Sunday, July 22, 2012

Rabid (David Cronenberg, 1977)

The mouth attached your face might not thirst the blood of others, but the penis-like object languishing inside your newly acquired armpit anus does. And if it means turning the city of Montreal into a war zone–the kind that won't even let a gruff yet likable Joe Silver visit his infant son in peace–in order to get it the blood it needs to survive, than so be it. Deceptively waifish, she stalks the streets in search of bloody sustenance. Well, that's actually not true. While it looks like she's trolling for the red gold (Texas tomato juice, plasma peyote, Uncle Jim's hemoglobin hacky sack, etc.), the thing living in her armpit is the one doing the actual trolling. The human body, and the many ways it lets us down, is tackled head-on in typical David Cronenberg fashion in the subversively entertaining Rabid, a film that proves once and for all that a man will try to hit on a woman no matter how horrible the circumstances might be. More on how men are perverted opportunist in a second. We like to think that horror lies out in the far reaches of the impenetrable darkness; basking in the shadows, if you will, that lay beneath the surface of our poorly realized nightmares, horror is always something that lives in the realm of the unknown. But the true danger lurks within ourselves. Yeah, that's right. Your body is a threat, and it must be destroyed. Implying that the humanity is its own worst enemy when it comes to the maintenance of their corporeal flesh, David Cronenberg has the end of the world begin in a plastic surgery clinic. Constantly having their bodies altered in a veiled attempt to attain structural perfection, the fact that humanities ultimate downfall–well, at least, greater Montreal's ultimate downfall (who knows how far it will the plague spread)–gets its start at a place filled with people dissatisfied with their outward appearance was not lost on this viewer.

