I watched David Cronenberg’s Rabid on New Year’s Day, and it was the perfect palate cleanser to a long, shitty year. Fuck you, 2016! Along with Black Christmas (the 1974 version), Rabid perfectly captures the spirit of the end-of-the year holidays and should be required viewing. Fuck you also, It’s A Wonderful Life!
Black Christmas is full of fun family exploits, if your family is from Hell: a drunken Margot Kidder making fun of her virginal sorority sister while everyone watches; the sorority’s house mother being more concerned about her missing cat than her missing charge; the homicidal maniac displaying his latest victim in the attic window like an oversized Christmas ornament with nobody noticing or caring.
Rabid is a different type of holiday movie. Those who work in retail are all-too-aware that the passing of Thanksgiving signals a sinister transformation in the general public. As the holidays loom ever closer, seemingly normal folks become frenzied lunatics, frothing and screaming and fighting and acting like the infected in Rabid. The week between Christmas and New Year’s is the worst, with people lurching around like drunks on a three-day bender, running on Jack Daniel fumes, airplane glue and Red Bull.
If you love the holidays I apologize…but it’s still true.
The plot of Rabid: Rose (Marilyn Chambers) and her boyfriend Hart get into a motorcycle accident. Luckily the accident occurs near Dr. Keloid’s clinic. Yes, the good doctor runs a plastic surgery clinic, but Rose won’t survive the trip to the hospital. Most of the people in Keloid’s clinic are repeat customers, seemingly addicted to plastic surgery. Interestingly, Cronenberg’s wonderful The Brood features characters addicted to psychotherapy.
Keloid uses an experimental plastic surgery technique, paired with a healthy dollop of pseudoscientific psychobabble, to graft skin onto Rose’s burn wounds and thus save her life. I sure don’t understand what he does, but best not to sweat the details. The gist of it is that Rose wakes with a fleshy needle penis embedded in her armpit. Piercing people with said fleshy needle penis gives Rose blood and sexual pleasure and turns her victims into frothing, raving maniacs who infect others with their saliva.
The plague spreads to Quebec, where authorities cordon off the city and shoot anyone who’s infected. A stone-faced doctor says to a television interviewer – ‘this may not be palatable to your viewers, but – ” Indeed.
Many of the deaths are quite lively, let’s put it that way. Still, life in the big city goes on as normally as possible. When a crazy attacks, the men in the hazmat suits shoot him and throw him in a dumpster. Passerbys do a fine job ignoring the hassle and getting on with their lives, which I believe to be very realistic. Yes, it’s the zombie apocalypse, but people still have to get to work.
Rose bunks with a friend in Quebec, who’s begging to be killed and doesn’t know it. Rose doesn’t want to kill her so she goes to places like the mall and sleazy movie theatres seeking prey. She tells a creep at a porno movie, ‘I like these type of movies but am afraid of being hit on by creeps.’ The creep puts an arm around her shoulder, she leans into him and it’s Game Over.
One of the interesting things about Rabid is that it’s unclear how aware Rose is that she’s a monster – or if she even is a monster. Earlier in the movie she accidentally kills a woman in a hot tub and hides her body in the freezer, so there must be a kernel of self-awareness. Still, as Rose tells her boyfriend when they meet up again (a meeting that does not go well), ‘none of this is my fault.’ And she’s right.
So whose fault is it? Rabid doesn’t blame anyone. Doctor Keloid was just trying to save Rose’s life. Rose needs blood to stay alive. Life is complicated and then you turn into a frothing maniac and the guys in the hazmat suits shoot you and you die.