Friday, November 11, 2016

RABID (1977) (Scream Factory Blu-ray Review)

RABID (1977) 
Label: Scream Factory 
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 91 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.66:1) 
Director: David Cronenberg 
Cast: Susan Roman, Frank Moore, Howard Ryshpan, Joe Silver, Marilyn Chambers, Patricia Gage

Synopsis: After undergoing radical emergency surgery, Rose (former adult film star Marilyn Chambers in her first leading role in a mainstream film) develops an insatiable desire for blood. She searches out victims to satisfy her incurable craving, infecting them with an unknown disease which, in turn swiftly drives them insane… and makes them equally bloodthirsty. Follow the lovely but deadly Rose through her terrifying ordeal as victim by victim, the spreading circle of casualties grows... until no one can escape their grisly fate of becoming... Rabid.

In Cronenberg's follow-up to the body-horror classic Shivers we have an attractive young motorcycle mama named Rose (adult film star Marilyn Chambers) who is horribly injured in a motorcycle accident along with her boyfriend Hart (Frank Moore). With no proper hospital nearby she is brought to a plastic surgery clinic where she is operated on by Dr. Keloid (Howard Ryshpan) who has developed an experimental new type of skin-graft which he uses to save Rose's life. The radical surgery appears to work and Rose slowly recovers from her injuries while in a coma. When she awakens from the coma it soon becomes clear that something is not right about the young woman,turns out that she has been transformed into a contagion-carrying blood-drinker. Though she is not a vampire in the traditional Gothic sense, what we have here is something more along the lines of what we have come to know Cronenberg for. In place of a pair of fangs Rose has a new blood-sucking appendage which comes from an orifice located in her armpit, which drains blood from her victims. The new blood-sucking appendage seems to act on its own without her control, in fact she seems unaware of the new appendage and the harm that it inflicts on others, proving unable to resist her new found bloodlust

Her first victim is another patient at the clinic who comes to her aid when she awakens from her coma in a panic. When he holds her close to console her she comes onto him as her blood-sucking appendage makes its first appearance and attacks the man. Afterward she escapes the hospital and continues to drain unwitting victims as she makes her way back to the city of Montreal. Whenever she drains someone they're not killed, instead they become green-foam drooling infected, becoming violent maniacs with a thirst for blood who continue to spread the plague in her wake Eventually the city of Montreal is overrun with the violent infected and the city is declared to be under Martial Law, it's hard to watch these scenes and not think that maybe George Romero's The Crazies (1973) has some influence on it. Cronenberg is working with a familiar premise for those who have watched his previous movie Shivers, which also pertains to the spread of venereal type disease which transforms its victims only this time on a much larger scale, affecting not just a high rise but the entire city of Montreal. Our sympathetic patient-zero is played by adult-film star Marilyn Chambers, who does very good work here in what I believe is her first and only venture into the world of legitimate movie making. Given her solid performance here I am just a tiny but surprised she did not have a more legit movie career afterward. Chambers has an inherent vulnerability about her, a girl-next-door sweetness that makes it easy to sympathize with her even though she is the cause of the plague. Chambers has a fairly affecting scene at the end wherein she chooses to make a sacrifice, while it is not award worthy she does what is needed for this low-budget action-horror movie, and like I said, her performance is decently affecting. 

Rabid feels like a next step movie for Cronenberg following Shivers, the canvas is larger, the story has a bit more depth and while the gore is somewhat minimal there is plenty of troubling imagery to keep your pulse rate up, including the police gunning down a rabid Santa at the local mall in front of the kids.. something which  think Charles Band may have borrowed for his Trancers movie. There's a scene of Dr. Keloid who has becomes infected who goes rabid during a surgical procedure, slicing off the finger of his nurse before gnawing on his anesthetized surgical patient. Rabid is certainly gruesome, but is also has a lot going on beyond what the infected epidemic premise would seem to offer, even these early Cronenberg movies had more on their mind than simple body-horror, which it has plenty of, but they're also thought provoking and this has held remarkably well through the years. 

