By Rob Blackwelder
All the elements that have made David Cronenberg a master of his own genre (body-fetish horror) are on display in their raw, low-budget adolescence in this prize 1977 midnight movie about an epidemic of foaming-at-the-mouth zombie vampirism set off by experimental plastic surgery gone awry. The writer-director took a big chance by casting porn star Marilyn Chambers as his leading lady, and it pays off as she toys with her sexualized image in a quietly spine-chilling performance as a motorcycle-accident victim whose reconstructive operation with "neutralized" skin (a Cronenbergian precursor to stem-cell research) leads to an inexplicable, bloodthirsty proboscis growing from part of her body.
Her subsequent dead-eyed, instinctual feeding on human flesh leaves her prey fatally infected with a cannibalistic hunger that spreads rapidly and rabidly through Montreal. Gratuitous toplessness (you can take the girl out of the porn, but...) and a lack of cinematic technique ("These low-budget horror films were my film school really," Cronenberg admits in the new DVD commentary) are balanced out by a well-conceived (if far-fetched) premise and a whole lotta skin-crawling creepiness.
(103m | R)
In addition to the passably interesting commentary, the DVD also includes a 20-minute Cronenberg interview detailing the history of the project and how it fit into his career. Plus the original trailer.
SOUND & PICTURE
Transferred from a questionable print, so both are far from ideal.
1.85:1 ratio (NOT 16x9 enhanced)
DVD RATING: **
THE FILM: ***