CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS
Much like Woody Allen's "early, funny ones", I've always had a preference for David Cronenberg's "early, gloopy ones". I don't deny that his more recent films like A Dangerous Method are well put together and well performed, but give me something with exploding heads and sex parasites any day over endless scenes of middle-aged guys talking. Cronenberg's films were always intelligent and adventurous, filled with serious ideas about the world and about the human body, but I'll always prefer the ones that have the startling, grisly imagery as well.
Now coming up on 40 years old (it's generally listed as a 1977 film but the copyright date is 1976), Rabid falls squarely into his "early, gloopy ones", with blood and grue as well as the intellectual meat that later took over his films completely. Medical experimentation gone wrong is the theme: following a motorcycle crash Rose (Marilyn Chambers in one of her very few non-porn roles) is given emergency skin grafts. But they've been augmented in some way to fuse with the tissue they're supposed to replace, and Rose ends up with a new bloodsucking organ under her arm, and an insatiable craving for human blood. Worse, her victims become like the walking dead, seeking only to bite and infect others. Martial law is Montreal's only defence against a potential panic....
So Rabid is partly a vampire movie, and partly a zombie movie. It's also an outbreak movie that would make a terrific double bill with George Romero's original The Crazies - indeed, the staggering, foaming-at-the-mouth infectees are referred to as "crazies" throughout the second half when the action moves from the remote Keloid clinic to the bustle of Montreal. Strangely, no-one at Keloid seems to tie in the mysterious epidemic with their recent patient who attacked three people there in the same manner and who has since disappeared; it's only her boyfriend Hart who's trying to track her down. Equally strangely, there's no real explanation given as to just how Rose's skin grafts have resulted in the growth of a physical sexual/vampiric organ.
I hadn't seen Rabid for maybe thirty years, and back then it was a battered VHS rental tape, so obviously the BluRay looks immeasurably better (though the enhanced picture quality now means in the external shots of Hart's car being attacked, you can now see the cameraman in the back of the car filming the interior shots). Musically, this is the last Cronenberg feature to not have a proper score, instead being tracked with library music, some of which is a bit "da-duuuh!" and makes you wish he'd met up with his regular composer Howard Shore a few years earlier (their collaboration started with The Brood in 1979). Personally I like the first half of Rabid, with the strange, chilly atmosphere of the clinic, more than the second with its larger scale and less focus on Rose and whatever she has become, but it's good to see the movie again and I enjoyed it more than I remember from sometime back in the 1980s. It's not up there with Cronenberg's later double of Videodrome and The Fly, both of which are absolute masterpieces, but it's still a great reminder of his more visually graphic horror of twisted, mutated flesh.