The Soska Sisters are back in the director’s chair after a four year absence and this time it’s a remake of David Croneneberg’s classic 1977 horror Rabid. Update finds fashion designer Rose (Laura Vandervoot) suffering an accident on her way home from a party. Her face is badly damaged and she has received severe injuries. Dr. William Burroughs (Ted Atherton) promises to heal her wounds at his clinic with an experimental stem cell treatment. It works, but there are a few disturbing side effects. Rose not only has some vivid nightmares, but the mild mannered vegetarian also starts to crave blood and meat, not to mention show violent tendencies. Even worse, any human she bites or scratches develops a mutant strain of rabies and become increasingly crazed and violent. As an epidemic spreads throughout the city, Rose tries to find out who…or what…she’s become.
Aside from directing, Jen and Sylivia Soska have written the script along with John Serge. They’ve updated the story well and have done a good job staying faithful to Cronenberg’s basic film, while taking it in their own direction, most notably in the last act. It’s one of the better remakes in a remake heavy era, one that maintains respect for the source. The film can be quite gruesome at times and there are some very disturbing moments. The FX are well done, especially in depicting Rose’s injuries and during the earlier operating sequences. The violence can be brutal, but is used sparingly, so it has impact when it comes. The last act does take things in an interesting direction, but also pays homage to Cronenberg’s penchant for body horror, while adding a Soska spin to the original story. Rabid accomplishes a lot on what appears to be a modest budget, especially when the disease spreads and the film has a strong visual style to portray it’s horrors. Also making it work very well is having a likable leading lady and sympathizing with Rose, not seeing her as a villain, is important to the story’s success. She’s never portrayed as a monster, even if she starts to believe she is one. The film is, overall, chilling and and disturbing and modernizes a forty year-old premise without losing it’s essence.
The Soska’s have a solid cast. Laura Vandervoot is really good as Rose. At first she is a meek and mild mannered woman in a cutthroat industry. After her treatment, she gains her confidence and begins wowing her prima donna boss Gunter with her work. As the side effects progress, Vandervoot gives us a very troubled and confused woman, as well as a vicious predator. We like her and have empathy for her, even when she’s on the attack. As the before mentioned Gunter, Mackenzie Gray delivers the designer exactly as one would expect someone like him to behave. He’s not a villain, just extremely demanding and not above humiliating those who he feels failed him. Ted Atherton is good as Dr. William Burroughs. He doesn’t really turn into a true villain till the last act, but at first seems like a man legitimately wanting to help Rose and provide advancements in medicine. When he reveals his inner Frankenstein, Atherton is a solid mad scientist and his villainous turn keeps any blame off the tragic Rose, who needs to remain sympathetic. Rounding out is Hanneke Talbot as Rose’s friend and one of the firm’s models and Ben Hollingsworth as a fashion photographer who has a personal interest in Rose. The Soska’s are wrestling fans, so guest appearances by former WWE Superstars Phil “CM Punk” Brooks and A.J. “A.J. Lee” Mendez are no surprise, nor is a cameo from the Twisted Twins themselves.
Rabid may not be a classic in itself, but does successfully put a contemporary spin on one. It’s good to see the Soska’s back in the director’s chair (chairs?) and back in horror, as their last film Vendetta was a violent prison/revenge drama that didn’t quite feel like a right fit for the duo. Their take on Cronenberg’s classic pays proper homage and respect, but also updates the story and does a few new things with it. It’s not quite as starkly original as their American Mary, but is still a gory, disturbing thriller that proves The Soska’s are here to stay.