Rose (Marilyn Chambers) and her boyfriend Hart (Frank Moore) are tearing through the open Canadian countryside one afternoon on their motorcycle, when they crash into an RV positioned stupidly across the oncoming road.

Sent hurtling from the vehicle, the pair are left concussed. Rose, in particular, is in need of a skin graft.

Fortunately, or not as the case soon emerges to be, they've crashed beside a cosmetology clinic experimenting with new advances in the art of ... skin grafts.

However, experimental surgery rarely (ever?) goes well in horror films. And, this being an early David Cronenberg movie, it's fair to say the results are going to be catastrophic for poor Rose.

Sure enough, while recovering from her surgery, she suddenly feels overcome with a sexual desire for the doctor who's just popped in to check on her condition before bedtime. She pulls him near - he doesn't object too strongly, of course - and then ... a penis-like extension lunges from her armpit and embeds itself in the hapless medic's neck, draining blood from the wound.

Cripes, that can't be good. But at least Rose feels freshly invigorated. In no time at all she's back on her feet, prowling the nearest buildings and outhouses in search of fresh victims. Which is bad news for amorous farmers, attractive brunettes just wanting to enjoy an evening soak in the Jacuzzi, and so on.

The worse news for everyone else is that, while Rose continues her rampage, her victims develop similar symptoms to hers and transform into sexual maniacs complete with froth foaming from their mouths.

Enter doctor Murray (Joe Silver), from the aforementioned clinic. He hopes to trace Rose, cure her and stop this pandemic before it gets completely out of control...

Following on from the success of SHIVERS two years earlier, 1977's RABID shows Cronenberg grow in terms of providing a decent narrative. The story here benefits from a more definite beginning, middle and (typically downbeat) end. His cool approach to characters becomes more evident, with only Rose showing any human qualities - remorse, confusion, longing - beyond the script's requirements. How much of that is down to the director's developing skills as a writer or Chambers' onscreen charm is debatable.

Indeed, late porn star Chambers (most famous for BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR prior to this production and INSATIABLE after it) is a highly watchable lead, as charismatic as she is oddly sexy. She's well-cast - by late producer Ivan Reitman - as the equally vulnerable and seductive anti-heroine.

Silver, returning from his stint in SHIVERS, is as entertaining as ever. Moore, on the other hand, is terrible. He may vaguely resemble a young Martin Sheen but that can only carry him so far: he can't act and has no likeability factor. Supporting players appear to have been cast for no other reason than their "interesting" features.

Tension is sustained pretty well throughout and the film is often grisly if never overtly gory. Action sequences are modest and the low budget is apparent, but Cronenberg keeps his pace nicely brisk regardless. RABID isn't scary, but it does qualify as a horror film - not least of all due to its novel parasitic creature, which could easily be read as a riff on the vampire myth.

Arrow Films Video released SHIVERS onto blu-ray last year and, controversially, that release employed a cut version of the film. No such worries here: RABID makes its UK HD debut in a fully uncensored print.

Released as a 2-disc blu-ray and DVD combo pack, we were sent a copy of the former for review purposes.

Presented in 16x9 widescreen (1.78:1 aspect ratio) and boasting a mightily fine 1080p picture on this 50gb disc, the film looks the best it ever has. It's still grainy and cheap-looking, but it now seems brighter, crisper and imbued with much warmer colours than ever before. The detail in closer scenes is highly impressive.

English 2.0 lossless DTS-HD audio is equally impressive; optional English subtitles are well-written and easily readable.

The disc opens to an animated main menu page. From there, a pop-up scene selection menu allows access to RABID via 12 chapters.

An archive interview with Cronenberg kicks off a welcome bunch of bonus features. It lasts for 20 minutes and finds the filmmaker ruminating over how Canadians reacted to SHIVERS, working with a bigger budget for RABID and casting a porn star in the lead role. It's a fascinating insight into a chapter of his career which seems to be long gone, in this age of films like COSMOPOLIS and MAPS TO THE STARS...

Reitman is interviewed too. His 12-minute chat muses over what it was like working within the Canadian movie system in the 1970s, how he fell into producing films despite originally wanting to score them, working with the young Cronenberg and more.

Co-producer Don Carmody and FX artist Joe Blasco are also talked to in their own featurettes (15 minutes and 3 minutes respectively), both reminiscing over working with budgetary constraints and, of course, plying more plaudits on the director. There's a great featurette looking back on Canadian distributors Cinepix too, who Carmody worked for. This is a respectable 15 minutes in length.

The film's original 2-minute trailer is in fine shape and is a great addition here.

The most substantial extras though are two audio commentary tracks - a droll one from Cronenberg, who discusses the film's production in frank terms, as well as suggesting where he should've cut it, explaining the nature of Rose's condition clearer than the film does and discussing his early predilection for sexual disease-related horrors; a more academic one from William Beard, author of "The Artist as Monster: The Cinema of David Cronenberg" - and an hour-long 1999 cable TV episode of "The Directors" which focuses on all of the filmmaker's best works.

All of the above material is presented in HD.

This sterling package is rounded off by reversible artwork and a 40-page booklet which boasts nice design, a great new essay on the film's themes from Kier-La Janisse, an excerpt from the excellent "Cronenberg on Cronenberg" book where the auteur describes RABID in his own words, an archive interview with Chambers, notes on the transfer and so on.

Also available as a Steelbook edition, Arrow's special edition of RABID comes highly recommended.

Roll on their treatment of VIDEODROME!

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Arrow Video
Region B
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review