I first saw this movie over 10 years ago when I had to write this essay for it while I was in University. One of director David Cronenberg’s earliest efforts, and one of his finest as far as I’m concerned. A motorcycling duo get into a horrific traffic accident. The female victim (played by former porn star Marilyn Chambers) has drastic surgery performed on her and survives — but with catastrophic and monstrous results! She somehow becomes a carrier for a Rabies like virus that infects everyone that she comes into contact with. It’s not long before an entire city (glorious Montreal in all its seedy splendor) is infected with the mad disease. A desperate few try to make it out alive and uninfected!
I like to think of Rabid as a Canadian version of Night of the Living Dead, as both films center around mindless hordes attacking and infecting others via bites. As it was filmed only 9 years after NOTLD, Rabid could very well have been influenced by its Pennsylvania cousin. Where Living Dead focused on the recent deceased rising from the grave, Rabid differed in that it was a mutated version of Rabies that is infecting and turning everyone into savage bloodthirsty beasts.
One of the great skills that Mr. Cronenberg has in filmmaking, is knowing how to manipulate shots to tell a story without relying on any dialogue. Which leads us to…
ANATOMY OF A SCENE
How Deconstructing Shots Gives The Audience A Wealth of Information Right In the First Five Minutes of Rabid
The hospital itself, via quick panning shots, looks like a fairly upper-class plastic surgery resort. The setting of this place, and the people within, contradict the appearance of
the previous motorcycle duo and introduces a second social class. These rapidly increasing interjections forces the viewer to look at cinematic construction of the world that is being observed on the screen.
The pace quickens by the start of the third minute. Except for the doctors’ dialogue the cuts are faster. The person watching the film is forced to follow the cycling pair continue down the stretch of roadway. During this segment there is also an introduct¡on of three new characters. An older gentleman, his wife, and their young son are all travelling within a blue van. Presumedly this new set of characters is a family who is lost. The look of their vehicle, and both the clothing and demeanour of the trio, suggests that they are a stereotypical, white, lower-middle class, suburbanite family. This scene, then, introduces yet a third social class early on in the film. The family continues bickering as they are still searching for their destination. After much debate over location, the father turns the vehicle around only to have it stall in the middle of the road, blocking it. It is a combination of the speeding motorcyclists, the stalled family van, and the revisited surgery clinic, that gives the audience a foreshadowing sense of what is to come.
It was Cronenberg’s intent to instil a sense of inevitable disaster amongst the viewing audience. The audience should be on the edge of their seats thereby creating a shock effect, and raising both the blood pressure and intellectual temperature of the viewer. It is incredibly importance to have the viewer emotionally attached to the film. This is an ideology that has been widely adopted by Hollywood cinema. ln the fourth minute of the movie, there is continued bickering amongst the family in the van. The father stops the van to turn around but the vehicle then stalls. The scene cuts to the man and woman on the motorcycle still racing through the countryside. Music has stopped (which emphasises the speed of the motorcycle’s engine and the high speeds at which they are travelling). Scene cuts once again to the family with the father desperately trying to restart the vehicle as it is blocking the roadway. ln a series of quick cuts of the periled family, and the cycling duo, a dimension of impending disaster is created. The audience knows that the motorcycle will crash before the actual event takes place, showing that Cronenberg’s use of cuts produced a powerful sense of foreshadowing in the film. Before the accident does take place, however, the speed of the cuts quickens showcasing all five of the characters present, and revealing an emotion of terror. ln order to avoid hitting the van, the motorcycle swerves out of way – but in doing so, is sent airborne. The man is thrown from the motorcycle and lands in the grass nearby. Unfortunately, the girl remains on the bike as it crashes on top of her and explodes. The scene cuts back to the plastic surgery resort where the explosion is witnessed by an older woman with binoculars. She then tells a jogging passerby of the situation, who then goes on to inform the paramedics inside. The scene changes to the office where the three doctors are currently in discussion when the phone rings. The one doctor, Dan, answers the phone and after a pause rushes out with the paramedics to rescue the crash victims. The scene cuts back once again to the wreckage where the father is trying to fan out the flames on the bike. The mother is yelling at him to get away from the fire. The ambulance then arrives. The doctor, Dan, rushes out to the girl to check on her condition and is horrified when he finally sees her. The film cuts to the interior of the ambulance where both crash victims are being tended to, and it is determined that the girl must immediately go to the Keloid Clinic for treatment.
The use of both shot, and cut in Rabid creates a well pieced together montage of sequences. The pace and length of both the shot and cut, slows and quickens as the director sees fit to create an emotional response from the audience. lt also allows for hurried interactions and faster introductions of each character – which works well in getting the story rolling. Cronenberg uses many different types of shots, such as panning and zooming, to establish character development. The way the clips are pieced together enables people to use both their imagination, and common sense, to let the story unfold. Within the first 5 minutes of the movie, the audience is given enough information without having to rely on exposition or other storytelling cheats. David Cronenberg didn’t to waste anytime getting into the story. By telling a visual tale thru cuts and pans, he is able to quickly get the introductions of the principle players out of the way. Because once inside the hospital…well, that’s where the real story begins….