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First come the Shivers… then, you turn RABID! Celebrated Canadian cult auteur David Cronenberg (The Fly, Videodrome) followed up Shivers with this tense and gory thriller which expands upon the venereal disease theme of that film, this time unleashing it on the whole of downtown Montreal – with terrifying consequences.

When beautiful Rose (adult film star Marilyn Chambers) is badly injured in a motorcycle crash, Dr. Keloid, who is in the process of developing a revolutionary new type of skin-graft, seizes the opportunity to test out his as yet unproven methods. The surgery appears successful and Rose seems restored to full health. But all is not as it should be – Rose has been transformed into a contagious blood-sucker, endowed with a bizarre, needle-like protrusion in her armpit with which she drains the blood from those unfortunate enough to be in her vicinity.

An important landmark in the early career of Cronenberg, Rabid sees the director returning to the viral theme of his earlier work but on a much larger (and more assured) scale – where the infection has shifted from the confines of a single apartment block to the expansive shopping centres and motorways of Canada’s second largest city.


About the Transfer: Rabid appears in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 with mono 1.0 sound.

Rabid was digitally restored in High Definition by Lionsgate using materials supplied by the Toronto International Film Festival Group. All restoration work was performed at Technicolor in Toronto, Canada.

Colour grading was done on a Lustre platform with care taken to maintain the original look of the film’s theatrical release. Picture clean-up was done using PF Clean and manual correction tools.

Sound was sourced from the best available elements and were restored to improve audio issues such as clicks, pops and audible hiss. A stereo track was output to synchronise with the picture elements.

Opening and closing credits were adjusted to compensate for framing and care was taken to preserve the original font style of the film.

Video


The visual quality of Rabid's opening moments don't inspire much confidence, marred as they are by dirt and grime. Thankfully things improve quickly after the opening motorcycle sequence, revealing a gritty but impressive image that appears to deliver a relatively faithful approximation of the original theatrical experience (so much as I can tell from the limited behind-the-scenes material available on the Internet). Of course one can’t escape the fact that no amount of restoration was ever going to make for some sort of ugly duckling to swan metamorphosis, but as with Cronenberg’s own Shivers this is undoubtedly the best the film has ever looked on a home format.

The image presents impressive detail all things considered, with varying amounts of natural grain on show throughout. The seventies colour palette consists of residential interiors decorated with lots of unappealing browns and oranges, while scenes that take place in the clinic, underground stations and shopping malls are all sterile whites and harsh strip lighting. Still, the occasional splash of colour can be seen in the form of some nice, bright primaries, usually greens and reds. Blacks vary in their depth, with some scenes looking incredibly inky to the point where they'll tax even the best displays. Indeed, numerous Internet forums are aflutter with mention of the dreaded ‘crush’, but while the image does appear quite ‘contrasty’ at times I didn’t feel that I was missing out on any important information in the darker areas of the screen. On the negative side of things there are a few visual anomalies in the form of banding and vertical lines, which are fairly noticeable but not terribly distracting. Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised with the presentation here and it looks better in motion than perhaps the screen captures might suggest.

Audio


I don't have too much to say about the LPCM 1.0 mono soundtrack. It's an unremarkable affair constrained by the limitations of the original audio, but it gets the job done without any major technical issues. There are no obvious pops or clicks; no hiss or crackle; no unexpected drop-outs... Although there isn’t a lot of depth to the proceedings dialogue, effects and score are rendered cleanly for the most part, belying the budgetary restrictions of the aging elements. It's true that I have no frame of reference, what with this being my first viewing, but I can't imagine that any of Rabid’s VHS and DVD releases sounded anywhere near as good as this Blu-ray does. In my opinion that’s all you can really ask for from a high-definition upgrade.

Extras


Another Arrow release, yet another solid collection of bonus material. Here’s what you can expect to find in this two disc set:

  • Audio Commentary with Writer-Director David Cronenberg
  • Audio Commentary with William Beard, Author of The Artist as Monster: The Cinema of David Cronenberg
  • Isolated Music and Effects Track
  • Archive Interview with David Cronenberg
  • Brand New Interview with Executive Producer Ivan Reitman
  • Brand New Interview with Co-Producer Don Carmody
  • Make-up Memories: Joe Blasco Remembers Rabid – A short featurette in which Blasco recalls how the film’s various gruesome effects were achieved
  • Raw, Rough and Rabid: The Lacerating Legacy of Cinépix – Featurette looking back at the early years of the celebrated Canadian production company, including interviews with author Kier-La Janisse and special makeup artist Joe Blasco
  • The Directors: David Cronenberg – A 1999 documentary on the filmmaker, containing interviews with Cronenberg, Marilyn Chambers, Deborah Harry, Michael Ironside, Peter Weller and others
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Nat Marsh
  • Collector’s Booklet featuring new writing on the film by Kier-La Janisse, reprinted excerpts of Cronenberg on Cronenberg and more, illustrated with original archive stills and posters.
  • DVD Copy

Overall


As with Shivers before it, this Blu-ray release marked my first viewing of this particular Cronenberg feature. It’s fair to say that it treads similar ground to its predecessor, expanding upon its themes while offering slightly elevated production values and more assured direction. Again, it’s not up there with my favourite Cronenberg pictures like The Fly, but it’s always interesting and the foundations of his later works are plain to see.

Technically there’s little to fault with this release, unless you're in the mood to be very picky. The visuals are most pleasing save for a few film artefacts here and there, and while I can understand some of the criticism of the black levels I’ve read on other websites I didn’t have a problem with them. Audio is solid, if limited by design, while the bonus content is really quite good. There’s a great selection of material ranging from a pair of audio commentaries, a number of vintage and contemporary interviews, an isolated music and effects track, two documentaries and promotional content. The commentaries are a little on the dry side, but packed full of interesting titbits of information, while the interviews offer a varied selection of participants and vary in length from just a few minutes to over twenty. Arguably the most interesting material is to be found in the documentaries, which provide background on the production company behind the film and a lengthy overview of Cronenberg’s career respectively, so if you’re a Rabid fan of the director's work you shouldn’t hesitate to pick this release up.

* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.

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