Thursday, July 26, 2012

Rabid (1977)

... aka: Rabia
... aka: Rage

Directed by:
David Cronenberg

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.


Bug Buster (1998)

... aka: Some Things Never Die

Directed by:
Lorenzo Doumani

There's loads of goofy fun in this silly camp comedy. An older couple (charmingly played by Bernie Kopell and Anne Lockhart) and their beautiful teenage daughter (the luminous Katherine Heigl from BRIDE OF CHUCKY) buy a lakeside lodge / bar in the small California town of "Mountview". They start taking boarders and open the bar where a fun country music band look and sound like a white trash version of the B52s. A strange, giant variety of cockroach (actually an exotic beetle, also used in 1975s BUG), that breed in moisture and dwell in dark places, start using larvae, worms, fish, and finally, humans, as hosts to incubate their species, which results in mutations and death. So, it's time to call in an expert to put an end to the carnage; Nam vet pest exterminator General George (a mugging Randy Quaid). This takes delight in throwing in all the usual cliches, serving as a parody and it doesn't skimp on the (usually mediocre) effects, either. A pretty good giant flying "Mother" bug even shows up at the end in a cave. The cast does a terrific job. I'm not sure who Brenda Doumani is (the directors wife or sister, perhaps), but she's great as the token local scientist and George Takei (Sulu from Star Trek), playing her former professor, reminded me of Mr. Miyagi on speed. To solidify the Star Trek connection, James Doohan is on hand as a small town sheriff.

The cast also includes Meredith Salenger as the town slut (who's named after a porno actress), former MTV VJ Downtown Julie Brown as a reporter, Cliff Emmich, Dennis Fimple and Johnny Legend (as part of the band). Be willing to such eye rollers as, "Let's get ready to bumble," though!


Bloody Murder (1999)

... aka: Massacre, The
... aka: Scream Bloody Murder

Directed by:
Ralph E. Portillo

If the scenario of aspiring camp counselors at a woodsy, secluded retreat being killed off by a hockey-masked psycho doesn't sound familiar then you don't watch very many horror movies, now do you? At Camp Placid Pines (?) young folks show up to prepare the camp for summer and are killed off one by one by a mysterious killer. Could it be that notorious mass murderer Trevor Moorehouse, a local urban legend, is responsible? Or is it one of the counselors gone mad? The plot is strictly FRIDAY THE 13TH territory, but this somehow manages to reach new depths of awfulness. First off, this is so derivate and unoriginal that the only thing that could possibly save it would be ample doses of sex and violence. Many slasher fans simply demand good old-fashioned exploitation. They want gory make-up effects for shock value... and these tame, ketchup-smeared murders don't cut it. They want nudity...and girls in swimsuits don't count. And they want a scary killer... and a short, scrawny guy running around in a blue jumpsuit and a cheap, plastic mask just isn't scary. To make matters worse, the acting is awful, most of the violence is offscreen, it's full of annoying false scares and Portillo even stoops low enough to plug his own equallly lame FEVER LAKE (1996), passing it off as "Sleepover Camp Massacre 14;" an evening's entertainment at the camp. Bottom of the barrel, folks.

This received better distribution than usual for a low-budget film so it was followed by a sequel: BLOODY MURDER 2: CLOSING CAMP (2003). It too sucked, but at least got the gore and sex parts right so it's better by default.


Boa (2001)

... aka: New Alcatraz

Directed by:
Phillip J. Roth

How many of these giant-monsters-lurk-in-dark-confined-areas movies are there, anyway? An internationally-funded high security prison (nicknamed “The New Alcatraz” and kept secret from the general public) has been built deep in the Antarctic to house some of the world’s most dangerous criminals, including a former Czechnian defense minister (Dean Biasucci) convicted of purchasing atomic missiles, an Eastern European femme fatale (Amanda Reyne) and an American computer hacker (Dana Ashbrook). The place is large enough to house 25,000 felons, but only six have been brough in so far. The warden (Craig Wasson) keeps an eye on things in a room full of video monitors. While doing some drilling near their heat source, a pocket of nitrogen is released and hiding down in one of the tunnels is a giant, hungry, prehistoric snake. Princeton University professor Richard Trenton (Dean Cain) and his wife Jessica (Elizabeth Lackey), who annoyingly insists on being called by her hyphenated last name, are called there to help because of their thesis about “undocumented Antarctic reptiles.” By the time they, along with some military men, arrive, many have already been killed, and the survivors have no choice but to let the dangerous prisoners loose to help them escape. The group has only two hours to get out before their transport takes off without them.

