Rabid (1977) Review

One from the to watch pile…


Film: Do I think of myself as a fan of the director David Cronenberg? Well, to be honest, I didn’t! Whenever a conversation leads into to Cronenberg territory, the film Videodrome always pops up… And THAT film I am not a fan of, but in the last week or two I have been rewatching some films of his that aren’t Videodrome. These films were eXistenZ, which Cronenberg says it is a reaction to Salman Rushdies’ persecution, his remake of The Fly, which is just amazing, and Naked Lunch, which, whilst it has its problems, I find an intriguing watch. During this rewatch frenzy, fellow To Watch Pile-r Simon (check out his action movie blog explosiveaction.com ) offered me his copies of earlier Cronenberg films, Shivers and Rabid, neither of which I have ever seen. I’m not sure how either passed me by, especially seeing as how I can remember seeing the trailer for Rabid on many films hired on VHS during the 80s.

Rabid is Cronenberg’s second feature film, and has a bit of notoriety as it stars porno actress Marilyn Chambers in the lead role. Now whilst I may have observed the ‘occasional’ pornographic film (and even reviewed things like Sexcula and Debbie Does Dallas for other sites), I haven’t ever, in my cinematic travels, seen Ms. Chambers in anything, and I have to admit I was quite struck by her presence in this: she has a lithe seventies sexiness about her that is quite breathtaking.

I thought the pixie-ish Lynn Lowrey’s appearance in Shivers couldn’t be topped: I was wrong.

Rabid tells the story of Hart (Frank Moore) and his girlfriend Rose (Marilyn Chambers) who are involved in a terrible motorcycle accident which sees Hart with a few superficial wounds, but has Rose severely injured after being stuck under the burning motorcycle. 

He wounds are quite catastrophic and she is picked up your the ambulance associated with the local plastic surgery clinic run by Doctor Keloid (Howard Ryshpan), who is an innovator of a type of surgery which involved the manipulation of human tissue so it can be used to assimilate any tissue it may be combined with.

Unfortunately for Rose, it does some thing else to her. She becomes a vampire, of sorts, who doesn’t turn her prey into vampires, but instead infects them with a form of rabies, which there can then spread through their bite.

Soon. Of course, the virus quickly spreads…

Simply, this movie is amazing. It is thematically similar to Shivers in its story of a spreading virus, but it is different enough for that not to even matter. All of Cronenberg’s themes of change and bodily transformation are present and clearly in embryo. 

The film is well performed by all the actors, and it clearly has a higher budget then that of Shivers. Special effects and make up legend Joe Blasco had his work cut out for him with the effects in this film, and Rose’s vampiric ways are nothing short of disturbing!

This is definitely a must see, and it will certainly change your opinion of the originality of a lot of the post millennial pandemic films and zombie virus films we have seen since. 

Score: *****

Format: As I stated earlier, I was lucky enough to get this film as one of the UK’s Arrow Video’s bluray steelbooks, which of course means it is Region 2. The feature runs for 91 minutes, and is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, with a mono audio. At first I didn’t appreciate just how excellent the image is, until I watched the trailer, an extra on this disc, and saw just how well it had been cleaned up in comparison

Score: *****


This disc has a bunch of pretty cool extras. 

Two different commentaries, one with Cronenberg, which he articulates every aspect of the film production and one with William Beard, author of The Artist As Monster: The Films of David Cronenberg. This second commentary explores not just this film, but many of Cronenberg’s work. Beard clearly has a deep and thorough understanding of Cronenberg.

Four interviews with Cronenberg, producer Ivan Reitman, co-producer Don Carmody and special effects artist Joe Blasco. These interviews are all fascinating a really present an interesting picture of how the film was made though for my liking, Blasco’s was a little short.

There are two documentaries: The Directors: David Cronenberg is a 60 minute episode of a series from 1999 that focused on various directors and their processes and people who worked for them. Obviously this one focuses on Cronenberg and interviews the man himself, and Holly Hunter, Peter Weller, Marilyn Chambers, Michael Ironside and others, and is a full exploration of his career up to eXistenZ. Raw, Rough and Rabid takes a look at the production Canadian company Cinepix, who released Rabid and is a fascinating look at the Canadian film business of the time.

