Flesh & Blood: Marilyn Chambers in RABID (New World 1977)

Once upon a time, there was a pretty young actress named Marilyn Chambers. She had a fresh, wholesome quality about her, and did some bits parts and modeling gigs. One was as the decent young mom holding her pride and joy baby on the box of Ivory Snow, the detergent that claimed it was 99 1/4% pure. But no acting jobs were forthcoming, so Marilyn found herself in a porn flick called BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR, which became a sensation…

… as did young Marilyn, though she longed to be taken as a serious actress in mainstream films.

Around the same time, there was a young Canadian director named David Cronenberg. He was making a name for himself in the horror field with films like CRIMES OF THE FUTURE (1970) and SHIVERS (1975)…

… but though a few critics admired his work, most dismissed him as just another Grindhouse hack. For young David’s movies were of the “body horror” school, filled with gore, grossness, and a lot of sex, not to mention a very low budget. He had an idea for a movie titled RABID, and wanted to cast Sissy Spacek, fresh off her lead in CARRIE, in the starring role. But the producers balked at casting Sissy and her Texas accent in a Canadian film, so young David searched far and wide, finally choosing young Marilyn as his nominal star. Marilyn was grateful to finally have the lead in a mainstream film, and they lived happily ever after.

Well, not really. Cronenberg went on to THE DEAD ZONE, THE FLY remake, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, and a great career, while Marilyn went back to porn with 1980’s INSATIABLE and other hard-and-softcore delights before her way-too-early death in 2009 at age 57. RABID shows she could act, if not on a par with Hepburn or Meryl Streep. Still, she was more than competent in this creepy little thriller as Rose, who’s involved in an horrific motorcycle crash with her boyfriend Hart (Frank Moore). Fortunately (or unfortunately, as it turns out), the accident occurs near the Keloid Clinic for Plastic Surgery. Rose is put back together using an experimental method of skin grafting, resulting in her growing a monstrous blood-sucking appendage in her arm pit (which pops out of what suspiciously looks like a certain part of the female anatomy!).

Rose begins infecting people with a mysterious virus that turns it’s victims into mouth-foaming, blood-lusting maniacs. Soon the entire city of Montreal is under siege by the zombie-like creatures, and martial law is declared with orders of shoot to kill. Oh, Canada! Rose continues infecting people, including an iconic scene where she enter a porn theater and is hit on by a leisure-suited perv. Bad idea, perv! (The film playing is called MODELS FOR PLEASURE, and I’m unsure if it’s a real movie or not. I can’t find any info on it… any readers out there heard of it?) When Rose leaves the theater, she walks past another movie palace. The film showing there? CARRIE!

RABID showcases Cronenberg’s trademark black humor, as well as his penchant for gruesomeness. It also features a good turn by character actor Joe Silver as the sympathetic business partner of Dr. Keloid (Howard Ryshpan, who also ends up infected in a wild operating room scene). The film helped put David Cronenberg on the map, due in large part to the novelty of having Marilyn Chambers in a straight role (though she does have her share of topless scenes, praise Jesus!). Any fans of David Cronenberg, the lovely Miss Chambers, or good ol’ 70’s Grindhouse gore will be more than satiated by viewing RABID.

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Halloween Havoc!: GOD TOLD ME TO (New World 1976)

God Told Me To (1976) aka Demon Directed by Larry Cohen Shown: Poster Art

Last year during “Halloween Havoc!”, I took a look at writer/director/producer Larry Cohen’s cult classic IT’S ALIVE . This time around, it’s GOD TOLD ME TO, a  creepily twisted tale tackling mass murder, aliens, Catholicism, and the nature of God himself that could’ve only been made in the paranoiac 70’s, and may be Cohen’s best film.

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There’s a sniper on a rampage in New York City perched atop a water tower. Fourteen people are dead, and police have the scene surrounded. Det. Lt. Peter Nicholas, a devout Catholic who was orphaned as a child and goes to confession daily,  climbs the ladder in hopes of engaging the shooter before he kills again. When Nicholas asks the killer why he’s caused all this carnage, the man simply replies, “God told me to”, then jumps off the tower, plunging to his doom.