I don’t really understand how the snake could live in freezing cold temperatures without any food for thousands of years, but oh well. Aside from the script, it is technically competent, but Boa has the same characters, the same plot, the same atmosphere and the same cheesy CGI effects as hundreds of other similar films. It was followed by BOA VS. PYTHON (2004).


Das Ungeheuer von London City (1964)

... aka: Chiamate Scotland Yard 0075
... aka: Monster of London City, The

Directed by:
Edwin Zbonek

Some movie villains have had way too much face time in our beloved genre. Count Dracula undoubtedly tops the list of over-filmed horror movie bad guys but if I stretched it out to a Top 10 there's no doubt Jack the Ripper would make the cut. I doubt the real-life Jack, whomever he was, had a clue that he'd become a posthumous film legend while he was out eviscerating hookers. The character has been a frequently subject of numerous films and TV shows over the years, starting way back in the silent era, where he'd pop up in such classics as WAXWORKS (1924), Hitchcock's THE LODGER (1927) and PANDORA'S BOX (1929). His popularity has never waned since then and we still get frequent "ripper" movies to this very day. If they aren't official "ripper" movies then they simple change the name of the character or make the psycho a copycat killer and go about business as usual. The Monster of London City is one of these and it also falls into the krimi subgenre. The krimni were black-and-white pulp crime films - often with a horror bent and almost always filmed in West Germany - that were very popular in Europe throughout the 60s. A majority of these were based on novels written by Edgar Wallace or, in this case, his son Bryan Edgar Wallace.

Instead of taking place in turn-of-the-century London, Monster bumps things up to present-day London. A street hooker is killed and "horribly mutilated." And then another is stabbed after getting into a fight with her pimp. Oh, wait a second. The second "murder" is actually just part of a popular stage play that's so shocking that a woman in the audience passes out while watching it. Members of Parliament want the plug pulled on the show and find it distasteful to be continuing while a ripper-like psycho is really on the loose. The play's star, Richard Sand (Hansjörg Felmy) and his long-time friend, doctor Michael (Dietmar Schönherr) go to meet with Parliament member Sir George Edwards (Fritz Tillmann), who's getting ready to introduce a theatre censorship bill to try to get the play and any other production with questionable material banned. Neither is able to convince Sir George to reconsider his actions. To further complicate matters, Sir George's niece Ann (Marianne Koch) is dating Michael but she's fallen in love with Richard. And the brutal murders continue. The press wants to connect the murders to the play, and they get their wish when one of the actresses - Evelyn Nichols (Gudrun Schmidt) - becomes a victim.

Nearly every male character is a suspect in the crimes. First up is Richard, a former drug addict who spent time in a sanitarium. He now suffers from mental and physical exhaustion from the stress of the play, has recurring nightmares that he murders his female costars in the play and just had a nervous breakdown. His best friend Michael is a doctor, so he knows a thing or two about cutting up bodies. He also knows quite a bit about the Jack the Ripper crimes. At least enough to advise Richard on the role. Mr. Maynor, the director of the play who also wrote it using a pseudonym, couldn't be more thrilled about the murders and sees it all as "fabulous publicity." He makes sure to encourage Richard to step up his game and be more brutal than usual on stage. Horrlick (Walter Pfeil), the stage manager and property master, has a prior conviction for stabbing a man and becomes even more of a suspect when someone substitutes a real knife for a prop knife, which Richard almost uses on one of the actresses. Even the upstanding Sir George, who keeps sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night dressed exactly like the killer in a top hat, trench coat and gloves, isn't about questioning.

Comic relief is injected into the works in the form of bumbling private eye Teddy Flynn (Peer Schmidt) and his jealous girlfriend Betty Ball (Chariklia Baxevanos), who are so poor they don't mind risking their lives trying to catch the killer just for the reward money. Betty manages to land a role in the play, then poses as a hooker. And of course, what would a mystery be without the obligatory police office; in this case Inspector Dorne (Hans Nielsen). A cute little girl who witnessed one of the murders ends up ratting out the killer and naturally it's the person the filmmakers spent the least amount of time trying to cast suspicion upon.

A passable hour-and-a-half of undemanding entertainment, this is technically well-made but offers up little of interest and is thus highly forgettable. It's nicely shot in black-and-white, the horror scenes are stylishly shot, it features some very brief nudity and the English-language dubbing is surprisingly good (the British voice actors used are well above average). Almost all of the violence takes place off-screen. A very decent widescreen print of the film is available through Retromedia.

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