Rabid (1977)

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  • Writer: David Cronenberg
  • Director: David Cronenberg
  • Starring: Marilyn Chambers, Joe Silver, Frank Moore
  • Medium: Shudder (Streaming)

Synopsis

After a motorcycle accident (conveniently right outside a plastic surgery center), Rose (Marilyn Chambers) is in a coma, and her injuries are worked on by Dr Keloid (Howard Ryshpan). When she wakes up, she has an unexplained mouth in her left arm pit, which is thirsty for blood. Everyone who gets bit turns rabid and seeks out other victims, creating an epidemic in Montreal.

Review

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Marilyn Chambers is on the phone – she wants to start making mainstream movies

David Cronenberg’s early work is a good view into what was to come with his engagingly weird imagery. Like ShiversRabid has a sexual undertone that leads to the outbreak that puts the city in peril. In tone, it acts like a sequel to Shivers, even though the stories are different. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Shivers, but, to me, this film seems a little more polished. Then again, that just may be the long layoff since watching Shivers, a movie I wanted to like more than what I did. This film, I had no expectations going in, so maybe that helped me like it a little more.

Marilyn Chambers was looking for a mainstream movie after working in porn. Looking into it, Cronenberg originally wanted Sissy Spacek for the role. I didn’t think Spacek would have been a good choice, but, then, it got me thinking. Maybe Cronenberg did not intend for the sexual undertones in this film. Maybe Chambers, with her porn star notoriety and natural sexual appeal, brought that into the movie. On second thought, the arm pit monster does appear to come out of a vagina. With the sexual tones, I doubt that was actually a coincidence.

The joke is always about porn and soap opera actors not being able to make the leap to feature films, but I thought Chambers actually did a pretty good job, even if much of the non-horror pieces were a bit melodramatic. There are also very realistic actors supporting her, especially Joe Silver as the business partner behind the plastic surgery center and Frank Moore as Rose’s boyfriend. I felt the bit players all did their roles quite well, too.

A part of frustration for some viewers will be the appearance of the arm pit monster. Why did it appear? No one knows, and the movie never attempts to theorize about it. The closest is when Dr Keloid examines Rose and asks if it hurts. It doesn’t. Soon after, he is victimized. Things just happen, and it spreads.

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The Rabid Zombie attack

Kind of like the last film I watched, Blood Car, the scenario gets a bit repetitive, and you wonder how close to the end you are getting. However, for me, it took longer to get to that repetitive feel in this movie (probably because the characters or the actors playing them were more engaging), and, when the government tries to make things right, I had not yet checked out, like I had with the other film.

Whether or not you understand what is happening with this outbreak, the film normalizes everything. Sure, I don’t know what the arm pit monster is all about, but, once accepted as this film’s reality, everything progresses in a logical manner, so it is pretty easy to follow. There is not too much in effects work needed. The monster looks fine. Everything else is pretty much just makeup work and alka seltzer foaming out of people’s mouths. Without the extravagant effects, it kept the story real and believable.

Film Rating: 7 Rapid Zombies out of 10 | Would like to watch back-to-back with Shivers to see how the two compare.

Night of the Creeps (1986)

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  • Writer:  Fred Dekker
  • Director: Fred Dekker
  • Starring: Jason Lively, Tom Atkins, Steve Marshall, Jill Whitlow
  • Medium: SHUDDER (Streaming)

Synopsis

Alien slugs land on Earth, turning the people they inhabit into zombified “Creeps.” Their human host kills a couple, and cop, Ray Cameron, stops the killing. The killer is frozen (can’t remember why OR if they ever said why he was frozen). Many years later, a couple “nerds” try joining a fraternity (Chris wants to join to impress a girl) and, in the midst of a fraternity prank, unfreeze the killer, unleashing the alien slugs. It’s up to an aged Ray Cameron, Chris, JC (Chris’ friend), and Cynthia (object of Chris’ desire) to save the day.

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Best Friends: JC (Steve Marshall) and Chris (Jason Lively)

Review

Well, I believe this was a rental back in the day, and my friend and I loved it. Can the goofy likings of a teenager hold over when an old fart re-watches it so many years later? Quite simply, the answer is yes. This wasn’t the first time I had seen the movie since my original watching as a teen. Whenever I can find this one, I will give it a watch.

This film, to me, embodies why 80s horror was so great. It’s a horror-comedy. The comedy isn’t making fun of horror films. It’s just a funny movie that also happens to be a horror film (like Shaun of the Dead). It builds characters that you actually like. It throws in a scene that touches the heart. It has everything you could ask for from this genre.

