The Definitive Rabid From Arrow Films

So, Arrow had a little trouble with their release of David Cronenberg's commercial debut, Shivers, what with TIFF remastering a cut version of the film and David himself approving it without apparently looking at it. But they're fixing it (gotta love it when these companies do the right thing by their fans), and eventually they'll be reissuing their loaded special edition blu-ray with a proper uncut transfer which is finally here! In the meantime, they created a similarly packed special edition of Cronenberg's follow-up feature, Rabid, which happily is not cut or otherwise problematic. In fact, it's pretty great. So while we wait for that Shivers fix, let's take some time to appreciate Arrow's Rabid.

Rabid is in a lot of ways very much like Shivers: a weirdly sexual, medically induced form of slimy body horror turns into a contagious disease that makes people lose control and become homicidal. But this one's bigger in scope - where Shivers was confined to one apartment building, the chaos in Rabid spreads throughout the entire city of Montreal. It also stands apart for being the one straight film by the quite famous model/ porn star Marilyn Chambers. And she's quite good here; it's a little surprising she didn't go on to more regular acting work. Anyway, the whole film is much more intelligent and gripping than its description makes it sound like it has any right to be. And it's thanks almost entirely to David Cronenberg who really knows how to tell this bizarre yet curiously relatable story.
So Rabid got a very healthy 2015 upgrade in the UK with this new blu-ray, but we don't have to look at it in a vacuum. I've also got the 2004 US special edition DVD from Somerville House, which was the best release going for a long time, Metrodome's disc in the UK, which I used to own, was a better, anamorphic picture, but it was cut. Oh, and Arrow's release is a blu-ray/ DVD combo pack, so we can throw their DVD into the mic for good measure.
Arrow's 2015 blu on top; Somerville's 2004 DVD mid, and Arrow's 2015 DVD bottom.
So naturally, the Arrow DVD and blu have pretty much identical transfers except one is in HD and one is in SD and the blu is a bit greener, and you have to look pretty close to see the difference. ...One day, one of these combo packs is gonna surprise us and be radically different, but not today. But the Somerville sure looks different, huh? And worse? Now, the Somerville disc isn't even anamorphic, so there's that. And it has the natural SD disadvantage. But there's also a lot of intermittent ghosting in there - I guess it came from a PAL source? It's also the same basic 1.78:1 framing, but zoomed in closer so there's less picture around all four edges. And the colors are pretty different; though there it's hard to say which is better. The Somerville looks a little more natural, but Cronenberg doesn't seem to prefer natural in most cases. But clearly Arrow has blown this old disc out of the water in all other respects: detail, naturally rendered film grain, compression (it's a dual-layer disc, of course).
Extras-wise, it's another big win. First of all, I'm happy to report all of the extras from the DVD special edition has been ported over, so no reason to hang onto your old copies. Cronenberg's commentary, which is excellent, and his video interview both made the journey, along with the theatrical trailer.

But there's a whole bunch of new stuff, too. There's a second audio commentary, by William Beard, who wrote a book on Cronenberg. He's quite well prepared and has plenty to say, another very good commentary. Then there are interviews with producer Ivan Reitman and Don Carmody of Cinepix, both of which are very fun and insightful. And there's another good interview with Joe Blasco, which is really good but also really short. Also, David Cronenberg's episode of The Directors, a 50+ minute retrospective of his career with a lot of big name stars (including Chambers), is included. It's turned up on a couple of Cronenberg's releases, so if you're like me, you've already got it on your Scanners DVD or something else - or maybe you've even got it on its stand-alone DVD, since it was originally released separately. But it's quite good, and a number of fans probably haven't already got it, so it's great they get another opportunity.
Than there's another featurette on Rabid and Cinepix, which is mostly pretty redundant, where one woman mostly tells us things we already heard on the other features... though we do get a bit more from Biasco as well. Really, my only complaint about the extras, which are otherwise excellent, is the redundancy. You'll hear certain anecdotes, like how Cinepix started in softcore porn or how Marilyn Chambers was the Ivory Snow soap girl, which claimed to be 99 44/100ths % pure, literally four or more times. I do Highrise Productions, who assembled these extras, would've been judicious about cutting out repeated information, because it start to feel like a bit of a chore by the third time they come around.

The original mono audio track gets a nice boost, too, naturally, in lossless HD. And Arrow has thrown in an isolated music track as well, and optional English subs. We do miss out on the French dub from the DVD, including the extras (no, Cronenberg doesn't do the commentary in French; another man recites it all for him on that track), but I don't think that's really much of a loss. The DVD had a nice little 2-page insert with notes, but Arrow trumps that, too, with a 40+ page booklet, including an interview with Marilyn Chambers. And for hardcore collectors, there's a steelbook edition available as well; but me, I like the reversible cover art with the original poster art, as you see above.
There is no question this is the superior, definitive edition of Rabid. Nothing else even comes close. This isn't one of those cases to just be happy with your old DVD; it's time to replace it. And I think it's safe to assume that, once the Shivers replacement discs come out, it'll be the case with that film, too. First class, all around.

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