not expressly bad, but it isn’t a film that I have any desire ever to see again. The acting is fine, the direction is the weakest in any Cronenberg that I’ve seen, and the writing is all over the place. Unless you were fool enough to do something completely stupid like, say, a review series of every one of the Canadian’s films then this is a hugely missable effort. It lacks the startling originality that Cronenberg usually has, and is just terribly bland. Furthermore, it feels disjointed in many instances, and the climax of the film (while sad) relies purely on Rose being too stupid to realise that she’s Montreal’s Typhoid Mary.

Cronenberg was not in his stride yet, and Rabid is a real step back from Shivers. I’ve got Fast Company for his next film, and I’ve never even heard of that until attempting this series so I don’t hold out a lot of hope that he’s on form yet (luckily The Brood is after that).

Overall, I give Rabid an extremely disappointing 1 Chang, and have to say that I really do not recommend it.  What a shame.

I’m starting to feel about early Cronenberg the way that Droid felt about 70’s Arnie and I cannot fucking wait for The Brood and the 1980’s. Shivers was good but icky, and Rabid is tepid at best. Still, just one more to go.

The order so far:

  1. Shivers (click here for the review)
  2. Rabid

Until next time,


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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

49 responses to “Cronenberg disturbs Jarv: Rabid”

  1. Continentalop says :

    Eh, Rapid is typical of most filmmakers – Sophomoritis. Do something interesting and noteworthy and instantly follow it up with a big step back. Spike Lee – School Daze; Martin Scorsese – Boxcar Bertha; Sam Raimi – Crime Wave; Kimberly Pierce – Stop-Loss; & Kevin Smith – Mall Rats (and pretty much all of his movies after Clerks).

    The important thing is he recovered and carried on (Cronenberg, not Smith).

    • Jarv says :

      Now you mention it, it is a real “difficult second album” film. I also hold out little hope for Fast Company- which sounds like derivative bollocks.

      Just as well The Brood is only 2 films away.

      • Continentalop says :

        Personally, I think is unfair to expect filmmakers to make good films every time or right out of the gate. It sometimes takes a little time before a director develops. I mean, Hitchcock, Ford, Altman, Curtis Hanson and George Cukor had a bunch of movies under their belts before they hit their stride.

        That is why I like to see these early films. You can see them experimenting and finding their voice – and also see them realizing they have limits and what they can’t do. Oliver Stone had to make the Hand before he realized he wasn’t meant to make horror movies.

      • Jarv says :

        Oh, I agree- but when you consider some of the debuts in comparison to second feature the drop in quality is astounding: Shivers- Rabid is just one of them. On the other hand, there’s second films as accomplished as Assault on Precinct 13.

        Difficult second album syndrome- occasional greatness, but as a rule underwhelming.

      • Jarv says :

        Even Cokey McFrankensteinhead’s second film was Pulp Fiction (arguably his best, although I prefer Dogs).

      • Continentalop says :

        I would say Pulp Fiction is his most important, but I would say I personally prefer Dogs and Jackie Brown.

        But look at all that early success; went to his ginormous head and now we get crap.

      • Jarv says :

        Overinflated Melonhead is on a one man mission to make me hate the following things:

        Sleazy exploitation cinema, War Movies, Kung-Fu movies, horror, Kurt Russel,

        I wish he’d stop it and make a romcom because I don’t care about those. Also, it might suit him to do that.

  2. Continentalop says :

    I’ll name one director who hasn’t made a bad movie yet: Chris Nolan.

    I’ll also say he really hasn’t made a truly great movie (other than Memento). And before anyone starts saying TDK, let me ask – are you really comparing TDK to The Godfather, French Connection, GoodFellas and Chinatown?

    • Droid says :

      Aronofsky hasn’t made a bad film yet. Pi is excellent. Requiem is truly great. The Fountain didn’t quite work for me, but it’s impressively ambitious and not at all a bad film. The Wrestler is a bit too conventional, but again it’s not a bad film. It’s a well made conventional film.

