Maybe it’s sacrilege to remake a David Cronenberg movie, but if somebody’s gonna do it it’s fitting that it’s weird Canadian twins. I really liked Jen and Sylvia Soska’s extreme-surgery underworld tale AMERICAN MARY, and kind of liked their SEE NO EVIL 2. And it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Cronenberg’s 1977 RABID, so I don’t remember it well enough to have any specific expectations for a redo.
This RABID is about Rose (Laura Vandervoort, THE LOOKOUT, INTO THE BLUE 2: THE REEF), a lowly employee for a pretentious, obnoxious, and on-the-nose-German-accented fashion designer named Gunter (Mackenzie Gray, JOY RIDE 2: DEAD AHEAD, Legion, WARCRAFT, MAN OF STEEL, True Justice). In tribute to the original’s motorcycle she rides a scooter.
It’s one of those things where they cast an unusually beautiful TV star to play an awkward misfit who everybody picks on, the excuse I guess being that her co-workers are supposed to be mostly models. I had a hard time watching adults act out these teen movie tropes such as the ol’ ’getting mad when she finds out the cute boy only asked her out as a favor to someone who feels sorry for her’ and of course the ‘overhearing the mean girls talk shit about her when they don’t know she’s in the bathroom stall.’ Maybe it’s meant as a satirical statement about the fashion industry to make them this petty and childish, but it feels phony to me.
If you know the original movie, you know she’s gonna get something a little worse than rabies. They go for all the cliches about how turning into a monster will make her more aggressive and that will help her career and what not. (See also: WOLF.) Suddenly the asshole boss will notice her and use her designs. Since part of the affliction involves drinking blood, they do that old saw of making her start out as a vegetarian, information that gets shoehorned in in a conversation at work. I wouldn’t mind if not for the part where somebody asks what she eats instead of meat and she says, “Oh, you know… organics.”
What, you couldn’t come up with a specific food for her to enjoy?! Maybe that’s some kind of Canadian thing I don’t understand, but it seems to me like the Soskas hate the idea of vegetarians so much they put their foot down at meeting one or doing any research.
Luckily it gets more interesting and uncharted after Rose has her (awkwardly offscreen) scooter accident and has to try to go on living in a hipster loft with the charity and saintly non-freaked-outness of her friend/foster sister Chelsea (Hanneke Talbot, READY OR NOT). Rose’s toothy, scraped-off face is legitimately upsetting to look at even before she tries to suck blended food through a tube into her stapled jaw and can’t keep it down. So you gotta respect the Soskas for not fucking around here. They’re not gonna let us get off easy for watching this.
Rose becomes a patient at a weird exclusive clinic. I liked the crimson robes some of the staff wear that look more ritualistic than medical, seemed creepy and weird in a legit Cronenberg way, and then I realized that’s just because it’s a DEAD RINGERS reference. Oh well. The doctor performs an experimental stem cell manipulation technique – stem cells explain everything in sci-fi now, they’re the new nano-tech – that miraculously repairs her face. The only catch is the crippling bloodthirst, some tentacles, and starting an outbreak of zombie-like monsters across the city. Before long she’s attacking some vain muscle dude in the pool – I sort of like the idea that as a soap star he gets an invite to come here to regenerate his aging flesh, or something.
The love interest Brad (Ben Hollingsworth, JOY RIDE 3: ROADKILL, COLD PURSUIT) has the blandly handsome look and leather jacket of a motorcycle-riding cool guy in a Lifetime movie. But I thought it was interesting that even though they’d only had one brief, abruptly ended date he sincerely wanted to keep seeing her after her face was horribly mutilated in the accident. And they don’t turn it into a weird fetish thing or anything. I didn’t entirely buy it, but it’s a more interesting choice than the obvious “he pretends like he still cares but is scared off” option.
There are a few attempts at cleverness that are… maybe not all the way there? It opens with Gunter complaining about the same ideas being done over and over, an obvious meta-commentary about the fact that you’re watching a remake. Not the end of the world, but I don’t think it works on a level other than the ol’ “if you point it out yourself then they can’t criticize it anymore,” which is kinda old hat I think. But at least it works better than calling the clinic The Burroughs Institute and the mad doctor Dr. William Burroughs (Ted Atherton, MAX PAYNE). There’s just no suspension of disbelief on that reference. It’s like having a character called “Steve Spielberg” as a subtle little easter egg nodding to one of your cinematic influences. The only way to not be taken out of the movie by it is to be a person who’s never heard of Burroughs.
When Rose becomes rabid or whatever her eyesight improves and she doesn’t have to wear glasses anymore. That made me think of SPIDER-MAN, but I figure it’s also probly been in some werewolf movies or something. So I thought it was funny that in an Eye For Film interview they talk about all their references to Cronenberg movies but also Sylvia says, “There’s alot of SPIDER-MAN 2 in there and it almost starts the exact same way.”
It’s a pretty good interview because there’s also a part where she also speaks the sentence, “I have a friend whos called Burns the Dragon and he’s a human transitioning into a dragon.”
The Soskas are wrestling fans, so they have two movies produced under the prestigious WWE Films Banner – SEE NO EVIL 2 and VENDETTA, a Dean Cain prison/revenge movie that I bought and watched and it was okay but I didn’t write anything down and now I would have to watch it again to review it. Anyway, this one has C.M. Punk in a small part as an asshole named Billy. I imagine he’s probly better in that other horror movie he had last year. The Soskas also give themselves their traditional cameo, but it should actually be a bigger part because they’re coke-snorting assholes who are gratuitously cruel to Rose but they don’t ever get to get rabidded.
They don’t do much of the armpit genitalia thing I remember from the original, but there’s plenty of strange shit. You know how those stem cells are. For sure my favorite thing about the movie is its enthusiasm for weird makeup FX, including lots of squealing tentacles and faces bursting out of gooey skinpiles like something from a Freddy dream. There’s kind of a Screaming Mad George feel to some of it, which goes a long way toward making up for the stuff that doesn’t work.
I mean, like, there’s a part where a guy does this for some reason:
So I gotta kinda like it.
The Soskas wrote the script along with John Serge, who previously wrote one episode each of Push, Nevada and Veronica Mars, plus the sorority themed horror movie DEAD ON CAMPUS and five made-for-TV thrillers: MY MOTHER’S SECRET, A SISTER’S REVENGE, KILLER MOM and PERFECT SOULMATE. Congratulations to him for getting out of that template for a minute.
VERN has a new action-horror novel out called WORM ON A HOOK! He has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the film criticism books Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal and Yippee Ki-Yay Moviegoer!: Writings on Bruce Willis, Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics as well as the crime novel Niketown.