Director - Matthew Reel
Cast - Elske McCain, Trent Haaga
Country of Origin - USA
Discs - 1
MSRP - $14.95
Distributor - Troma
Reviewer - Bobby Morgan
The Film: 2/5
Jessicka (Elske McCain) is a comely, quiet young woman with a lot going for her. It’s just unfortunate that she’s being kept prisoner by the perpetually furious Marley Hoffman (Trent Haaga), and his partner Brad (Jeff Sisson), locked in a cage for most of her days, and being treated like a common dog when Marley and Brad aren’t using her for sexual pleasure. Brad’s sister Abby (Cisiany Olivar) is also aware of her brother’s insidious crimes but she generally treats Jessicka with respect and kindness, more like a friend than a captive. But even she tends to misjudge sweet Jessicka and one night makes the mistake of taking Marley and Brad’s precious pet out into the world to be her date at a party. When the mute Jessicka is sexually assaulted by one of the partygoers a chain of events is set in motion that will claim more than a few lives before the night is through, and the woman who has been subjugated and made to live and think as a dog for who knows how long will unleash an even more vicious animal from within, one with razor sharp teeth.
At last year’s Sundance Film Festival one of the most controversial movies to play the fest was The Woman, a film Lucky McKee co-wrote with novelist Jack Ketchum and directed. The plot revolved around a man who captures a cannibalistic feral woman and attempts to “civilize” her through barbarous means. McKee’s film was greeted with great acclaim but it’s darkness and brutality received audience contempt and even motivated a few walk-outs. Good or bad, it takes a film of great power to inspire those kinds of passionate mixed reactions. Jessicka Rabid is not one of those films.
I’ve been hearing about this movie for almost two years thanks to my being Facebook friends with several people involved in the production. It doesn’t surprise me that someone who played an integral in getting an independent horror film made would want to go out of their way to promote said film, and if you read the plot description on the back of the Jessicka Rabid DVD case you would think this was an effective low-budget horror film that took its cue from bleakly-humored cult films of the past like The Baby, Sonny Boy, and Luther the Geek. Plus the idea of a woman forced into captivity who resorts to savage tactics in order to exact vengeance on her tormentors has roots in rape-revenge exploitation flicks like Thriller: A Cruel Picture. Combining those two B-movie subgenres and then tossing them into a blender with copious amounts of sex and violence and then cooked to perfection by a team of horror film enthusiasts and budding filmmakers wanting to pay tribute to the grimiest movies that ever oozed down the screens of 42nd Street’s famous fleapit bijous should not be a difficult task if the people involved have the slightest inkling of how to make all that happen without coming off like a pack of jackass amateurs. So why then is this movie such an extraordinary letdown?
Jessicka Rabid seems to owe a lot of its grimy veneer to classic grindhouse cinema, but like the worst of those seedy exploitation flicks it promises way more than it’s capable of delivering. Not that everyone involved in front of and behind the camera don’t try their hearts out, particularly star/executive producer/casting director/set decorator/costume supervisor Elske McCain. McCain has the most challenging part in the movie and because she doesn’t have to speak a word of director Matthew Reel’s godawful script (from a story by McCain) she gives the best performance. But that’s not much of a stretch considering that every other character in the movie is unsympathetic, obnoxious, and loathsome and the acting from McCain’s fellow performers has to be cranked up to absurd levels in order to compensate. The other actors I didn’t really care for but I hated seeing Trent Haaga wasted as his character Marley is the only other in the movie besides McCain with any hint of complexity or dimension. Olivar is fine but she’s primarily here to partially fulfill a promise of lesbian love-making between her and McCain (involving peanut butter, in keeping with the whole dog theme) that is infuriatingly truncated and made worse by an ill-timed cutaway to Sisson’s leering face as he observes the action. It’s almost as if the filmmakers are mocking any titillation we may be getting from Olivar and McCain’s sexual teasing, and that just pisses me off even more.
Subtlety has no place in the world of Jessicka Rabid. The on-screen action is intercut with clips from 1950’s educational shorts, a gag that gets a good laugh the first time but wears out its welcome fast. In an attempt to give the movie the appearance of a worn-out vintage exploitation flick the filmmakers appeared to have digitally degraded the print to the point where it looks like it was dragged across through a gravel parking lot and then ran through an X-ray machine. All of the dialogue sounds tinny and barely audible at times unless the actors are screaming their lines, which happens a hell of a lot. It doesn’t look like any ADR was done in post-production. There are also several unpleasant (as if there were any other kind, but this movie finds a newer level of unpleasant), solarized rape scenes, contributing to the movie’s already nausea-inducing effect of disorientation. Despite an 82-minute running time the pace is leaded and padded out with endless party scenes and repetitive POV shots filmed through grubby, bug-splattered windshields. Jessicka Rabid comes off looking like a combination of an amateur Super 8 movie and an even more amateur student film, but director Reel does capture the desolation and boredom of Tucson, Arizona remarkably well. It’s not until the third act that Jessicka Rabid finally realizes that it’s supposed to be a horror/exploitation movie and starts building up the body count with a cheesy decapitation and a nifty castration via Jessicka’s freshly-sharpened teeth, but there’s less blood in the entire movie than you would find in a Herschell Gordon Lewis flick. It all builds up to a major letdown of an ending that only serves to bring the film’s dog metaphor to is logical conclusion. Jessicka Rabid promises a relentless parade of sex and revenge but it ends up as Old Yeller with titties.
The grainy picture is presented in non-anamorphic 1.78: 1 widescreen with a basic Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound mix that drowns out the tin-eared dialogue with the pretty decent music score by Mario Salvucci.
The extras kick off with a humorous 2-minute video introduction from Troma honcho Lloyd Kaufman and actress Debbie Rochon. From there we get an audio commentary with McCain, Olivar, and Gregory Mannino that provides a good overview of the $25,000 film’s production and maintains a nice conversational tone most of the time. There’s a nifty digital comic adaptation of the film illustrated by Mannino but you’ll have to use your DVD remote’s zoom feature to read the text; oddly enough in this version Jessicka actually has dialogue. Kaufman also gets his own outtakes reel (2 minutes) where he pesters audience members from a screening of Jessicka Rabid for their impressions of the movie. A behind-the-scenes featurette (11 minutes) mostly consists of raw outtakes from the movie, including the inspired visual of Elske McCain attempting to urinate outside while on a leash. There are two slide shows: one with stills from the production and another that features the lovely McCain in various stages of undress. The extras set closes out with trailers for other Troma releases (Father’s Day, Mr. Bricks, The Toxic Avenger, and Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead), an interview with Trent Haaga conducted by Kaufman (and also appearing on Troma’s recent Produce Your Own Damn Movie DVD), that damn public service announcement about hermaphrodites hosted by Lemmy of Motorhead and featuring South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone as a couple of happy-go-lucky trannies facing persecution wherever they roam that seems to show up on every Troma DVD whether its presence there is relevant or not, and DVD credits.
Jessicka Rabid is a poorly-executed series of missed opportunities and another in a long line of failed attempts to emulate the exploitation flicks of yesteryear. This turgid movie further proves that independent filmmakers who want to recreate the classic B-movies from their youth should remember the key elements that made most of those movies fun and enduring, such as a sense of humor and memorable characters we enjoy watching. It should be taken as a warning sign that the filmmakers gave a Special Thanks credit to Uwe Boll.