Cronenberg iterates on the premise of his prior film, Shivers, delivering a hybrid vampire/zombie picture that’s just as uncomfortable, but bigger in scope.
Marilyn Chambers plays Rose, a young woman afflicted with severe burns following a motorcycle accident. After an experimental skin graft procedure, she develops a vampiric need for human blood. A phallic protuberance emerges from a vaginal-like opening in her armpit and plunges into her victims. The scene where a doctor examines the opening had me squirming.
Unlike the single-location, male-lead Shivers, we’re treated to more locations, bigger stunts—including an impressive car crash—and a female lead with genuine agency.
But Cronenberg exhausts his story two-thirds into the running-time. The pattern of Rose feeding on someone and them later turning into a rabid zombie grows tiresome. Cronenberg tries to focus to the government’s response to the outbreak, but that proves a narrative dead end as well.
The casting also disappoints. Chambers is fine as Rose. As is the always-solid Joe Silver in a supporting role, but second-billed Frank Moore modulates between flat and emotive, with no middle ground. Perhaps the Blu-ray special features will shed some light on that performance.
There’s also the blatant gaff of showing the cameraman during a late car scene with Moore.
Despite these flaws, I enjoyed Rabid. Cronenberg seems up to the larger production, and on repeat viewings I suspect Chambers’ agency will edge out its narratively superior predecessor.