director David Cronenberg
Now, this is Cronenberg.
Or more specifically: this is early Cronenberg. But since David Cronenberg’s reputation was built by his early “body horror” films and that you wouldn’t ever anticipate him doing anything like this today, it’s probably fair enough to say that Rabid is definitive Cronenberg.
When a man and a woman are injured in a motorcycle accident on the outskirts of Montreal, the woman is rushed into experimental surgery at a nearby plastic surgery resort, wherein “adaptive” tissue (a sort of stem cell for skin) is applied to her wounds. But, wouldn’t you know it? She develops an anus-shaped orifice in her armpit, out of which protrudes a dog-like penis projection with a long spike on the end of it. And it craves only human flesh. And if that weren’t enough, once she feeds on people, they go mad with a super-rabies and attack other people at random and then die.
Mad science with twisted and explicit Freudian imagery. Just describing the “wound” she develops sounds provocative: “anus”, “dog”, “penis”, “spike”. And while you only see the thing in brief flashes, it’s all you need to have that image in your head for days.
The woman is question is played by Marilyn Chambers, the famous pornographic actress, who at the time was just making an attempt to break into mainstream film-making. While Cronenberg doesn’t dwell perhaps on this, it’s another level of suggestion below the perverse sex and death and violence of the film, a titillation beyond the anarchy and havoc wreaked on society by scientific development gone wrong. Further commentary on the plastic surgery salon/resort that is the innocuous setting for the science gone astray pushes the societal critiques and inherent mass subversion therein.
David Cronenberg has been considered an auteur for probably at least 20 years, so saying that he’s most interesting when watching several of his film, or at least taking several in consideration together, is nothing new. But Rabid, probably like many of his other films, is straight-up crazy 1970’s horror at its strange, psychologically shocking best. Weirder and stranger than so much else out there.