It's true, I'm guilty as anyone of focusing their attention solely on the superficial side of things, but there was something about the way this film laid out its thoughtful yet direct allegory that caused my inner intellectual to elbow my outer half-wit squarely in the face. Bloodied and bruised, my outer half-wit still managed to savour the sight of Marilyn Chambers writhing on the floor in white cotton panties. However, there was an air of pomposity about the way I admired her scantily clad squirming this time around.  
I've noticed that there are only a handful of directors who are able to blend to the cerebral with the sleazy with any degree of success, and David Cronenberg is definitely one of the best at doing so. 
In order for Rabid to get to the point where chaos rules the streets of Montreal, someone's flesh needs to be altered. And that flesh happens to belong to Rose (Marilyn Chambers), the girlfriend of a motorcycle enthusiast named Hart (Frank Moore); though, I have wonder what kind of motorcycle enthusiast can he be if he rides around on a Norton. Sure, you look cool on it, but that's only because you have Marilyn fucking Chambers riding with you. Okay, I'll admit, I have no idea if Norton is considered a good bike or not (motorcycles are not my forte); I just don't like the name. Anyway, two bikers riding on one Norton, are whizzing down a snowy road in rural Quebec, when all a sudden, they come across a van parked in the middle of the road. With barely any time to avoid hitting it, Hart manages steer around it, causing the Norton to fly off the road. While Hart is violently tossed from the bike, Rose is pinned underneath it as it bursts into flames.
Luckily, or, as we'll soon find out, unluckily, there's a plastic surgery clinic nearby, and Rose and Hart are taken there almost immediately. It's obvious that Hart's injuries, while serious (a few broken bones), are nothing compared to what has happened to Rose; she has severe burns all over abdomen. Up to the challenge and then some, Dr. Keloid (Howard Ryshpan), the owner of the Keloid Clinic, decides to try an experimental skin graft on Rose, taking healthy skin from her thighs and transplanting it to the affected areas.
A month after the procedure, Rose is in coma, and Hart, who is almost fully healed, heads back to Montreal; which is only an hour away from the clinic, so don't think that he's abandoning her, because he's not. During his month long stay at the clinic, Hart befriends Murray Cypher (Joe Silver), one of Dr. Keloid's business partners, and Lloyd (Roger Periard), a plastic surgery addict. The former plays a big part in Hart's attempt to reunite with Rose, and the latter is the first to receive one of Rose's special hugs. What do these "special hugs" entail? Oh, man. I'm so glad you asked that, as I love Rose's special hugs. In fact, every time Rose would be alone with someone, my buttocks would get all tingly as she toyed with hugging them.
Take a creep like me, no-one wants to hug me. But if I looked like Marilyn Chambers circa, oh, let's say, 1976, there would be a line around the block to hug my slinky, radiant ass. At any rate, as Lloyd is poking around the clinic after dark, he hears a scream. Noticing that the scream came from Rose's room (she's in the intensive care unit), Lloyd goes to investigate. Finding Rose writhing naked on her bed, Lloyd tries to comfort her.  Asking what happened, where is she, and a bunch of questions in that vein, Rose, who is feeling a tad chilly, asks Lloyd to hold her. Oh-oh, Lloyd, watch out, you're about to be hugged by Marilyn Chambers in David Cronenberg's Rabid, no good can come from this. Armpit anus! Penetrate his unholy flesh, and relish his bodily fluids, this is your moment to shine.
After some mild post-penetration twitching, Lloyd gets up and wanders from the scene. Rejuvenated by Lloyd's blood, Rose and her new armpit-adjacent friend, sneak out to visit a farm located down the road. Intent on molesting the livestock, Rose's desire changes after a drunk farmer catches her stroking one of his cows. More than willing to give her a hug, the film's second hug is quickly implemented. I'm not sure how much blood her armpit anus was able to extract in such short amount of time, but it will have to do until the next opportunity to hug comes along.
Even though I had a feeling she was doomed the moment I laid eyes on her, I still thought that Judy Glasberg (Terry Schonblum), a young girl at the clinic to get another nose job, was gonna avoid getting hugged. Who am I kidding? She has the words "hug me" tattooed on her forehead. If Marilyn Chambers asks to get in a hot tub with you, there's only one reasonable reply, and that is: yes. But if she tells you that her, "body aches all over," immediately raise the red flag, this chick's up to some no good. And that no good usually involves a hug. That's right hug #3 just happened, and, despite the fact it featured two attractive ladies, it wasn't pretty.   
It's obvious that the armpit anus is doing the majority of the malevolent cuddling, as Rose is desperate to make contact with Hart, with the hope that he will get her the hell out of this awful place. In other words, she has no idea what her hugging has wrought. All she knows that she feels a lot better after she's embraced someone. Take the scene where Dr. Keloid examines Rose's armpit anus, she hugs him (hug #4), but there's no bloodsucking. Meaning, Rose can hug without there being dire consequences. That being said, poking her armpit anus until it became dilated was probably a mistake on the doctor's part, as hug #5 causes the penis inside her dilated armpit anus to emerge from its festering anus screaming for blood.
What happens to the people after they have been hugged? Excellent question. Since being hugged by Marilyn Chambers doesn't give you an extra anus, you're stuck with biting the people you want to lash out against. But don't feel too bad about your lack of a new anus, you're a foot soldier in a new pandemic that is about to sweep the city of Montreal. Hitching a ride to Montreal, and, of course, infecting everyone she meets along the way (a truck driver named "Smooth Eddie," who, apparently, "always looks good," receives hug #6 off-screen), Rose stays with her stylish friend Mindy (Susan Roman), who gets a non-lethal hug (hug # 7 for those keeping track) at the door of her apartment.
Since she doesn't want to drink her friend's blood, at least not yet, Rose decides to use her innate foxiness to satisfy her hunger. Grabbing a fur coat from the closet, Marilyn Chamber showcases her animalistic strut as she stalks the streets of Montreal. Stopping at a movie theatre, the Eve theatre (a woman's legs make up the sign's letter 'v'), Rose goes in, not to catch the double feature "Party Swapers" (sic) and "Models for Pleasure," but to lure a predator to press up against her armpit anus. And judging by the patrons at this particular screening, that shouldn't be too hard. As expected, a man volunteers to receive hug #8 mere moments after Rose has taken her seat. (The world, it would seem, is full of perverted men who are more than willing to rub up against Marilyn Chambers in an erotic fashion.)
Getting back to her strut for second, the way Marilyn Chambers walked down the street in her fur coat was hands down my favourite image from Rabid, as it not only summed up Rose's appeal as a monster, but proves once and for all that you can in fact be sexy in sub zero temperatures. Sure, the sight of a shopping mall Santa Claus being riddled with bullets or Marilyn writhing on the bathroom floor in a pair of super-tight white panties and a matching undershirt were pretty iconic and junk, but there's something alluring about a mid-1970s era woman on the prowl in a garish fur.
The infamous Santa Claus take down, while awesome beyond belief, is actually made more so, if that is humanly possible, by the fact that the mall (one that has a Le Château) employs scantily clad female helpers. The sight of a leggy woman placing small children on the lap of an old man reminded me why I love the '70s so much. The reason Santa is blown away is because a "crazy" bites a man (a dork in brown riding boots) who was supposed to get hug #9.
Desperate for blood (her appetite has become more and more insatiable), Rose is running out of people to hug. Which, if you think about it, could be a metaphor for a society that has grown colder, more impersonal over the years. Anyway, I won't spoil hugs nine and ten. (Keep an eye for Allan Moyle, the writer-director of Pump Up the Volume, as "young man in lobby.") But I will say, they both end tragically. Not to imply that the other hugs didn't end in tragedy. It's just that, in the end, Rose, like all of us, needs to stand up to her armpit anus, and finally say, enough is enough.

