We’re never going to get away with the endless stream of remakes when it comes to horror classics. Nostalgia befuddles the senses and muddles the brain, making us susceptible to manipulation as producers use our favorite old ideas to draw us in and claim our ten-dollars-per-matinee. Once in a while we get something more fascinating, fare akin to Luca Guadagnino’s Radiohead-esque cover version of Suspiria, but that’s a rarity. Welp…we’ve done it again with Jen and Sylvia Soska’s remake of David Cronenberg’s Rabid.
The basics here are the same. Rose (Laura Vandervoort) gets into a motorcycle accident after being humiliated by her bestie/adopted sister Chelsea (Hanneke Talbot) and pretty fashion photographer Brad (Ben Hollingsworth) and is wildly disfigured. A specialized clinic doctor (Ted Atherton) offers her an experimental treatment and she awakens transformed on the outside as well as inside in this fucked-up nightmare world of a body horror film.
Here’s where things start to feel different as the Soska sisters take Cronenberg’s fun zombie-esque romp and run rabid with it (ha, see what I did there?). At times faithful, at times divergent, and at times feeling like a new version of The Neon Demon, this remake is a giddily goofy and grotesque update on one of our most beloved independent horror films. This version didn’t cast a porn star like Cronenberg’s original, but it feels pornographic in the way it slavishly commits to the sensibilities of a gorehound on crack with the budget of…well, a gorehound on crack. The vivid imagery lends a suggestion of genius without the strong script to back it up, but everything winds up being so much fun that it’s hard to care. Whether it’s the gals being stodgily terse with each other in moments of faux-tension or Hollingsworth’s unnecessarily shredded physique strutted before the camera, each shot feels like its aim is to turn us on. Even the violent scenes contain the famous phallic stinger that comes in and out of a vaginal opening that appears under the arm. This whole thing is ridiculous, silly, and absolutely wonderful in its execution of things tried, true, and new.
That’s not to say it’s perfect. Remaking a classic is difficult and sometimes your pacing can get off, particularly when trying to mix homage and honoring your era. The Soskas do a fabulous job but get lost a little here and there. I’m not one to state that we need fewer kills but maybe they stepped too far into the realm of vitriol and not enough into violence, mistaking blood splattered on a wall for a meaningful image.
A lot of the criticism that will be leveled toward this will be laden with cliches I can already hear in the back of my head. “It’s unnecessary,” some will cry. Of-goddamned-course it is, what remake of a classic film is actually needed? “It didn’t do enough new,” some will cry. There’s nothing new, but taking the time to combine this with The Neon Demon lends a new layer to it and gives the character of Rose some agency that she would otherwise be sorely lacking. “It’s not Cronenberg,” others will say. I’m psyched about that. This isn’t the original, it’s a cover-version that takes the bare bones of that idea and creates something different if not necessarily new. Plus it contains a wonderful visual reference to Dead Ringers, who wouldn’t be into that? The Soska sisters pulled it off and it’s a damn shame that this is proving so difficult for most to see because it’s absolutely worth the time and effort it takes to get to it.
Rabid will be available in select theaters, as well as streaming and on-demand, on December 13th. Mark your calendars accordingly.