Rabid

Since I now have Showtime in addition to the moribund Netflix, I have a new collection of movies on demand, and this was on there. This is early, low-budget David Cronenberg, among his first body horror movies that got attention, before he went mainstream, then respectable mainstream, then avant-garde, where he is now. So let’s get on it!

This is basically if David Cronenberg made a zombie movie, with his typical bizarre sexual twist. Marilyn Chambers, then one of the most famous porn actresses, is the star, and she runs away with it. She plays a woman who has a motorcycle accident, and is brought to a nearby plastic surgery center, where they operate on her, despite survival surgery not being their specialty. They use cells from her abdomen that they hope will develop for other purposes, like we now understand stem cells. They do develop—into a phallic stinger that pops out from a brand-new orifice underneath her arm [that could be a great country song: “(Baby, I Got a) Brand-New Orifice.”] Imagine an anus from which a penis with a white fang on the end emerges, and you’ve got it!

So it’s not a huge winner on the tight sci-fi allegory scale: plastic surgery using stem cells results in… a zombie plague? A bit loose. But we go with it for the thrills. But it does get 9 out of 10 on the twisted sexuality subtext-o-meter, however, as we have a woman suddenly enabled with a deadly penis [that comes out of an asshole]. She is the alpha-carrier and goes through periods of feeling awful that she’s now a killer that has unleashed a new disease upon the world [her new victims bite each other and kill / spread following the standard zombie formula] and then getting hungry again and lusting for blood. She does make a solid attempt not to kill her best friend, who is being a pal by letting her crash at her place, but sometimes your roommate is the only one around when you really want that midnight snack.

When I initially watched this, years ago, I thought the movie was just okay and Chambers was, well, like a porn star in her first feature. This time I thought the movie was just okay and Chambers is fucking phenomenal. She has to go through several cycles of feeling terrible for her victims [her weakest, and not dwelled upon], then craven lust and sexual hunger [excellent and terrifying] and then the ecstasy of feeding and being satiated, which she also nails. She uses her porn-star persona—the sweet woman next door who is a sex freak—and just runs with it. Since this is partially a story about a woman suddenly becoming a sexual predator [and with a penis, no less] she channels her sexuality into this focused and fucking scary hunger that she is able to manifest on her face. Great job, Marilyn!

But if you’re not into weirdo sexual subtexts you also get a straightforward zombie film, with good little sequences like an attack on a crowded and inescapable subway car. Not the greatest overall, but if you like 70s horror and like it on the progressive side, it’ll do you fine.

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