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  1. This film has been on my radar for a while. I should finally watch it.

    Its interesting: many horror and science fiction films play with the trope of "new medical treatment creating monsters." Things like organ transplants and skin grafts, no common place, once held great mystery and fear. Cronenberg does this better than anyone: "Shivers", this film, even "The Fly" is experiments on the body taken too far.

    I hope you review more Cronenberg films in the future.

  2. Great quote: "Implying that the humanity is its own worst enemy when it comes to the maintenance of their corporeal flesh, David Cronenberg has the end of the world begin in a plastic surgery clinic."

    Cronenberg is my all-time favorite. Medical technology, sex, identity, and biology (the body in particular) are just obsessively interrogated in these movies, in shocking and provocative ways. I doubt that I could even point to a favorite movie in his 1975-91 period, they're all so good. (He was good after that too, and still is, but different.)

    I also really like Chambers here. I don't know if it was on purpose, or by accident, but I feel like she has kind of a haunted quality in this. I wish she had a longer horror movie career.

  3. @ido: I'm thinking about taking on The Brood next. Maybe even check out some of his acting work in that new version of Night Breed that supposedly coming out soon while I'm at it..

    @rootandanchor: Whether on purpose or by accident, either way, I thought she was quite effective. And, yes, "a haunted quality" is a great way to describe M.C. in Rabid.

  4. @yum-yum: Have you seen "Videodrome" and "Dead Ringers"? Although they don't have the delicious '70s sheen you enjoy, they are two of his most critical works. Its hard to pick a favorite from his films. But "Dead Ringers" is the one that's stayed with me the longest.

    And for sheer perversion factor, there is always "Crash." Some people really hated it. But its has some, um... redeeming factors.

  5. Except for a few flicks here and there (for some strange I never got around to seeing Scanners), I've seen most of David Cronenberg's films. Including Videodrome (a film I must watch at least once a year).

  6. I was sure I had seen a "Videodrome" review here. Now I can't find it. Weird.

    "Scanners" is very good. It has that whole "evil-corporate-government-conspiracy" thing that "Videodrome" has. But does it a little better. Not as wonky or as full of luscious Debbie Harry on the TV goodness. But lots of people staring at each other and eyes melting.

    Oddly, the first Cronenberg I ever watched was "Crash."

  7. Sorry about that, I deleted my old Videodrome entry. I did some housecleaning recently, and I guess I must have deemed it unworthy or something.

    I saw Crash in theatres with about around 800 people. The audience let out this bizarre mix of laughter and groans when it was over.