'Rabid': Film Review

A loving homage, but stick to the original.
12/13/2019

The Soska Sisters remake David Cronenberg's 1977 cult horror film about a young woman who develops a thirst for blood after undergoing unconventional surgery.

It took no small amount of guts for Jen and Sylvia Soska to remake a David Cronenberg film, the first such effort ever attempted, even if the master horror director's 1977 Rabid isn't one of his best. The identical twin filmmakers, who are credited under the moniker "The Soska Sisters," would seem well suited for the task, based on their distinctive oeuvre which includes such grindhouse movies as American Mary, Dead Hooker in a Trunk and See No Evil 2. Unfortunately, their reimagining of Cronenberg's film, although it has some imaginative touches, can most generously be described as an affectionate homage.

In the role that marked porn star Marilyn Chambers' legit feature debut, Laura Vandervoort (Smallville, Jigsaw) plays Rose, an aspiring fashion designer struggling to earn the respect of her boss Gunter (Mackenzie Gray, so over the top that he makes Sacha Baron Cohen's Brüno seem subtle by comparison). A wallflower bearing a small facial scar from a long-ago car accident, Rose reluctantly lets her friend Chelsea (Hanneke Talbot, Ready or Not) set up her up on a date with a fellow co-worker.

After overhearing a pair of fellow partygoers (amusingly played by the Soska sisters themselves) laughingly describing her as "weird and sad," Rose flees the premises, only to get run down by a motorcycle. The resulting horrific facial and body disfigurement is explained to her by a doctor (a goateed Stephen McHattie, appropriately creepy) who advises, "I would strongly suggest staying away from mirrors right now" and assures her that her severe intestinal damage won't be a problem. "You'll be able to live a perfectly normal life with a shortened organ," he says, unconvincingly.

Lacking medical insurance (the pic adds some mild social commentary, about both the fashion and the medical industries, into its occasionally satirical mix), Rose eagerly takes up the offer of the mysterious Dr. Burroughs (Ted Atherton) who promises to restore her looks and health with an operation involving "stem cell manipulation." That the doctor is not quite to be trusted becomes evident by his habit of listening to recordings of his namesake, author William Burroughs, and the blood-red robes worn by him and his nurses in the operating room.  

Nonetheless, the operation is a success, to the degree that Rose emerges from it seemingly healthy and a stunning beauty as well. Unfortunately for her, some complications arise, notably dreamlike episodes, in which she displays extreme sexual aggressiveness and a literal bloodthirstiness, that she eventually discovers, to her horror, are real. Her victims, apparently infected with a rabies-like disease, are soon transformed into zombie-like maniacs with a taste for blood themselves.

This remake follows the essential template of Cronenberg's, adding sly homages to some of his other movies as well. But although Vandervoort, who delivers an appealing, sympathetic performance, is a marked improvement over the wooden Chambers, this version falls short of the original on nearly every other level. Ploddingly paced (it runs nearly 20 minutes longer than the 1977 film, to detrimental effect), poorly scripted and featuring largely amateurish performances and cheesy special effects, this Rabid strives to emulate the striking body horror of the original but mainly comes across like a half-baked imitation. To their credit, the Soskas attempt to get ahead of such criticism, with one character asking, "Why do we keep remaking old trends?" Unfortunately for them, it turns out that being in on the joke doesn't really make it any funnier.

Production companies: Twisted Twins, Back 40 Pictures Inc., Telefilms Canada, Ontario Creates
Distributor: Shout! Factory
Cast: Laura Vandervoort, Benjamin Hollingsworth, Phil Brooks (C.M. Punk), Ted Atherton, Hanneke Talbot, Mackenzie Gray, Stephen McHattie, Kevin Hanchard, Greg Bryk
Directors: The Soska Sisters
Screenwriters: The Soska Sisters, John Serge
Producers: John Vidette, Paul Lalonde, Michael Walker
Executive producers: Charles Dorfman, David Gilbery, Paul McGowan, Larry Howard, Andy Lyon, David Miller, Jessica Labi
Director of photography: Kim Derko
Production designer: Peter Mihaichuk
Editors: Erin Deck
Composer: Claude Foisy
Costume designer: Morganne Tree Newson
Casting: Stephanie Gorin

108 minutes