The trailer is also one here as a special feature, and you don’t realise just how beautiful the film looks until you see just how ordinary is the video quality of the trailer. There is also a promotional gallery of various materials used to advertise the film.

This set also features a DVD presentation of the film, in standard definition as opposed to the bluray’s 1080p and a booklet containing several articles: Plastic Surgery Disaster: Rabid, The October Crisis and the Pathological Body Politic by Kier-La Janisse, A Biologically Correct Vampiress by David Cronenberg and An Interview With Marilyn Chambers by Calum Waddell, not to mention the films credits and several notes about the transfer. These are all interesting and essential reads for the Cronenberg fan.

Score: *****

WISIA: A resounding ‘Hell yeah’ from this lowly critic on the rewatchability of this pic. I just finished writing this review and I am thinking about watching it again now!


A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) review.

One from the rewatch pile…
A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

Film: For a brief period, the film company Platinum Dunes were a classic horror remake machine, giving us remakes of A Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Friday the 13th, and guess what? I really dug them! Honestly, I prefer the remake to TCM as it doesn’t contain the character ‘Franklin’ (as soon as I hear his annoying voice in the original, my brain shuts down and I have trouble enjoying any scene with him in it) and with F13, I just think of it as another sequel with a bit of an origin re-telling in it.

A Nightmare on Elm Street though, is a different kettle of fish. In the TCM and F13 films, Leatherface and Jason are like forces of nature, with very little characterisation but Freddy Krueger, and Robert Englund’s portrayal of him, is how a classic villainous characterisation should be done.

Realistically, anyone could, and did, play the roles of Jason and Leatherface (and Michael Myers for that matter) but Freddy Krueger and Robert Englund are each other’s alter ego. So how does one go about recasting someone like that?

Answer: you can’t.

The task was assigned to Jackie Earle Healey, who brilliantly played Rorschach in Watchmen, and had this been a new IP, a new franchise, he would have been brilliant/ scary/ menacing/ outstanding, but instead, his Freddy was a poor emulation of what Englund had permanently stamped on the character… No, stamps can be washed away: tattooed! Healey did try to make it his own, but the switching between cooing peadophile and dream demon sat weirdly. Also, making him say ‘the boyfriend’ line from the original immediately discounted any attempts at originality.

So, the story… I mean, you should know it, but let’s move on.

Several years ago the parents on the children of Elm Street suspected the gardener at the local preschool, Fred Krueger, and rather than go to the police, they decided to hunt him down, and kill him. Several years later, these same kids, now teens, are being haunted, and killed by his spirit in their dreams, and two of the survivors, Nancy (Rooney Mara) and Quentin (Kyle Gallner) decide to investigate the mystery of who or what is Fred Krueger… But the first thing they find is maybe their parents were wrong about him….


Now here is another issue with this film. About halfway through, the concept of Freddy NOT being a child murderer, and instead is screaming for vengeance of a wrong dealt him makes the film seem like it’s going to go somewhere completely different, but very quickly it ends up back at the same territory as the original. If it have had have chutzpah to go with that idea, it would have separated itself from the original and made viewers almost side with Freddy in his vengeance.

Instead they chickened out and that brief moment of glory was washed away.

The film does have some nice cinematography in it though, and Mara is pretty good too, though her pairing with Gallner, who has basically played the same angry teenaged victim for his entire career never sat well.

The attempt to make Freddy’s make up more like a real burn victim falls flat and is uninteresting, and in combination with the below average CGI (the scissors to the neck sequence is particularly terrible) it all makes for a pretty poor experience.

To sum up: a catastrophic wast of time. Avoid.

Score: 1/2

Format: This film was reviewed on the Australian blu-ray, though I cannot confirm if it is region B locked. The feature runs at 95 mins, and features a spectacular DTS Master Audio 5.1 score which really is deep and clear. The image is presented in 2.40:1 and is as crisp as you would expect a modern film, short on digital in a digital format. This release also came with a Bluray, DVD and digital copy of the film, so the nightmare continues on every format.

