Remakes No One Asked For Part Two: Rabid

Movie posters for Rabid

The Soska Sister’s remake of David Cronenberg’s cult classic Rabid is filled with shout outs to past Cronenberg movies. But is it enough to make a good movie?

Not even famed director David Cronenberg is safe from the remake madness. One of his first features was the plastic surgery gone wrong movie Rabid. Now more than forty years after its release the Soska Sisters have seen fit to release their remake of the Cronenberg cult classic.

Cronenberg’s Rabid is about Rose, played by porn star Marilyn Chambers, who is saved by Dr. Keloid after she and her boyfriend are in a motorcycle accident. The boyfriend, Hart Reed, is quickly released from the hospital while Rose stays behind to heal. While at the hospital Keloid performs an experimental plastic surgery procedure which restores Rose to her former beauty.

Rose seduces in Rabid
There’s a lot of skin in Rabid

Dr. Keloid tells his business partner that he doesn’t want to become the “Colonel Sanders of plastic surgery.” However, no one is turning away clients. Plastic surgery may not have been the craze in the 70s as it would become in the 80s, but Cronenberg was ahead of the curve on the craze and the health risks involved.

The experimental procedure turns Rose into a creature who only wants to drink blood. Creature may not be the right word for what Rose is becoming. Yes, she does have a mouth tentacle coming out of her armpit, but creature would imply she’s become hideous. Rose stays beautiful through the entire movie.

A body found in a freezer in Rabid

Rose escapes from the hospital infecting people as she travels to Montreal. The virus, which the movie doctors from the WHO guarantee is not rabies, spreads throughout the city. The virus spreads quickly in movie time, but it feels genuine. While things are happening in the foreground Cronenberg slips small details showing people complaining of being sick or not feeling well into the background. Rose isn’t even immune from the creatures she has created. At the end of the movie her body is tossed in the back of a garbage truck. There doesn’t seem to be a stop to the virus.

It’s not easy to see what the Soska Sisters are trying to do with their remake of Rabid. Are they making a commentary on beauty, a commentary on the fashion scene or, even worse, did they remake a movie just for the sake of remaking a movie?

Rose looks in the mirror after her accident

Laura Vandervoort (Smallville), who’s not unattractive by any stretch of the imagination even though that is exactly what we’re supposed to believe, is a wannabe fashion designer slaving away for an unappreciative boss played by Mackenzie Gray (Legion). It’s The Devil Wears Prada minus Meryl Streep’s acting and Anne Hathaway’s charm.

Things don’t get much better after Rose (Vandervoot) is run over by a motorcycle. It’s the excuse to get Rose to Dr. William Burroughs’s, as in William S. Burroughs whose Naked Lunch novel Cronenburg adapted for the screen in 1991, clinic where an experimental plastic surgery procedure will restore Rose’s beauty. As soon as Rose recovers from her surgery she gets the attention of her boss and a fashion line of her own. So maybe it is The Devil Wears Prada, but with a lot of blood.

a fashion show in Rabid
Edgy fashion is edgy

True to the original after the experiment Rose only wants to drink blood. This Rose also infects the people she dines on and they, in turn, infect other people. Unlike the original when we hear there’s an epidemic in the city it seems to have happened between scenes. Cronenberg had a slow build up to martial law while managing to still have the character’s plot lines move through the story. 

What would a movie about a virus be without the obligatory hospital scene so the doctor can spell out everything for the audience? Dr. Riley, a doctor from the WHO, explains to a random nurse that what they’re seeing is “super rabies.” His explanation is going on at the same time obviously sick people are leaning against walls and staggering down hallways. It would be difficult to tell if this was a hospital under siege by super rabies.

To show how serious things have become the Sisters have a crazed Santa Claus rampage through the hospital. His brief reign of terror is ended when he’s shot dead by police officers. This is an obvious shout out to the mall Santa who is accidentally shot in the original.

Doctors ready to perform plastic surgery in Rabid
A shout out to David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers

What seems like a vital part of the film is cast aside and nothing is heard from the doctor again. The disease is only briefly mentioned to tell the viewer there’s an epidemic in the city and then to let us know it has mysteriously disappeared. The disease in Cronenberg’s Rabid was taken seriously. Besides the already mentioned martial law scenes show residents having to show military police cards that they’ve been inoculated against the disease.  

The Sisters make sure to throw in a bunch of gobbledygook words like transhumanism and stem-cell research to make us think something is going on in the movie. However, it’s all a red herring. Rabid had nothing to do with the virus or plastic surgery. We finally learn the real reason Dr. Burroughs wanted Rose was so he could use her to perfect his immortality experiment. If Rabid wasn’t already on B-move level horror the immortality revelation cemented its place.

Cronenberg’s Rabid was low budget horror at its best. He didn’t sacrifice character or the story because of money constraints. The Soska Sisters, with a much larger budget and access to better special effects, made a movie that feels like it belongs on the Lifetime Network. 

Rose is trapped in a glass cage in Rabid

The question must be asked “Why remake a movie if you can’t make it better than the original?” More often than not the remake is never going to be better than the original.  It’s best not to even try a remake. Let the original keep its glory and instead of directing a remake direct an original movie. Fans will appreciate an original movie with an original idea over another failed attempt at remaking a classic. 

Check out Part One for more movies that shouldn’t have been remade.