Ebola has hit the United States. Ebola is not sexy. Plagues, in general, are not particularly conducive to sexy times. If you want your outbreak to be all about that ass, you must turn to one man: Mr. David Cronenberg.
Shivers (1975), Cronenberg’s first foray into commercial features, depicted the outbreak of a lab-grown parasite inside the confines of a trendy apartment building. It played like a randy, claustrophobic Invasion of the Body Snatchers, borrowing a little from the “outbreak horror” of George A Romero, namely 1968’s Night of the Living Dead and 1973’s The Crazies. (Cronenberg even cast Lynn Lowry in Shivers after seeing her in the latter.) But instead of undead flesh-eating or homicidal insanity, Cronenberg’s protagonists and victims passed on to each other an insatiable appetite for sex. The film’s conclusion suggests that the planet (or at least Quebec) is about to be turned into a society of libidinous hedonists. I've argued that Cronenberg presents the finale of Shivers as a happy ending.
1977’s Rabid finds the director mutating his theme slightly, and taking his sexually transmitted mania out into the world. When Rose (former porn star Marilyn Chambers) is injured in a motorcycle accident, experimental surgery saves her life. It also gives her a phallic, barbed appendage in her armpit, which she uses to draw blood from those she embraces. These victims become infected with a lust for blood and pass it along to others, throwing Montreal into a state of emergency.
With its explosions, bloodthirsty zombies, and the sexual appeal of Ms. Chambers, Rabid looks like an easy sell. But from what I recall of it, the feature itself represents Cronenberg struggling with the commercial motion picture landscape a bit. He’s clearly trying to wrestle his themes into a straightforward exploitation mold, and the growing pains are evident. Still, it’s an important stage of the director’s evolution, and it deserves to be seen.
Which leads me to the real reason for this post - where the f is Rabid on blu-ray or streaming HD? TIFF recently restored the hell out of Shivers, and Criterion just released Scanners in a dual-format special edition, with The Brood on deck. Shit, even Cronenberg’s 1978 race-car film Fast Company is on blu. Recent studies have claimed that if a film isn't streaming, it's as good as forgotten by some, and there's a real danger of some independent and catalog titles falling through the cracks in the cloud. Along with Cronenberg's Crash and M. Butterfly, Rabid is a victim of this digital neglect and needs a bit of triage, lest the streaming generation forgets all about it.