Rabid ★★★★

Solid, solid, low-budget body horror that compliments the queasy, venereal horror of Cronenberg's previous film, SHIVERS (1975). RABID works on a similar premise where medical malpractice unleashes a craze of blood-slurping, frothing zombies…or is it vampires?…who spread their salivating disease through hugging and munching on others. Cronenberg never once hides his distrust for medical authority. As with SHIVERS, he is very aware of the ways in which medical experimentation can go horribly south. 

Case and point: A woman used as a human guinea pig during a new, untested surgical procedure soon develops a strange, blood-sucking armpit, a vampiric tentacle that resembles a phallic and penetrates its victims in erotic, masculine ways. It's a funny gender reversal that uses sexual politics to turn feminine plastic surgery into a dangerous form of medical bloodletting. 

As the spread of disease escalates from person to person, and the body count mounts higher and higher, RABID begins to unfold like a dark prophecy concerning the rise of STDs and the 1981 AIDS epidemic. The film excels where SHIVERS falters because it personalizes, instead of generalizes, the outbreak through Marilyn Chamber's character Rose, who immediately feels sympathetic and victimized by something not of her own creating. The cautionary sting of the entire film is that the government (in this case, medical institutions) must take ownership for the unexpected side-effects their experiments incur upon people at large. Cronenberg will return to this scandalous theme again in SCANNERS (1981). 

The film, I mentioned, is at times hilarious. A brilliant scene involves a pack of foaming, screaming citizens getting attacked by blood devouring crazies in a subway car. Another scene, drawing parallels to DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978), finds a police officer armed with a tommy gun mowing down a host of salivating crazies at a local shopping mall. These batshit moments literally had me LOLing. The absurdity of it all works on such a fun, satirical level. Cronenberg is clearly having a lot of fun, too, on set, but there's always the impression that a keen streak of intelligence is hidden in the margins. The film is super effective as a medical, mad-scientist critique and the cautions against state control. It's also just a wildly dark, entertaining piece of low-budget horror that lives among the best b-movies out there.

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