... aka: Rage
I've yet to meet a person who agrees with me on this, so let me go ahead and lay it out there before pleading my case: Rabid is the best of David Cronenberg's 70s genre output. Yes, I actually much prefer this to either SHIVERS aka They Came from Within (1975) or the far more acclaimed THE BROOD (1979). Biker Hart Reed (Frank Moore) and his girlfriend Rose (Marilyn Chambers) are out on a country drive when they're forced off the road by a scatterbrained vacationing family who decided to stop their van in the middle of the road. Hart is thrown off and receives minor injuries but it's a whole different story for Rose, who is trapped underneath the motorcyle when it explodes and catches fire. Rushed off to the nearby Keloid Clinic (which actually specializes in plastic surgery, not emergency surgery), Rose must get immediate help or she won't last longer than half an hour; the nearest hospital is three whole hours away. Dr. Daniel Keloid (Howard Ryshpan), who doesn't want to expand his practice into a resort chain like business developer Murray (Joe Silver) suggests for fear of becoming "the Colonel Sanders of plastic surgery," decides to use this opportunity to test out a new skin graft procedure done internally. His wife Roxanne (Patricia Gage), who's also one of the clinic doctors, fears they may have a terminal patient on their hands if the experimental graft backfires. Canada could only be lucky.
A sample of flesh is removed from Rose's thigh and then sent off elsewhere to be "treated" to become "morphogentically neutral" and thus be able to easily adapt to wherever it is placed on the body. One month passes and the operation has since been completed. Dr. Keloid is waiting to see how the grafts hold up while Hart waits for his girlfriend to regain consciousness. Rose finally awakens from her month long slumber late one night with no memories of the crash or its aftermath. Hearing her scream, another patient (Roger Periad) comes into her room to find her awake, a little confused, cold and very, very hungry. And when he attempts to hold her, he gets way more than he bargained for. Rose can now only consume human blood and she's developed a whole new internal organ to achieve this task: a fleshy syringe-like appendage that pops out from under her arm, sticks into unwilling donors and sucks the blood right out. Anyone whom Rose feeds upon is struck down with temporary amnesia, their blood stops clotting and they eventually turn into rabid, drooling zombie-like killers who bite and infect others before dying themselves.
Rose attempts to eat "real" food and even drinks from a live animal, but her body immediately rejects it. The blood must come from humans. And she gets some from a drunken farmer who attempts to rape her, a female patient in a hot tub and, finally, Dr. Keloid himself. The farmer goes to on infect a counter girl at a restaurant, the doctor attacks and infects several other doctors at the hospital and next thing we know a widespread epidemic of what the press initially believes to be a new strain of rabies is underway. With the hospital in a panic, Rose quickly packs her bags and heads toward Montreal, hitching her way to the city and leaving a path of infected people in her path. It doesn't take long before a decent-sized area of Canada is crawling with dangerous psychos. Rose, who shacks up with her good friend Mindy (Susan Roman) while in Montreal, sneaks out at night to feed and seems to be in denial that she's the Typhoid Mary causing the wave of death and destruction. Martial law is in order, as the city issues a curfew and sends out hazmat suit wearing soliders to help contain the threat. There are attacks on a subway, attacks in warehouses, attacks on the street and an attack in a shopping mall where a guard accidentally guns down Santa Claus! The ending - perhaps Cronenberg's most chilling - equates plague victims with garbage.
Rabid is a unique and intelligent, albeit imperfect, film. On one hand, it's a fresh update of the traditional vampire film that strips away all the supernatural hokum in a Gothic setting in favor of a completely human bloodsucker prowling around in modern-day society. On the other hand, it falls into a subgenre of another popular subgenre: the "infected" subdivision of the zombie film. Rabid is perhaps one of the very first of this type. The fiends in these movies haven't been raised from the dead; they're humans infected with some sort of virus or disease who happen to do most of the same things undead flesheaters do. They're crazed, they attack whomever is in their path, they infect others with a bite and their only objective is nourishment, whether it be flesh or, in this case, blood. Though it's possible I'm overlooking something, I can't recall any post-NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD "infected" film before this one. The drive-in favorite I DRINK YOUR BLOOD (1970), which involved hippies contracting rabies after eating tainted meat pies, probably comes the closest. Regardless of how this one's classified, it is certainly part of the Cronenberg-created 'body horror' category (films which deal with mutations changing the physical and mental state of victims) since this is one of the films to have developed that to begin with.
Considering this was the first mainstream starring role for 70s porn superstar Chambers (famous for the hit BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR back then), she actually acquits herself fairly well. Her presence alone adds a highly sexualized and somewhat seedy feel to the film that I doubt the original casting choice (Sissy Spacek) would have brought to it. Chambers also manages to make her character at least somewhat sympathetic. In contrast, I couldn't have cared less what happened to any of the people in either Shivers and The Brood. During one of the more interesting scenes, Chambers visits an adult movie theater to prey on one of the horny, pushy male patrons who's there seeing the type of film that the real-life Chambers would have starred in.
The rest of the cast is sufficient, there's some black humor and loads of social commentary in here too, plus some effective shocks and grisly make-up fx from Joe Blasco (who also did the fx for Shivers). The score is pretty haunting as well. The copyright date on the credits says 1976, though the film was released a year later. Cronenberg film regular Robert A. Silverman is in one brief scene.