Syrup Maple Carnage is a monthly series in which Bloody Eggesing dissects the themes, conventions and contributions of new and classic Canadian horror films.
In the last part of the Maple Syrup Massacre we saw David Kronenberg pave the way for genre films in Canada, the relay that Vincenzo Natalie finally shot with Cuba in the late nineties. Consider this piece as an introduction, because we return to the sponsor of the Canadian genre to discuss the sequel to Kronenberg in Terrible Crack, Madness 1977.
In a way, Rabid feels that Kronenberg is pointing the finger at elitist and, by extension, Canadian public opinion (whose outrage has fuelled the famous chicken field debate). Rabid is not only another unsubstantiated horror film about a viral infection, but the protagonist is none other than the famous American porn star Marilyn Chambers. When Kronenberg accompanied his debut as a director, he almost begged to disagree with his sophomore.
None of this suggests that Rabid is not the best film. In the early work of the famous author Body Horror he is rather neglected in favour of big names like Die Brut, Videodrome and Die Fliege, but Rabid is in fact a wonderful continuation of the personal and thematic interests Kronenberg first explored in the Terrible Goose Pictures.
The online summary of the story is often misleading: Critics mainly focus on Chambers’ character, Rose, because the actress has a bad reputation in real life and because the character provokes a wave of movies. The reality, however, is that Rabid is not so much a unique character, but rather an unsuccessful public reaction to a crisis (a warning against unbridled parallels with the reality of our current lives).
In the beginning, Rabida Rose and her friend Hart Reed (Frank Moore) were involved in a motorcycle accident near Keloid Private Hospital, named after its founder, Dr. Dan Keloid (Howard Rispan). Heart’s arm is broken, but Rose is badly injured and needs experimental surgery to save her life. Shortly after, Rose – in a kind of hunger fugue – starts attacking and sucking the blood of strangers with a phallic sting in a vaginal slit in her armpit. Their victims develop rabie-like symptoms, go into a coma and die, but not before they attack, bite and infect others. So the disease begins to spread uncontrollably, as the reports, quarantines and checkpoints throughout the film show, and there is no shortage of public attacks.
Like Shevers, Rabid is naturally interested in the physical (and often sexual) nature of the virus transmission. To quench her thirst for blood, Rose is often hugged or pulled by the victims, and the physical struggle when she inevitably meets them (with her double-cut appendix) is very similar to coitus. This is a classic if not known Kronenberg territory: mad scientists pushing the boundaries of technology/medical engineering and horrific body modifications that sow death and destruction.
What’s more Canadian than weird sex?
However, unlike Shivers, Kronenberg is less interested in Rabid’s characters than in the social crisis. While the Tremor Chronicle is primarily that of the aggressor/resident, many of whom are considered sexually readable, the Crazy Chronicle of Societal Disintegration is normal to chaotic, emphasizing the lack of preparedness of all levels of government and individuals.
This can be interpreted as a reminder of the Trudeau government (Pierre Elliott) that started around October when members of an extremist political group known as the Front de libération du Québec (FLC) kidnapped the British Trade Commissioner James Cross and the Minister of Immigration and Labour Pierre Laport. Laport was eventually killed and Prime Minister Trudeau finally invoked the Military Act, which led to the arrest and detention of 450 civilians without charge. This is probably one of the darkest chapters in Canadian political history.
Although it is tempting to read Rosa Chambers as a figure for the crisis itself (or even the American threat to Canadian society), the reality is that although Rosa is zero tolerance, she is first and foremost a victim herself. Unlike the crazy remake of 2019, Rose 1977 is an involuntary scientific experiment that failed. She did not consent to the surgery, which her boyfriend, Dr. Keloyd, and his team took for granted on her unconscious body.
Even though Rosa attacks and infects others throughout the film, her body behaves as if it were her own. This story reaches its climax when Rose accidentally dies by suicide in a deceitful attempt to prove to Hart that she is not responsible for the spread of the virus by locking herself in her apartment with the man she recently attacked. At this point, when Hart begs Rose to flee before she is absorbed, Kronenberg briefly suggests that his human characters and their drama at the microphone are really close to his heart, but in reality it is the last scene that confirms his sinister nihilistic thesis. Rosa’s body was taken to the garden and picked up by a stray dog waiting to be picked up by garbage collectors in protective suits who continue to dispose of her body as garbage.
Rose thus embodies the classic dualism of Kronenberg’s early female figures: as described by William Beard in his chapter on the film The Painter as a Monster : David Kronenberg’s film Rose is both a fantasized object of desire and a beautiful victim of men and institutions. This partly corresponds to the gender characteristics discussed in the first report of this series about the hinterland, where Canadian women have more freedom of action than their male counterparts. This is also demonstrated by the character of Hart, who, despite his efforts, strictly adheres to the characteristics of the Canadian men: incapable of correcting the situation.
Despite the recent real events that robbed the film of its escape elements, Rabid remains both an emblem of Canadian cinema and a prototype of the Kroonberg. In 1977, the author of the genre improved his cinematic skills and his ability to tell stories by moving on to more sophisticated productions, but the themes and archetypes of the characters explored here (and the goosebumps on his skin) would dominate his later works such as Brod, Videodrome, Dead Chimes and Fly.
In hindsight, Rabid may sometimes be a bit dirty, but it was an important step in the development of Kronenberg and an important step that helped to set up a film genre in Canada.
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