Young Rose (adult film star Marilyn Chambers) is severely injured in a freak highway accident in countryside, necessitating an experimental grafting procedure to save her life. Rose appears to make a full recovery, but soon develops an unusual, phallic stinger on her armpit that feeds off of human blood, and infects those it touches with a highly potent rabies strain that renders the infected an insane, zombie-like creature. Rose, unbeknownst of her own condition, begins spreading the epidemic across the countryside and into a nearby urban centre as the situation spirals further and further out of control.
Rabid (1977) is director David Cronenberg's second feature film after the controversy and success of Shivers. It was his first film to receive a wide release in the United States, being co-produced by Roger Corman's New World Pictures, and Cronenberg's second collaboration with producer Ivan Reitman. The cast is a venerable Who's-Who of Canadian character actors, including cameos by future Queer as Folk and Call Me Fitz star Peter MacNeill and Empire Records director Allan Moyle.
This film contains examples of:
- Ambiguous Situation: It's dubious how aware Rose is of her actions. When not driven by the insatiable bloodlust of her condition, she behaves normally and seems just as confused and terrified by the outbreak as everybody else.
- Bittersweet Ending: The epidemic appears to be somewhat under control, but at the cost of hundreds, possibly thousands of lives. Rose, who may be the only hope for a possible vaccine or cure to the outbreak is indiscriminately killed by police and cassually tossed into a garbage truck to be disposed of alongside dozens of other corpses. It's certainly a less outwardly bleak ending than Shivers.
- Creator Cameo: Producer Ivan Reitman and director David Cronenberg appear as soldiers patrolling the streets.
- Dirty Old Man: The farmer who tries to force himself on Rose, and gets stung and infected for his troubles.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: The process of Rose's blood feeding and infection bares more than a passing resemblance to rape.
- Gone Horribly Wrong: An experimental skin and organ grafting procedure results in the patient developing a phallic, vampiric stinger that spreads a zombie-like infection to whomever it comes into contact with.
- Ironic Name: Dan and Roxanne Keloid's name comes from a type of scar.
- Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Averted by Dan and Roxanne Keloid, who performs an untested, experimental procedure on Rose, but only to save her life after a life-threatening injury caused by a freak accident.
- Not Using the "Z" Word: The infected are effectively zombies with a particularly nasty strain of rabies that causes intense bloodlust and insanity before eventually killing them through hydrophobia.
- The Plague: The rabies outbreak first spread throughout the countryside by those bitten by Rose, who in turn infect others and eventually spread the outbreak into downtown Montreal.
- Puppeteer Parasite: Rose's newfound orifice, possibly. How much she is in control of or aware of her actions remains ambiguous.
- Typhoid Mary: Rose is technically the Patient Zero of the outbreak, but she seems largely unaware of her actions, and remains outwardly normal unlike those she infects.
- Refuge in Audacity: Dr. Keloid left the United States after being laughed out for his (ethically dubious) idea of creating a franchised chain of branded plastic surgery clinics. His skill with grafting procedures, however, are enough for him to be ingratiated by the Canadian medical community and receive a steady stream of grants.