Triple yikes! Developed under the title Mosquitoes, which actually helps a lot in terms of understanding what this David Cronenberg production is about, this is a sci-fi horror movie that offers up a narrative that’s a still little too hot to handle for most of us these days. Yes, we’re talking about a deadly virus outbreak escaping a test lab and passed via person to person contact, plus vaccine cards and sinister, opportunistic governments attempting to impose martial law. We’re also talking about a change to the physical condition of those infected that makes them suck the blood from their victims; one horrible instance has a surgeon taking a turn during an operation and taking his sharpened scissors to another surgeon’s hand.
Rabid starts in the usual icy institution that Cronenberg favours; the Keloid clinic, where the head surgeon aspires to be more than the ‘Colonel Sanders of plastic surgery’. They specialise in plastic surgery, and have all the right jargon in terms of ‘morphogenetic neutrals’, but the practical experience feels different at a user-level; ‘Last time I got my ears done I could really feel it when the weather changed’ says one graduate, and when Rose (Marilyn Chambers) is involved in what doctors call a ‘spectacular motorcycle accident’, the boffins accidentally create a patient zero who, like Sil in Species, takes off on a cross-country rampage, in this case through a Canadian Christmas in Montreal and Quebec.
‘YOU carried a plague that killed thousands of people…’ is the accusation Rose fields ‘But I’m still me, I’m still Rose,’ gets the key idea across; Rose is a de-personalised victim who creates more de-personalised victims, in a cycle she can’t control. The cops are pragmatic in the face of chaos; ‘These rabies shots are killers, I think I better take a chance with getting sick,’ one notes, but as bodies start appearing amongst the bin-bags, we’re looking at a human catastrophe that one character compares to the “black plague of London’, but which younger cineastes will find familiar from deliberately alienating films like Under the Skin.
Cronenberg widens his scope to capture some widespread panic across the country, with mall-Santas machine-gunned in costume and some freeway car-smash slamming, but manages to pull things back for a downbeat but emotional, personal climax as Rose is re-united with her boyfriend. ‘A dream is reality and reality is like a dream,’ Rose concludes, and despite its low budget, Rabid stands the test of time as a cautionary tale with added absurdity; if skin-grafts are ever proven to link directly to vampiric women draining our blood with clitoral needles that emerge from their armpits, then it’s time to take swift action and defund the Keloid clinic before it’s too late.