Audio/Video: I now own three versions of David Cronenberg's Rabid (1977) on Blu-ray and I think i can accurately say without too much hyperbole that Scream Factory have knocked this one out of the park with a brand new 2K scan from straight from the original camera negative with a new color-timing. They've also gone and re framed it in director Cronenberg's preferred aspect ratio of 1.66 which along with the new transfer sets this apart from both the Arrow Video and Via Vision Blu-ray HD releases. The new color grading is solid, colors look richer and skin tones look natural, the black levels are improved and the image has a more pleasing clarity. Audio comes by way of an English DTS-HD MA Mono track with optional English subtitles about it with nicely managed grain. Levels are good and solid, the dialogue, score and special effects comes through with a nice clarity, everything is nicely balanced. 

Onto the extras Scream Factory carry-over a few choice extras from the Arrow Video release, beginning with a vintage director's commentary from writer-director David Cronenberg and another with writer William Beard, author of The Artist as Monster: The Cinema of David Cronenberg. Also licensed from Arrow is an interview with executive producer Ivan Reitman (13 mins) and co-producer Don Carmody (16 mins), which were both produced by Red Shirt Pictures and are great. The last of the Arrow-licensed extras is the video essay From Stereo to Video by Caelum Vatnsdal, author of They Came from Within: A History of Canadian Horror Cinema (26 mins). Scream Factory have also included an archival interview with Cronenberg (21 mins) which also appeared on both the Arrow and Via Vision releases. 

Scream Factory do not carry-over all the Arrow extras, notably absent is the fantastic Cinepix doc, an interview with makeup man Joe Blasco, and the 1998 do The Directors with David Cronenberg. This doc can also be found on the region-free Via Vision release along with the archival Cronenberg interview, and the David Cronenberg commentary. 

Scream Factory have also put their own stamp on Rabid with the inclusion of two new and exclusive extras, beginning with an audio interview with author Jill C. Nelson (Golden Goddesses: 25 Legendary Women of Classic Erotic Cinema, 1968-1985) and Marilyn Chambers’ personal appearances manager Ken Leicht which can be found on the audio set-up menu and can be played much like a commentary while watching the film. The track is very informative and covers a lot of ground. I did not have a real understanding of the scope of her career, so this was a great track for someone like myself. 

Also new to this release is a 33-min interview with actress Susan Roman who played Mindy in the movie. The animated and very talkative Roman looks back on her whole career, beginning with how she landed the part in the movie, wearing those thick-rimmed red framed glasses, her crush on Cronenberg, and working with the cast and crew, including Marilyn. Roman also goes into her extensive work as a voice actor, having appeared in both the animated movies Heavy Metal (1981) and Rock and Rule (1983). The disc is zipped up with a selection of trailers, radio spots, tv spots and an image gallery. The Collector's Edition Blu-ray comes with a reversible sleeve of artwork and a slipcover featuring the new illustration, which for the sake of comparison I will say I like way more than what the Arrow disc offered. 

Special Features

- NEW 2K scan from the negative at the director David Cronenberg’s preferred aspect ratio (1.66:1)
 -NEW audio interview with author Jill C. Nelson (Golden Goddesses: 25 Legendary Women of Classic Erotic Cinema, 1968-1985) and Marilyn Chambers’ personal appearances manager Ken Leicht
- NEW Young and Rabid – an interview with actress Susan Roman (33 mins)
- Audio Commentary with writer-director David Cronenberg
- Audio Commentary with William Beard, author of The Artist as Monster: The Cinema of David Cronenberg
 -Archival interview with David Cronenberg (21 mins)
- Interview with executive producer Ivan Reitman (13 mins)
- Interview with co-producer Don Carmody (16 mins)
- From Stereo to Video – A video essay by Caelum Vatnsdal, author of They Came from Within: A History of Canadian Horror Cinema (26 mins)
- Theatrical Trailer (2 mins) 
- TV Spot (1 min) 
- Radio Spots (U.S. and U.K.) (2 mins) 
- Still Gallery (6 mins) 

Scream Factory's Blu-ray of David Cronenberg's Rabid is wonderful, the new 2K transfer from the original negative is the best looking version of the movie I have seen and if you're region-locked or just want the one release with the best A/V presentation then this is the one to own. Compared to the Arrow Video release this might be marginally light on extras but Scream Factory offer a nice selection of extras and what I consider to be the definitive transfer.