Cronenberg’s work from The Brood has gotten plenty of love in the U.S. during the DVD and blu-ray eras but his earlier work hasn’t had the same luck. Shivers and Rabid were only available for a while on DVD and until recently neither had made it over to high-definition. Thankfully, Scream Factory has broken this embargo with a new blu-ray edition that not only looks good but offers a nicely curated set of extras.
The transfer for Rabid is derived from a fresh 2K scan taken at the director’s preferred screen ratio, 1.66:1. The results have a nice, natural celluloid look to them, with the earth-toned ‘70s color scheme preserved and a much-improved level of detail. The audio for this transfer is a DTS presentation of the original mono mix and does solid work with this vintage soundtrack.
Fans who never got the old DVDs or held off on the U.K. blu-ray from Arrow will be interested to discover that the Scream Factory disc mixes bonus features from those past editions along with a few items produced especially for this set. Here’s what you can expect:
Commentary 1: this is a solo David Cronenberg track that dates back to the last U.S. DVD release. It’s an excellent scene-specific affair that covers a variety of topics: praise for Marilyn Chambers’ performance, broad thoughts on the filmmaking process, the themes and inspirations that informed the script and the excellent training his low-budget feature work provided. A must-listen for the director’s fans, particularly those who love his horror work.
Commentary 2: this pairs moderator Ken Leicht with Jill C. Nelson, who has written a few books on golden-era adult filmmaking. It focuses on the life of Chambers, including her near-misses at mainstream success, interactions with John Holmes and more. Both participants had interaction with Chambers — Nelson interviewed her and Leicht managed her when she was appearing at conventions — so they have unique anecdotes and a more interesting, personalized perspective on the arc of Chamber’s career and life.
Commentary 3: Professor and Cronenberg scholar William Beard, who provided a commentary for Scream Factory’s Dead Ringers set, returns here for another analytical track that focuses on analysis and background detail. He places the film in context of running themes of Cronenberg’s work, draws attention to his precise visuals and comments on how the film presents exploitable sexual content while simultaneously avoiding the erotic. There’s also interesting material on how the film references the 1970 Quebec uprising and the uniquely Canadian theme of “the ineffective hero.”
Susan Roman Interview (33:05): the Canadian character and voice actress enthuses about the thrill of her first film role, telling anecdotes about working with Chambers, her infamous glasses and how she found herself in the odd position of contradicting Cronenberg on one occasion. She also tells some fun stories about her work as a voice actress on the animated cult faves Heavy Metal and Rock And Rule.
David Cronenberg Interview (20:36): this is another DVD-era inclusion and it’s a gem. It’s more of a speaking engagement than an interview, with no interviewer necessary as Cronenberg gives a conversational yet highly-detailed stream of information and observations. He talks about how his controversial first film impacted his ability to get government financing, a moment of self-doubt that almost derailed the film and his gratitude to his b-movie producer bosses for the valuable lessons they taught him. He also gets into some interesting detail on his battles with critics over accusations of misogyny and promoting conformity.
Ivan Reitman Interview (12:28): a breezy chat with the producer-turned-director about his early days in the Canadian film business. He talks about his revulsion at the Ilsa movies Cinepix produced, how Chambers was cast for Rabid and his side-job of picking music library cues for the film.
Don Carmody Interview (15:37): Carmody is an associate of Reitman’s and, like him, his chat is oriented around making exploitation films in Canada in the ‘70s. There’s a neat story early on about how he got his start on McCabe And Mrs. Miller before he gets into details about his work on both Shivers and Rabid. You’ll hear more about tangles with the government over financing and how Cronenberg’s attempt to stop production involved coming up the idea that would later become Dead Ringers.
From Stereo To Video (26:23): a video essay by Caelum Vatsndal, who wrote an the amazing Canadian genre cinema history They Came From Within, that focuses on the early days of Cronenberg’s career. It covers everything from his short films to Videodrome, complete with clips from each film. It makes a case for how his work during this era led to the creative free-mindedness that has dominated his subsequent work and has plenty of interesting production details about all his horror-era films. It even covers his rarely discussed car-racing film, Fast Company.
Additional Extras: theatrical trailer and t.v. spot, radio spots and an animated image gallery
To read Schlockmania’s film review of Rabid, click here.