Timid, mousy designer Rose (Laura Vandervoort) dreams of taking the glamourous fashion world by storm but in an arena where looks and confidence seems to count for more than talent, Rose is lacking the necessary weapons, her designs rubbished by her employer, prestigious fashion designer Gunter (Mackenzie Gray) and she’s bullied by the bitchy mean girls at work.

Feeling humiliated after discovering childhood friend and model Chelsea (Hanneke Talbot) has set her up with hunky fashion photographer Brad (Benjamin Hollingsworth), Rose storms out of a trendy fashion party and straight into the path of an oncoming truck. Hideously disfigured by the accident and lucky to be alive, Rose receives a radical new, experimental stem cell treatment that rebuilds her shattered face and leaves her feeling sexier, stronger and more creative than before, blossoming into the beautiful, confident woman she’s always wanted to be, suddenly taken seriously at work and desired by men.

But as her dreams seem to be coming true, Rose is plagued by the side effects of her surgery; stomach pains, constant hunger, rampant libido, blackouts, vivid and hallucinatory violent dreams, a desire to drink blood…and the super-protein drink supplied by her doctors just doesn’t seem to be helping. As Rose fears for her sanity an explosion of violence grips the city as an epidemic of a strain of super-rabies burns through the population…

Just as every year at FrightFest there’s a film that grabs me and turns me into a raving evangelist spreading the good word, every year there’s also a hotly anticipated film that fails to deliver, that disappoints, worse than that, it bores. This year, that film was the Soska Sisters’ pedestrian, thumpingly obvious and profoundly unerotic remake of David Cronenberg’s 1977 classic Rabid.

Full disclosure; I’m a fan of the Soskas. I loved American Mary and if I stumble across Dead Hooker in a Trunk playing in the middle of the night on the Horror Channel, I will sit up to three in the morning watching it on a school night. Rabid was the film I was most eagerly to see when this year’s FrightFest programme was announced. I’ve never been a huge fan of Cronenberg (his masterful version of Stephen King’s The Dead Zone aside) and find his films too cold, too clinical, too uninvolving, so the idea of the Soskas remaking Rabid immediately excited me, the drip-fed images and glossy trailer stoking my anticipation.

And yet, the film itself is remarkably soulless, an unimaginative hotchpotch of other filmmakers’ visions, with constant tired visual shout-outs to Cronenberg’s entire oeuvre as well as to Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon, while the Soska’s burlesque mascot Tristan Risk contributes a cameo as a doomed nurse that feels like it may have wandered in from a Carry On film. The script is just plain bad with a final act reveal that genuinely made me bark with laughter and it all feels decidedly, well, cheap, the supposed citywide epidemic that threatens humanity reduced to a couple of models biting some fashionistas during a catwalk show. Metaphor, right? Meanwhile, the performances, with the exception of a wonderful Stephen McHattie as a surgeon whose bedside manner leaves a lot to be desired, are almost uniformly bland and uninvolving, Laura Vandervoort a yawning charisma-free, sexless chasm at the film’s centre – she’s supposed to be a libidinous creature of appetite driven by a lust for sex and blood, spreading disease through her unlucky sexual partners yet, regardless of whether she’s devouring a raw steak or a passing misogynist, Vandervoort just feels vacant while the film’s heavy handed satire of the fashion industry is as unsubtle as her lovingly rendered facial wounds – Rabid’s undisputed money shot – which the Twisted Twins deploy regularly with diminishing returns.

Now, I can be pretty anal. For me God is always in the details; I’ll swallow the biggest lie if you can convince me of the smallest detail. So, every time the Soskas unbandage Vandervoort’s face for a pointless and gratuitous money shot of her raw gaping wounds, as everyone else in the audience shuddered and shivered and gasped, I felt first unmoved then increasingly annoyed. Have none of these people heard of even rudimentary wound care protocols? There’s a reason why unsterilised clothes and hands and loose ponytails are prevented from brushing and dipping open wounds, even if it’s only that it prevents your heroine dying from necrotising fasciitis long before she’s able to infect Toronto with rabies. But kudos to the girls themselves for being bold enough to cast themselves as a convincing pair of coke-snorting, trash-talking, mean girls.

Ultimately, the most rabid element of Rabid is not it’s bloodlusting virus victims but the Soska’s legions of fans who whooped and hollered and cheered and gasped at every bad joke and every gory attack, who then queued to have their photos taken with the girls, their posters signed. And the Soskas did spend time with every fan, signing and posing and working the crowd, their infectious fangirl enthusiasm more virulent than their film’s epidemic. But unless they attend every future screening like horror cheerleaders, it’s hard to see Rabid finding much of a wider audience.

Arrow Video Frightfest Review: Rabid
2.0Overall Score
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