Score: *****

Extras: I love my films to have heaps of extras, and this one actually does, and they are interesting but my cynicism can’t take too much of what the filmmakers say too seriously.

Freddy Reborn: This is an incredibly amusing featurette as it clearly shows that the filmakers didn’t know the character of Freddy Krueger as well as the fanbase does. The only person that really seems to get the gravity of remaking something like ANOES is Jackie Earl Healey, though he does also relish the idea of being the ‘new’ Freddy. It really felt like a bunch of people trying to convince the rest of us that this is good idea. It’s not.

WB Maniacal Movie Mode: This is one of those in-feature extras where as you watch the movie, a window opens up and shows interviews and behind the scenes stuff. It’s a clever way to convey these elements without using interstitial of featurettes.

Focus Points: This extra is actually seven 3 minute shorts that breakdown individual parts of the creation of this film, and includes Makeup Makes The Character, Micronaps, The Hat, Practical Fire, The Sweater, The Glove and The Victims.

Additional Footage: This is two sequences removed from the film for pacing, and an alternate ending. Be thankful these scenes aren’t in there as it makes the film longer.

Score: *** 1/2

WISIA: Is it worth watching again? Put it this way, the only reason I am watching it for the second time is for you, my dear reader, and hopefully I’ll never need to watch it again. It is a travesty of the highest order.

Thunderbirds Are… Gone.

Sadly, news has just come to pass that Sylvia Anderson, known best as the voice of Lady Penelope from the cult TV show The Thunderbirds has passed away, aged 88.

We here at the To Watch Pile would like to pass along our condolences to her family, and hope that wherever her spirit flies, that she still feels the love of a gigantic fanbase who were brought up on her and her husband’s work.

Thank you, M’lady.

The Nanny Review

One from the To Watch Pile…

The Nanny 
Film: I’m not always a balls-to-the-wall, high gore horror fan, in actual fact, a lot of the time, I much prefer the slow-burn style thriller.  This leads me to enjoy some of the more older, black and white horrors, which is why I was excited to watch this Bette Davis, Hammer Horror film The Nanny.

The story is of young Joey Fane (William Dix), a ten year old boy who has spent two years in a facility for ne’er-do-well children after it seems that he accidentally killed his younger sister, Susy (Anghared Aubrey). Upon returning home from the facility, Joey is quite happy to see his mother, the faint-hearted Virginia (Wendy Craig, best known for the Tv series ‘And Mother Makes Three’/ ‘And Mother Makes Five’) and his quite strict father, Bill (James Villiers from Repulsion) but seemingly refuses to want to have anything to do with the family’s long standing ‘Nanny’ (Bette Davis, the Hollywood legend from films such as Dead Ringer and Whatever Happened To Baby Jane).

He becomes convinced that ‘Nanny’ is trying to kill him, and confides so in the 14 year old neighbour from upstairs, Bobby (Pamela Franklin from …And Soon The Darkness). Soon though, other members of the house become ill with evidence pointing to Joey poisoning them, and it would seem that perhaps he actually DOES have murderous intentions.

This film was produced and written by Jimmy Sangster, who wrote many scripts for the Hammer Horror stable, and was based on a book by Evelyn Piper. The director Seth Holt, sits high on my list of Hammer go-to guys as he directed Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb, which I love. The score was composed by Richard Rodney Bennett who also gave us the scores to such films as The Witches and Four Weddings and a Funeral.

This is a thrilling movie that is told very deliberately, and contains some great performances; especially from the youngsters involved who really had to hold this film together. The film takes place mostly in and around the apartment building that the Fane’s live in, and Holt’s direction keeps it interesting, though never too much like it is a theatre piece, which could have happened in a lesser director’s hands. Highly recommended.