The story is simple. Aliens inhabit humans, and inhabited humans try to kill uninhabited humans. This movie isn’t like a “body snatches” type of movie where you don’t know who has been affected. Those that are affected look and act like zombies. The host is dead and gets killed. The only problem is that the slugs escape and look for their next body. There’s a touching conclusion to the events. Aside from the horror piece, you have the side-stories of the old cop, the “nerd” pining for the beautiful girl, and the strong friendship.

The actors do a wonderful job. Right. No Oscars given, but everyone performs like you’d expect and even elevates the characters. Tom Atkins is wonderful as the old cop. He is a bad ass and ends up teaming up with the kids after he is brought onto the case when the corpse from (I think it was the 50s or 60s) is unfrozen. He is pretty much an asshole, answers the phone with a pessimistic “Thrill me” greeting, but has a heart of gold. Jason Lively does an excellent job as the main “nerd,” who embraces the hero role that he is thrust into. Jill Whitlow is likable as the beautiful, popular girl who teams up with Chris. Steve Marshall gives possibly the best performance (or maybe just had the best character), as Chris’ best friend. He is on crutches because his legs cannot support him. He offers the most heart-warming scene by way of an audio cassette. He is the one that pushes his friend along and assists him to meet his goals, even if, deep down, he would rather not have his friend succeed.

The effects are dated. The make-up itself is done well, but the appliances when the human hosts are shot or split open are obvious effects pieces. When creating a horror-comedy, the effects not being on par with what WETA can do works well with the proceedings and does not take away from the film.

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Thrill Me: Tom Atkins as Ray Cameron

Despite its goofy premise and comedy and lots of horror references (different character names are revealed to be Raimi, Landis, etc.), they are not afraid to put in a serious scene or build a little character. I don’t know. Seems like that balance is sorely missing when I watch films trying to fall into this vein nowadays. Maybe it’s always been a tough balance to achieve.

Film Rating: 8 Banshees out of 10 | If it’s on your streaming service, give it a watch. It’s well worth it.

Night of the Living Dead (1990)

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  • Writers: John A. Russo, George A. Romero
  • Director: Tom Savini
  • Starring: Tony Todd, Patricia Tallman, Tom Towles, Bill Moseley
  • Medium: SHUDDER (Streaming)

 

Synopsis

A re-telling of the 1968 classic. The dead suddenly start walking, and they are attacking and then feeding on any humans they can. The one benefit is that the zombies are slow and weak. The biggest problem is that their numbers keep growing larger.

Barbara and her brother are at a cemetery when they are attacked. Barbara escapes, but her brother does not make it out alive. Barbara finds an empty house for shelter and is soon joined by Ben, who is in the same boat. Eventually, they find out a couple families are holed up in the cellar. They must battle the zombies and each other to try to make it through the night.

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Tony Todd as Ben, trying to fight back a zombie

 

Review

I thought I remembered renting this back in the day shortly after it hit home video and don’t remember really thinking much one way or the other. I liked the original but just glossed over this one. Throughout the years, Night of the Living Dead (1968) grew on me more and more, and the tension is just amazing. I wanted to give the remake another shot and finally found it available through SHUDDER. I was doing my best to watch this movie on its own merits and stop comparing it to the original, but, really, can anyone get the source material purged from their memory before watching a remake?

With make-up effects maestro Tom Savini helming this film from the director’s chair, I expected some great effects and was not disappointed. With the film being in color, the effects could not be hidden in the shadows of black-and-white film. The zombies really seemed to be highlighted in this movie and with good reason. The blood, the decay – all done very well.

The story also takes some interesting turns thanks to some revisions by screenwriter (and original director) George A. Romero. He took the original script by himself and John A. Russo and fashioned it for a new generation. Whereas the original had a black lead (really unheard of in horror at the time), the focus shifts a little more towards Barbara this time, although Ben is still the driving force to try to save the group. Although the role of Ben was not written for a specific race, racial tensions were still high in 1968, and the film could be seen as a fight for racial equality. This film, with Barbara a much stronger character and hero, it could be seen as the feminist fight. It’s the only redeeming factor for a scene between her and Cooper towards the end of the film.

The acting is done well, with Bill Moseley doing a spot-on re-creation of the Johnnie character, and future Candyman (1992), Tony Todd, portrays the Ben character perfectly. The other bit-players do their parts well, although Tom Towles sometimes goes a little overboard portraying Harry Cooper. The big difference in character is Barbara. Instead of a mostly catatonic character, she becomes a strong lead and is believably portrayed by Patricia Tallman. I believe she could’ve kicked my ass.

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Barbara kicking ass this time around

 

Maybe it’s my own maturation, but I think this film has aged very well, and I’m not sure why I wasn’t impressed my first time around.

Film Rating: 7.5 don’t say zombies out of 10 | I don’t see this version replacing the original in my rotation, but I don’t see waiting another 20+ years to view it again, either.