    • Droid says :

      Also, Jonze hasn’t made a bad film. In fact he’s made 2 truly great films and one excellent film.

    • Jarv says :

      Fincher’s second movie was 7. I also don’t think he’s made an inisputably bad one- all Alien3 bickering aside.

      • xiphos0311 says :

        Panic Room

      • Continentalop says :

        Yeah but Fincher has made some really pedestrian films. Alien3 aside, neither Panic Room nor Benjamin Bratt are that bold of films, and I personally think FC is vastly overrated.

      • Jarv says :

        Shit, completely forgot Button.

        Panic Room was meh.

      • Jarv says :

        Fincher’s filmography is interesting.

          Alien 3- at the very least is interesting
          Se7en- Overrated, but still pretty good.
          The Game- Underrated and good,
          Fight Club- Overrated but still good
          Panic Room- Meh
          Zodiac- Good
          Button- Completely overrated and actually shit.

        It looks like he’s either persistently overrated or persistently underrated.

      • Droid says :

        I like Panic Room. It’s not a great film by any stretch, but its not bad.

        Button as a technical exercise = Great.

        Button as a film = garbage.

    • xiphos0311 says :

      Insomnia is a bad a film and I will go ahead and say it so is the Prestige though they did come up with a better ending then the book. Book wasn’t all that great either.

      • Jarv says :

        I like Insomnia. Not a patch on the original though.

      • Continentalop says :

        I actually think Insomnia is ok. Not great but serviceable.

        And the Prestige isn’t bad, it’s just not that special or even that good. Another serviceable movie.

      • Droid says :

        I really like Insomnia. Must see the original.

      • Jarv says :

        Original is much better. In every way.

      • koutchboom says :

        Yeah I’m with Xi about Insomnia, I thought it was garbage as well. Mainly because it was fucking boring as shit. Also Robin Williams wasn’t very convincing. I wouldn’t mind watching it again though.

        I did like the Prestige, but seriously Nolan just needs to leave women out of his films. Mainly because they usually serve no purpose (save for Matrix lady in Memento) and they always give awful performances. I just found out that he’s been married since 97 and has 3 kids so he probably does love his wife because he doesn’t make his women look good at all as well.

  3. Continentalop says :

    Shit. The Game. Totally forgot that movie.

    Complete utter shit.

    • Jarv says :

      What’s wrong with The Game? I like it.

      • Continentalop says :

        That was a film that I actually had an incredible negative response to. It is basically a pretentious version of House of the Long Shadows & April Fool’s Day. The entire idea that it is one long charade to teach Michael Douglas to value and enjoy his lfe seemed fucking retarded to me.

        And the ending where he commits suicide and ends up at his own party…. I just personally hated that film.

      • Jarv says :

        Well, it may have been contrived, but I just really enjoyed it. Thinking about it afterwards, there’s a lot that was daft- him spotting the clues for example, and the suicide, but still, it rattled along at a fair old pace and I enjoyed it for the most part.

      • Droid says :

        The Game is a fucking awesome flick.

  4. Tom_Bando says :

    Well, I’ll muddy the Waters by tossing in Mikey Bay. We ARE talking about keeping to a certain level of, uhrmmm, quality, correct? or in this case, I should say, things exploding etc onscreen? Mostly his movies have kept to the same level of kinetic inanity(TM) w/ the lowpoint of Pearl Harbor and a high point of the Rock and everything else in between(have yet to see the Island-in no hurry).

    Yes I know. He’s at least consistent……


    WILLIAM WYLER then. Sheesh.

    • Jarv says :

      May as well add Uwe Boll if you’re going down that route.

    • Droid says :

      The Island is my fav Bay flick. Scarlett… mmmm….

      Followed by The Rock.

      His worst by far is Trannyformers 2.

      There is a fan edit of Pearl Harbour that runs for two hours, is mostly action, heavily chops the shit, annoying romance and is much, much better.