Score: ****

Format: The review copy of this film was a region B bluray released by Shock in Australia. The movies goes for 93 minutes, and the audio is presented in a decent and clean 2.0 LPCM track, and the image is presented in a moderately clean 16:9 image, that is quite artefact-y with many little marks and scratches on the print, but not to the point of distraction. All in all, a nice image for a film of this vintage.

Score: ****

Extras: Unfortunately, there are no extras on this disc, which is a bummer, as surely this is an important piece of film history with its victim being a child, and other elements that possibly hadn’t been dealt with before this film which I won’t reveal here as they are somewhat spoilerific.

Score: 0

WISIA: I don’t think this film will end up on high rotation, but it is good enough to keep in any collection, especially for fans of older, less ‘Hollywood’ horror.

The To Watch Pile – An Explanation

If you are a movie collector, you’ll be familiar with these two phrases: ‘got it, haven’t watched it’ and ‘it’s in the to watch pile’. Other collectors have them as well, but the word ‘watch’ would be changed for comic collector to ‘read’ or music collectors to ‘listened’ or gamers to ‘played’… Or if you are like me, it’s all of the above!

I have a collection of movies curated since the dawn of DVD; it did start before that, but I sold/ replaced all my VHS with DVD as the new medium releases came out. My fandom comes mainly in the form of horror and exploitation films due to my parents buying me issues of Famous Monsters as a kids, and then I graduated to Fangoria when that appeared.

So I’d better introduce myself: my name is J.R. McNamara, and I guess you could say I have been a horror ‘journalist’ for over ten years. I have done over 300 reviews, mainly movies but books and comics as well, ranging across two Australian websites and have interviewed several members of the professional horror community. My reviews have appeared on the covers of movies over the world, including a Northern European release of Turkey Shoot and the current Australian release of I Spit On Your Grave and one company even used one of my reviews as the online ‘blurb’ for their web store.

As far as collecting is concerned, I am possibly a borderline hoarder. I collect movies, comics, movie posters, toys, movie magazines (mainly Rue Morgue, Horrorhound, The Dark Side and Doctor Who Monthly), movie soundtracks (on vinyl), statues and toys… Phew! I do have one particular film that I buy anything associated of it: I Spit On Your Grave, and I have multiple DVD releases, Australian Beta and VHS tapes and a movie poster from almost every country! I also probably play far too much Xbox!

The ‘To Watch Pile’ is actually a name a group of my friends who get together call ourselves. It’s a fellowship of movie fandom, and the members include Joe Smith, Stuart Jones, Michael Norman and Simon Miller (of @explosiveaction fame) whom as the blog evolves, will join me with reviews and other points of interest. Anytime a review is done by one of these guys, a footnote will be added so you can direct your eternal gratitude or venom in that person’s direction. The wish, eventually, is to combine my YouTube channel and a podcast to the site, in addition to our current Facebook presence. Also, follow me on letterboxd.com/JRMc .

Anyway, what is going to be different about our reviews? Well, firstly, I am going to be doing my reviews alternatively, with a film I’ve never watched before, off the To Watch Pile, followed by a favourite/ well-known film and then back to the other. Thrown in around these reviews will be epic news of relevance, book/ comic/ game reviews, links to the aforementioned YouTube/ podcasts or even just a purchase that I might be doing a happy dance over.

… And no, the happy dance will no be televised.

The review format is going to be like most. A score out of 5 for the film, and in the case of home releases, a score for the extras out of 5, that will be assigned separately. Also, we have some thing a little different: the WISIA index. WISIA stands for ‘Would I See It Again?’ I have found on occasion that I have an enjoyed a film, but have no desire to ever watch it again, and the WISIA index will indicate that. Loved the film, won’t see it again.

Also, the movie reviews will done in any format: cinema, VHS, DVD, Blu-Ray, Netflix…. Hell, even laserdisc if one falls across my lap, and my intention is a weekly one, though the day is yet to be determined… Probably a Monday as it gives me the weekend to watch and review.

So, I hope you enjoy the brew of movies the To Watch Pile offers you, and that you stick around!

Note: All content (c) J.R. McNamara