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This sets the stage for more bizarre mayhem, starting with a young cop wreaking havoc at the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade, same results, same statement. Nicholas follows a lead on a young, long-haired man named Bernard Phillips, and tracks him to his mother’s apartment house, where he’s attacked by the woman on the staircase (in an obvious homage to Hitchcock’s PSYCHO). Further investigation leads Nicholas to discover Mrs. Phillips was a virgin who mysteriously gave birth to a child of “undetermined sex”. A witness who encountered Mrs. Phillips two decades ago states he came upon her stark naked, in a rainstorm, babbling about being abducted by aliens.

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Meanwhile, the killings continue, including a man who guns down his wife and children while claiming, “God told me to”. Nicholas gets the science editor at one of the major papers to write a column about the divine-inspired murders, and when the story hits the streets, panic and riots ensue. The police board stages an inquiry, trying to paint Nicholas as an overzealous religious nut. The cop is taken to a Mr. Richards, one of Phillips’s “chosen”. Nicholas starts talking about Phillips’ mother, and Richards is overtaken by what looks like a heart attack, but is actually the handiwork of Phillips.

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After another disciple tries to push Nicholas in front of a subway car, he’s led to Phillips’ hideout. The long-haired, robe clad Phillips is bathed in an eerie yellow light, and asks Nicholas to accept him, “no questions”, suggesting they have something in common. The detective researches his own background, and to his horror finds out he was “born fatherless” to a woman named Elizabeth Mullin. Tracking her down to a retirement home, Nicholas learns she too claims to have once been abducted by aliens, resulting in a virgin birth… his!

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I’m not going to spoil the nightmarish ending, you’ll have to watch for yourselves. And I encourage you to do so, for GOD TOLD ME TO is an unheralded gem of a horror flick, with plenty of twists and turns. The judicial use of religious iconography and location shooting in NYC aid greatly to the movie’s unsettling atmosphere. The juxtaposition of 70’s New York with the otherworldly goings-on make this a sure-fire winner for horror lovers. You definatley will not be disappointed.

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The cast is lead by Tony LoBianco  as Nicholas, an actor who should’ve had a much bigger career. He appeared in the thriller THE HONEYMOON KILLERS, and films like MEAN FRANK AND CRAZY TONY and BLOODBROTHERS, but never quite crossed the threshold to major stardom. Sandy Dennis and Deborah Raffin, both of whom I usually find annoying, play his estranged wife and current girlfriend respectively. Fortunately, their roles are small. A pair of veterans also show up in small roles; Sam Levene  as the science writer and Sylvia Sidney   as Nicholas’ mother. The Familiar Faces have a decidedly New York flavor: Mike Kellin,  Robert Drivas, Dan Resin, and in his feature film debut, Andy Kaufman as the young killer cop at the St. Pat’s parade.

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The eccentric character actor Richard Lynch has the pivotal part of Bernard Phillips, and puts his unique stamp on it. Lynch was featured in tons of movies from the 70’s up to his death in 2012.  His scarred visage was the result of setting himself on fire in a drug-fueled haze during the 60’s, and after getting clean he began his acting career, appearing in (among others) THE HAPPY HOOKER, THE NINTH CONFIGURATION, THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER, LITTLE NIKITA, TRANCERS II, CYBORG 3, and an incredible amount of episodic TV.

GOD TOLD ME TO is “dedicated to the memory of Mr. Bernard Herrmann”, the veteran Hollywood composer who scored Cohen’s IT’S ALIVE! Herrmann was scheduled to do this one but, after completing work on Martin Scorcese’s TAXI DRIVER, he passed away at age 64. Frank Cordell filled in admirably, his score influenced tremendously by Herrmann’s work. This movie deserves to be rediscovered by horror fans, a deviously dark and demented tale by the underrated Larry Cohen that I highly recommend for this Halloween season.