Ivory Soap girl Marilyn Chambers is "insatiable" again… but this time for blood in David Cronenberg's sophomore feature effort RABID, on Blu-ray from Scream Factory.
When Hart (Frank Moore, THRILLKILL) and his girlfriend Rose (Chambers) are involved in a motorcycle accident, Hart sustains a broken hand and separated shoulder while Rose's life-threatening injuries require immediate surgery. Fortunately, the accident occurred near the Keloid Clinic, a plastic surgery resort where Dr. Keloid (Howard Ryshpan, BLOOD RELATIVES) has been experimenting with "neutral field tissue" (chemically-treated skin grafts that lose their specificity and adapt to the function of the grafted area). To save Rose, Keloid risks using the experimental grafts internally, stimulating tissue new growth inside her body that becomes a large mosquito-like proboscis that emerges from her armpit to satiate her new thirst for human blood. Like a modern Typhoid Mary, Rose remains immune to the rabies-like disease that causes her victims to bite other victims before falling into comatose states and dying themselves. As the disease spreads within the clinic from the infected Dr. Keloid, Rose unknowingly spreads the disease as she feeds off victims while hitchhiking to Montreal where the virus reaches epidemic levels and leads to the establishment of martial law and the conclusion that shooting down the infected is more humane than letting them spread the disease before dying off naturally. Having stumbled upon the Keloid Clinic massacre, Hart and Keloid's lawyer Murray (Joe Silver, SHIVERS) brave quarantines, attacks by the "crazies" and army sharpshooter in order to get back to their loved ones.
Cronenberg's follow-up to SHIVERS saw a continuation of his career-long fascination with "body horror" but the disease spread here remakes its victims in a manner more destructive than the sexual blood parasites of Cronenberg's debut. The victims of RABID's horrifying disease no longer recognize their loved ones (including children) nor their own creator in the end, and one wonders whether Rose really wanted to prove that she was not responsible or whether she was satisfying her own death wish (seemingly guiltless in the seduction of and feeding off of her victims, she expresses real horror when she actually sees one of the rabid attack a young man who she herself was sizing up for a feeding). Although willowy Chambers herself does not seem to be channeling her porn persona in her vulnerable and ambiguous performance, the film's stalking and feeding scenes do at times seem as though Cronenberg is making a horror parody of a pornographic film with Chambers uttering lines like "I'm so cold and you're so warm" to her first victim (Roger Periard, STARSHIP INVASIONS) or playing the available and eager fantasy girl who seems to step off the screen into the audience of a porn theater to another victim (SPASMS' Miguel Fernandes), and her attacks on two female victims – including SAILOR MOON voice artist Susan Roman – also seem as though they could morph into lesbian seduction scenes in another film. Chamber's pop song "Benihana" is used in the film, but one would think that Cronenberg and executive producer/music supervisor Ivan Reitman (GHOSTBUSTERS) would have licensed her theme song for INSATIABLE had the film been made a couple years later. The supporting cast also includes brief turns by PUMP UP THE VOLUME director Allan Moyle, CRASH's Peter MacNeill, and GHOSTKEEPER's Riva Spier.
Released theatrically by New World Pictures and then on home video by Warner Bros. in a dull fullscreen transfer, RABID remained with Corman into the early DVD era and was released stateside by New Horizons in an unmatted transfer while Somerville House in Canada put out a dual-layered DVD featuring non-anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfers of separate encodes of the English- and French-language versions with commentary by Cronenberg in both languages as well as a twenty-minute interview. Arrow released the film on Blu-ray in the UK with a good package of extras including the aforementioned Cronenberg commentary and a new commentary with critic William Beard as well as new interviews, but their 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen transfer came from a contrasty, faded, and yellow-tinged print source that sapped the look of the film of its wintry atmosphere. Scream Factory's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC transfer comes from a new 2K scan of the original camera negative and is framed at 1.66:1. The image is more detailed with healthier skin tones (of the non-rabid characters) and a wintry blue look to the cinematography of Rene Verzier (JOY) that looks natural rather than revisionist. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track is crisp and clear, highlighting the use of Chambers' song during the scene in which Hart is working in his garage.
