When it comes to horror movies, give me a good remake over a good sequel any day.
Horror films are self-contained magic acts, and sequels strip away all the mystery that drew you to the original movie in the first place by inevitably adding backstory and blowing a small magic act out of proportion. A remake, by its nature, has the potential to take a brilliant idea and resurrect it for new audiences to discover.
Notice that I stressed good remakes. When remakes are done for nothing but brand recognition, they are a fresh hell in themselves. But the rare ones that remake a decades-old film that got lost in the shuffle of time, and strives to update the central theme to show the brilliance of the original story, those are wonders to behold that become classics.
John Carpenter’s The Thing, and Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers took movies that were more admired than they were watched and brought a fierce new social commentary to them. Remakes like Chuck Russell’s The Blob, and David Cronenberg’s The Fly took movies that were thought of as goofy, mindless B-movie fare and elevated their core ideas with social commentary, pathos, and empathy.
Cronenberg’s feat might be the most amazing. He took a movie that was lampooned in documentaries like It Came from Hollywood and books like The Golden Turkey Awards and created a film that transcended the genre box and found mainstream acclaim. The Fly was so embraced, it super-charged the careers of Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, and even Cronenberg himself.
Turnabout is fair play, and Cronenberg gets the remake treatment himself by fellow Canadians, Jen and Sylvia Soska (Dead Hooker in a Trunk, American Mary), with their new interpretation of his 1977 film, Rabid.
The Soskas tackling Cronenberg is a thematic, and cinematic, match made in heaven, and probably the best chance for fireworks since Carpenter took on his idol Howard Hawks’ The Thing from Another World.
Written and Directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska, their Rabid draws influence from the original movie and is set in the seductive and glamorous world of high fashion. The story follows Rose (Jigsaw and Bitten star Laura Vandervoort), a demure seamstress whose disfigurement after an accident leads to a radical and untested stem-cell treatment. While turning Rose into the belle of the ball, the experimental transformation comes at a price.
Rabid is a welcome return to body horror for the Soskas, whose American Mary I consider to be one of the ten best horror films of the last 20 years. Mary also feels like their most personal film, one where the metaphors feel painfully earned.
American Mary follows Mary Mason, a struggling medical student who, through a series of bizarre circumstances, finds herself lured into the lucrative black-market world of body modification. Her secret is found out by her superiors at the hospital, and she is invited to an “exclusive” party where she is raped. Mary uses her skills in bod-mod to exact revenge that sends her into a downward spiral.
What makes American Mary so brilliant is how this story is carved into a biting satire that comments on the body as currency, the objectification of women, and how true beauty is found when someone risks everything to own their true selves…despite the perils of confronting a system that demands subservience.
In American Mary, body and money are connected as symbols of worth. Surgeons, strippers, and body modification artists are occupations whose economies are inexorably tethered and dependent on the human body. People, especially women, are given a value based on their external vessels by outside forces. This makes body modification an act of screaming rebellion. This movie tells us that body modification is a choice, done to reclaim ownership of the body. It is open defiance against molds that they’ve been forced into by others.
In American Mary, the Soskas turn self-loathing into self-actualization.
David Cronenberg himself has used the body, and sexuality, as metaphor and social commentary since his film, Shivers. In an interview in the documentary, The American Nightmare (2001) Cronenberg discussed how he sees sex, death, and decay as revolutionary acts:
“The sixties were unprecedented in terms of sexual openness and experimentation. And always, it was political. The sex that you were engaging in had strong political overtones. So, sex had meaning beyond sex, beyond the physical. To me, biology is destiny…from beginning to end, biology is destiny. But it’s a very human thing to want to derail destiny, and therefore it’s a very human thing for us to want to derail biology. On a very basic level, I’m afraid of revolution. I don’t want to have to experience it. And yet I recognize that there are times when those things are absolutely necessary because there’s no other way to change things.” -David Cronenberg
With Rabid, Cronenberg gave us a biologically grotesque take on the vampire and zombie-ish hordes (that presage Danny Boyle’s rage infection in 28 Day Later by nearly 30 years). But he also gave us a biting satire of the late 1970’s artifice, narcissism and conformity by using plastic surgery as the center of the film’s world. And in this world, Cronenberg sees the entropy and decay of that facade as a happy ending…even if the facade is made of human flesh.
The idea that the Soskas are setting their remake in the world of high fashion tells me that they are going all-in on the metaphors available to them, and their knives are drawn and gleaming. As writers, Jen and Sylvia Soska have a strong balance between bloodshed, satire and dark humor that makes me feel the tone around the high fashion milieu will more resemble Chuck Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters than it will Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon.
But what is truly exciting is that the time is right for the Soska Sisters to make another allegorical horror film about systems that want to dictate and force their own value on a woman’s body. Horror movies can’t help but comment on the anxieties and tensions of the times they are made in. Their purpose is to get under our skin and, in the white-hot era of #metoo, I’m very excited to see what nerve endings the Soskas decide to poke and probe.
I can’t wait to see the fireworks.
Rabid will have its World Premiere at FrightFest in London, August 22-26, 2019. http://www.frightfest.co.uk/