Way back in 2014 I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing the sensational Soska sisters Jen and Sylvia for the release of See No Evil 2. What was supposed to be a 15 minute phone call ended up running to 45 minutes or more as we discussed a whole slew of subjects. What I left the call thinking (apart from how the hell was I going to write this all up!) was not only what lovely people they were but also what a great love of horror they had.
Their passion for horror is why when it was announced the Twisted Sisters were writing and directing a remake of Rabid, after their two features for WWE Studios, I believed the David Cronenberg cult classic was in safe hands.
Made in 1977 Rabid alongside the equally sick Shivers cemented Cronenberg’s horror credentials and his obsession with body horror. When examining their filmography the Soska’s seemed a perfect fit for the remake considering that their most acclaimed movie so far, American Mary, also deals with surgery and extreme body enhancement all of which are elements in Rabid.
The story centres on Rose (Smallville and Jigsaw star Laura Vandervoort) a shy aspiring fashion designer who can’t seem to land the job or man she really wants. On an upsetting night out with her model best friend and foster sister Chelsea (Hanneke Talbot) where everything seems to go wrong she flees the club like Cinderella only to end up in a horrific car crash that disfigures her face seemingly beyond repair.
Feeling like a monster with few options available to her Rose ends up at the controversial Burroughs clinic where they are pioneering Transhumanism and radical experimental stem-cell treatments that are banned in other hospitals. Giving herself over as a guinea pig she is overjoyed when the cure they have created restores her face however there is a price to pay and it is far worse than she could ever imagine.
Entertaining and enjoyable throughout the Rabid remake is full of great gore and daringly disgusting make up and effects all wonderfully well realised. Laura Vandervoort is excellent and endearing as Rose and her performance throughout is especially engaging keeping the audience’s attention through her radical rise and fall.
Sadly much like my opinion on American Mary the Soska Sisters seem to have made a film that is more surface than anything else and a depth in character development or overall message and meaning is distinctly and disappointingly lacking.
Cronenberg’s original was an unsettling update of the vampire legend where the character developed an orifice under her armpit which housed a phallic stinger that drained the blood from her victims. In the update Rose’s condition is deliberately kept unclear however throughout this film we see her attack several victims usually initiating a sexual encounter, which also echoes Shivers, before tearing them apart and passing the mutated strain of rabies onto them.
These victims come back to kill again causing an outbreak that affects the whole city although her Dr, played by Ted Atherton, says these savage assaults are merely her hallucinations and all part of the treatment. As a twist this doesn’t work as only Rose is in the dark and her slow uptake on events is increasingly frustrating.
Unfortunately this is one of several elements that don’t hang together satisfyingly in Rabid which over the course of its running time throws up many interesting ideas but never really follows through on any of them.
After the peculiar procedure Rose’s life seems to be better than ever as people comment on how radiant and ravishing she now looks and she becomes more creative finally gaining the attention of top designer Gunther (Mackenzie Gray from Legion) who wants her dress to close his upcoming fashion show. Unlike the excellent and hilarious Santa Clarita Diet this concept of a horrifying transformation into a cannibalistic monster actually making your life better isn’t really explored and instead Rose is a classic horror victim made to suffer and pay for her dreams and hopes.
Opposed to this an exploration of Rose as frenzied aggressor rather than passive passenger to the inhuman alterations inside her could have been fascinating as would have a further delve into the concepts of beauty, vegetarianism, the fashion industry, sexuality and gender politics all of which Rabid touches on but never explores properly.
Unlike Norbert Keil’s 2017 film Replace, 2016’s Viral and several other surgical or outbreak horrors which tackled many of the issues mentioned with aplomb Rabid is a very well-made but generic horror film that doesn’t seem to travel any new ground.
There is nothing wrong with that of course and many viewers will enjoy the experience as the Soska Sisters are skilled movie makers but as displayed in the dark and disturbing climax Rabid really had the potential to be a powerful horror film that took a real bite out of some serious subjects and I for one am disappointed it didn’t.