  5. Droid says :

    Armpit mouth? Ugh. That’s hideous.

    What was that flick where the chicks vag had teeth? Anyone seen it?

    I wince even thinking about it.

    • koutchboom says :

      Teeth? Yeah it sucked.

      • Droid says :

        What happened in it, apart from a chicks vag chomping dong. Did it have a story?

      • koutchboom says :

        Eh sort of. It was pretty boring for the most part, and the vaginal chomping isn’t as bad as you’d think. Like yeah there is a little wince factor the first time, but after that not so much.

        Pretty much she goes around trying to sleep with your step brother (or brother? I don’t remember) because he’s a giant dick. And she wants to cute his dick off. Thats about it, she takes a couple of other penis’ and fingers along the way.

      • Droid says :

        Sounds like garbage.

        Whats the point?

      • koutchboom says :

        I don’t know? Girls with teeth in their vagina can stand up to ass hole step brothers?

      • Jarv says :

        Koutch is all about the dong recently.

        Actually, if there’s one film I’ve no interest in it’s Teeth.

      • kloipy says :

        I saw Teeth, and I didn’t think it was that bad. I think it’s supposed to be a dark comedy instead of a horror film. I’m pretty sure her step-brother rapes her.
        It was pretty great that she bites his dick off and it drops to the floor where his rotweiller proceeds to eat it. I got a laugh out of that

      • koutchboom says :

        Yeah that was probably the only funny part. It tries to walk that fine line of horror/dark comedy and fails miserably at both. The step brother fingered her when she was a child and got his finger bit, and she sees how he treats girls so she wants to teach him a lesson so she pretty much intices him to rape her. Or something, also there is the notion that nuclear power created the teeth in the vagina.

      • Jarv says :

        Still pass.


      • koutchboom says :

        Yeah it was the first Grey’s episode I had seen in a while. I mean the WHOLE time the gunmen was running around just shooting random people I was screaming at him to fucking shot the main characters instead. Though the two he did shot, The Musketeer and McDreamy are actually two of the better characters of the show.

    • Jarv says :

      It’s not quite in her actual pit- more pit area and extends a kind of proboscis when she’s feeding.

  6. just pillow talk says :

    Hmm…this movie doesn’t interest me at all. Armpit mouth…seriously?

    Out of fincher’s movies, I didn’t like Panic Room, didn’t see Buttons, but liked/loved all the others to varying degrees.

    Insomnia put me to sleep.

    And I like zero of Bay’s films. The Rock annoys the living fuck out of me. It really irks me the way he films his movies.

  7. koutchboom says :

    FUCK it never ends does it?

    Suck (2009):

    The Winners will do anything for rock ‘n’ roll immortality. So when vampire Queeny (Dimitri Coats) bites into bassist Jennifer (Jessica Paré) and lead singer Joey (Rob Stefaniuk), the musical wannabes prove that vampires can rock, but stardom too often sucks. Malcolm McDowell stars as a vampire hunter, Henry Rollins as a radio show host, Iggy Pop as a producer, Alice Cooper as an evil bartender and Moby as a rock band’s lead singer.

  8. ThereWolf says :

    The main problem I had with Rabid was the lack of explanation for why a simple-ish skin graft would somehow develop into an underarm ‘penis’ type thing.

    There’s nothing particularly shocking about events, maybe because it’s too close structurally to the superior Shivers. Rabid just seems to drift along aimlessly. Feels like Cronenberg’s heart wasn’t in it.

    Frank Moore looks a little like a young Christopher Walken I reckon.

    Also, look out for the scene when one of the infected gets shot after diving onto Read’s car. You can clearly see the cameraman moving around in the back seat. Poor show.

    • Jarv says :

      It’s neither one thing nor the other- just an all round bad effort from Cronenberg. I totally agree about it feeling like his heart’s not in it.

  9. Stuntcock Mike says :

    This is what happens when I decide to build furniture on my days off instead of coming in here.

    Missed a good bit of conversation.


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