Scream ports over the Cronenberg commentary from the Canadian disc and the Beard commentary from the Scream disc while also including a new track from author Jill C. Nelson and Marilyn Chambers' personal appearances manager Ken Leicht. Cronenberg describes the film as basically "the story of Marilyn Chambers," drawing parallels between the destruction of her "Ivory Soap" pure image and being the carrier of the film's plague (also discussing the ways in which it is a companion piece to RABID), crediting Reitman with the idea of casting her, and also the ways in which Keloid's grafting experiments anticipated stem cell research. He also discusses his own "obsession" with motorcycles, being a motorcycle racer at the time (he would helm the racing film FAST COMPANY two years later), and recording the sound of his own motorcycle for the notoriously unreliable brand of British cycle used in the film. Critical of his own work, he notes shots and scenes that could have been shortened or cut altogether while also revealing that the higher budget and ability to exploit more production value was the likely reason for lingering on some shots and details. Leicht and Nelson – who interviewed Chambers for the book "John Holmes: A Life Measured in Inches" and decided that she had enough material to do a profile of Chambers for her follow-up book "Golden Goddesses: 25 Legendary Women of Classic Erotic Cinema, 1968-1985" – appear in an hour-long audio interview in which they discuss the era of Porno Chic and Chambers intentions on becoming a serious actress when she auditioned for the Mitchell brothers who ran a chain of porn theaters. They reveal that Chambers was a hard sell to do BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR, getting the brothers to pay her a record amount for the time as well as residuals for ten years. They also discuss RABID, her other credits, as well as her later life. The soft-spoken Beard – author of "The Artist as Monster: The Cinema of David Cronenberg" starts off a little shakily with some play-by-play of the onscreen action but his discussion becomes more interesting as he focuses on the themes of the film (although he does suggest that Hart as a hero "made passive" is not only an embodiment of the Canadian movie hero but also Cronenberg's surrogate when it seems like Keloid himself would be just as much a surrogate filmmaker figure).
Ported over from the Canadian DVD is the interview with Cronenberg (20:35) in which he recalls that the problematic reception of SHIVERS by the Canadian press made it difficult for him to fund RABID for a few years. He discusses his relationship with Cinepix's Dunning and Link, and how Dunning convinced him that he had to follow up SHIVERS and that his ridiculous concept for RABID was a viable idea. He also discusses the larger scale of the production and how Cinepix was Corman-like in being up to the challenge (he also credits Dunning with teaching him that budget was not an "arbiter of quality"). Ported over from the Arrow release are interviews with executive producer Reitman (12:28) and co-producer Don Carmody (15:35). Reitman recalls staring in school as a composer but moving to directing theater and into film, working for Cinepix – as well as his vehement disapproval of their ILSA series – and directing part of DEATH WEEKEND since star Brenda Vaccaro would not speak to director William Fruet (FUNERAL HOME). He touches upon SHIVERS and then RABID, including his work as music supervisor in compiling the score from library music. Carmody discusses the rudimentary beginnings of the Canadian film industry and his own start as an unpaid production assistant on McCABE AND MRS. MILLER (during which he became Julie Christie's driver of choice) before coming to work for Cinepix and becoming acquainted with Cronenberg and Reitman. He also touches upon the furor over SHIVERS and how Cinepix pushed back (regrettably, Scream has not carried over Arrow's interview with effects artist Joe Blasco).
Ported over from Arrow's UK Blu-ray of SHIVERS is the video essay "From Stereo to Video" (28:22) by Caelum Vatnsdal, author of THEY CAME FROM WITHIN: A HISTORY OF CANADIAN HORROR CINEMA, charting Cronenberg's Jewish intellectual family upbringing, his aspirations to be a scientist or writer, his early short films STEREO and CRIMES OF THE FUTURE, and the themes carried over and developed in his filmography from SHIVERS to VIDEODROME (presumably stopping here not just because of the essay title but also because the body horror aspects became less prosthetic and more symbolic in his later works until CRASH). New to this release is "Young and Rabid" (33:05) is an interview with actress Roman who recalls knowing of Cronenberg's reputation even after one feature as one of the few Canadian filmmakers who had achieved some success and notoriety outside the country. She confesses that her admiration for him became a crush when she started working on the film, learning the differences between working on location in independent film versus TV studio shoots, and admires the seeming outside the box casting of Chambers both as a commercial move and because she found the actress open to improving her performance. Also included is a still gallery (5:49), as well as the American theatrical trailer (2:09), TV Spot (0:32), and three radio spots (1:38). The cover is reversible and the slipcover features new artwork. (Eric Cotenas)
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