S3: Rabid

Uploaded by lampyman101 on 25.03.2012

Welcome to Section 3, home to the near nasties and clinic for all those nasty little consequences
of inappropriate behaviour with sleazy movies. This week we take a look at the work of one
of the iconic directors of the horror genre with a film that wanders into the mind of
the disease as we follow the result of surgery gone wrong in David Cronenberg's Rabid.
Following a serious motorcycle accident Rose is treated for her injuries at a nearby plastic
surgery facility. Using experimental techniques the surgeons put her back together again only
something is not quite right with Rose now. Driven by a strange hunger Rose begins to
attack those around her, feeding off of them in a bizarre way to sate her needs, but those
she feeds upon become infected with a rabies like virus that turns them into insane murderous
maniacs. As Rose tries to run away she leaves a devastating trail of infectious psychosis
behind her throwing the country into chaos.
David Cronenberg's second entry into his body horror works comes in the form of Rabid, an
edgy and bizarre tale of surgery gone wrong. From the start the mistake comes from the
unnecessary tampering of man with the body which results in hideous and tragic consequences
for all around. The opening of the film introduces us in the lightest terms to the couple at
the centre of the story, Rose and her boyfriend Hart, just before putting them through a horrific
motorcycle accident that finds Rose terribly injured. As it's the only surgical facility
in the area she's taken in by the nearby plastic surgery clinic and in some exposition we find
out that they've been developing a technique that renders skin cells able to mutate into
the cells of where it's applied, essentially we’re talking about stem cells that they've
replicated but there are issues involved with this treatment that are known and of course
some that are unforeseen.
There are two ideas that propagate from this beginning. Firstly there's the idea that the
drive to artificially enhance the body is in and of itself a point of concern, that
it may cause changes that are deeply undesirable. This much is fairly prominent, at least for
the opening 20 minutes.
It’s possibly the frivolity that which these people deal with the prospect of normalising
elective surgery, the mutilating their bodies to fit desire that hit’s the most political
note of this film. The causal, or should that be commercial, disregard they display for
the consequences of tampering unnecessarily with the human body is quite staggering though
the doctor does at least show his concern to some degree. He does though go along with
it without too much persuading, in part because of the urgent and legitimate use for his experimental
work in aiding Rose.
What comes of the story is however rather different. Rose is effectively a walking talking
virus, she is the virus in human form and this is where the film becomes rather interesting.
Rose really isn't Rose after the accident at all, the character has been hijacked by
the virus and what we see is really an anthropomorphised virus, one which gains a human perspective
while still being what it is and doing what it would normally do.
As unconventional as Cronenberg can be he’s in many ways re-envisioned a classic monster,
the vampire. Rose essentially encompasses the sexual aspects minus the sentimental love
subtext that exists in many uses of the vampire creature, in fact her actions are entirely
about function, nothing more, nothing less. Post op Rose
is rather interesting to say the least. She outwardly appears to be who we would imagine
the character to have been pre accident but very quickly it becomes apparent that whatever
Rose is, she isn't quite human anymore. Instinct seems to be the key to her behaviour, she
seems aware of what she's doing but not necessarily why, other than hunger, she doesn’t even
seem to be sure about how this works. The remnants of her humanity have been all
but completely been taken away, indeed when the character does show emotions it’s either
as a way of either disarming or luring in victims. As can be seen and of course heard
in this clip, there is a fairly strong overtone of a sexual nature here, it’s a penetrative
act that includes a fluid transfer and in this case it results in a very nasty STD though
her interaction with her boyfriend indicates a different attitude to that of
the various strangers she violates. There are a couple of things that seem to be in
play here. Hart is the reason she was put in the position of needing the surgery in
the first place, maybe this is a comment on his and by extension, others irresponsibility
that that puts her into this situation. When Hart finally catches up with her they
have an argument This is practically speaking allowing the
virus to accuse the person responsible
for it’s existence. Of course there are others who are participatory
in Rose’s infection, not least the surgeon, but what is particularly depressing in this
film is that with all but one exception the characters are really not bad people in the
slightest. The doctor saved her life and had nothing but the best intentions for her. Maybe
in its own right this says something in that even with the best intentions that frivolous
medical tinkering is fraught with risk that can’t necessarily be mitigated. Then of
course there’s the female victim in the hot tub (who reappears in the freezer in an
iconic and shocking image), the truck driver who give’s Rose a ride and shares his food
and several others, many by proxy of course, all of whom are generally nice people…..
with one exception of course. She attacks the rapist using the penetrative mutation
to fend him off, a perverse justice in some ways. The point is though that Rose is indiscriminate,
not through malice, but through necessity. The feeding drives her, the infection of others,
that’s incidental, and she becomes agitated when she realises the devastation she has
caused. Even she is a victim, just as much as those she attacked.
Cronenbergs divorcing the film from morality leaves a strange feel to it. There is no judgemental
stance taken and where many would portray an atrocity, Cronenberg portrays a tragedy.
It’s probably because of this non judgemental approach that this film caused any stir within
the authorities, it’s very down beat, bleak and uncomfortable.
Bearing in mind when the political trouble these films were having was a time that was
seeing the burgeoning of the Aids crisis then this film could be seen as quite unsettling.
The sexual nature of the diseases method of transfer is not a comfortable thing to witness,
it takes the familiar and desirable act of sex and makes it a murderous act. Maybe this
was all too sensitive a subject at the time.
And this is line with the very best that horror delivered in the seventies. Cronenberg doesn’t
spare any time for sentimentality, he doesn’t set up stock fall guys to take a beating,
these people are recognisably regular folks and the situation, aside from the way that
rose functions as a character, is not ridiculous or indeed out of the realms of reality. Rabid
in this sense has a sense of familiarity, particularly when framed against the likes
of the Aids epidemic, indeed any health scare that you care to mention or indeed a biological
attack but what it brings to the table is how it handles the very thing that is causing
the epidemic…. by making it a person. To some degree because it is such a neutral
piece of storytelling there are times the film can feel a little flat, even depressing
as this infection becomes an epidemic and there is no one to really blame for it, at
least no one that can be hated for what they’re doing. In some ways the fact that the films
characters are fairly mundane and not all extraordinary makes it that little bit creepier
because it ends up not feeling like much of a fantasy and more like a plausible reality
and this is why it can work its way under the skin, because theatrics aside, it’s
not impossible.
This is Cronenberg at his best. His skill at making a film that works on multiple levels,
being showy enough for the simplest viewer while maintaining a strong and intelligent
subtext with inventive use of characters that can satisfy even the most critical viewer,
is rare. Rabid is simply put one of the most elegant of the plague horror movies out there.
It’s weird enough to be remarkable and familiar enough to feel plausible and with the inclusion
of Cronenbergs manipulation of human body function it’s a deeply creepy and unsettling