Early in David Cronenberg’s film career, he wrote and directed a mend-bending think piece on social diseases starring Marilyn Chambers called Rabid. Most of you don’t need to be told this, but for anyone who could use some catching up, here ya go. Continuing from what he had started with Shivers, Rabid carried on with the infectious body horror mindfuck themes the twisted Canadian would make his signature. 40 years later, self-professed Cronenbergites Jen and Sylvia Soska, still coasting on the indie cred they amassed with American Mary, decided it would be a good idea to remake Rabid in their own image. Well, in “Animaniacs” terms, was this a “Good Idea” or “Bad Idea”? With bologna in our slacks, let’s find out.
Rose is a seamstress for the infamous Haus of Gunter designer clothing firm, whose newest campaign, “Schadenfreude” is just a knock-off of Zoolander‘s “Derelicte”. Her dream is to become a top tier designer, but that’s the problem with dreams – once we wake up, they’re over. And her boss, the eponymous Gunter of Haus of Gunter, is sure to remind Rose just how much her life is not a dream via frequent dressings down (no pun intended) in front of her co-workers and berating every design she presents him as “amateurish” and “mainstream”. At the end of her rope, her life is in need of an ’80s romantic-comedy style overhaul! Instead she gets into an auto accident that, given she was driving a Vespa, she’s lucky to have lived through! Provided you see having your face and torso mutilated as “lucky”, of course.
Desperate to fix her form, Rose signs up with a Transhumanism hippie clinic for an experimental plastic surgery procedure utilizing stem cells to turn our ugly duckling-turned-mangled duckling into a mad science swan. What appears to be a rousing success at first gives our heroine the confidence that comes with looking your best (she basically gets a new haircut and dumps her glasses), allowing her to catch the fashion hungry eye of her boss and strapping rockets to the elevator of career success. On the downside though, the procedure has also left her with staggering hunger pangs, a lustful hunger for human blood, and an affliction of super rabies that leaves her in a Typhoid Mary scenario, infecting every guy she sinks her teeth in while prowling the local after dark man-meat market.
Unlike the original movie from which this simulacrum takes its story beats, this remake plays things relative straight-laced before ramping up the crazy in the final 10 minutes. Fortunately, it doesn’t go off the rails with an “out of nowhere” twist in the finale, opting instead to plant the proverbial seeds throughout the movie for those paying attention. It works because odd moments actually lead to satisfying payoffs rather than just dangling them like despondent Munchkins in the background of the Wizard of Oz set. Additionally, the practical gore effects did the trick for my personal bloodlust, so kudos on that.
On the pendulum’s downswing though, the cast as a whole is pretty weak, parts of the plot and the actions of certain side characters were jarringly stupid, the majority of the movie lacks the bite of the original, and finally, if you can’t afford to shoot a convincing city-wide quarantine, maybe don’t make it such a major part of your third act. Work within your limitations, kids. Save the boarding house reach for smaller stakes, like when your grandma’s hearing is so far gone that you’re better off just getting the salt for yourself rather than asking her to pass it for 10th time.
A middling effort in the grand scheme of things, the sisters Soska may want to take less risks along the lines of half-hearted remakes of their heroes’ works (or just outright terrible sequels like See No Evil 2: See Harder) and wait until they have some more original fare to show off. Being female twins that love horror movies is a great publicity gimmick, but we (I?) still need to see them back it up with more original ideas of their own if they want to make a memorable mark on the genre they love so much. Here’s to whatever’s next on their menu!
Three Old Yellers out-of-Five
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