Jessicka (Elske McCain) lives in a cage, next to the cage that houses the underfed family dog. For Jessicka, a socially retarded young woman, her family consists of cousins Marley (Trent Haaga), Billy (Jason Foster) and Abby (Cisiany Olivar).
They live in a detached property in a quiet Arizonan area, where they are able to keep their backwards relative held captive in the garage without any of the weird neighbours ever suspecting a thing.
This enables these detestable hicks to go about their business day by day, living out a life of normality (well, drinking cans of beer while driving around the neighbourhood; sealing dodgy deals with even dodgier mates) before retiring to the house to drink more beer and abuse Jessicka remorselessly.
From Billy forcing her to fellate him after hosing her down and stripping her under the pretence that she needs assistance in getting dressed, to a drunken Marley raping her and filming it – Jessicka is put through the mill for no apparent reason. And if you’re thinking Abby may go a little easier on her, then just wait until you see what she does with a jar of peanut butter ...
After numerous atrocities have been suffered, Jessicka finally comes into contact with the family dog that she feels such a connection to (even emulating its barking on frequent occasion). Unfortunately the dog is rabid – and bites Jessicka, thus infecting her.
Ah, let the revenge begin. It’s going to be sweet ...
JESSICKA RABID continues the trend kick-started by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez with their GRINDHOUSE double-bill of DEATH PROOF and PLANET TERROR: this film also wants to echo the drive-in midnight movies of the 1970s, and goes to similar lengths to evoke their feel: the aesthetics are given that distressed touch to make the film look like it’s a battered old 16mm print from 40 years ago; events even kick off with a couple of amusingly dated theatrical trailers.
There are, of course, too many people jumping on this ‘homage’ bandwagon and it’s fast becoming tiresome. It’s a gnat’s whisker away from being as irksome as the saturated ‘found footage’ sub-genre, in fact.
So ... does JESSICKA RABID offer anything more, to help distinguish it from the glut of GRINDHOUSE wannabes currently being shat out of (primarily) America? Apart from its really naff title?
Unexpectedly, the answer is yes.
The use of mobile phones dictates that the film is not setting itself in the 1970s (although no specific date is given), and therefore director Matthew Reel is shielded from the search for anachronisms. All the same, the interior locations and fashions of the players give precious little away – even the occasional rock song on the score is obscure enough to ensure a healthy sheen of existentialism.
The worn look of the film, then, is a pure gimmick. But it works because it’s not too forced: it complements the handheld camerawork, quiet moments of tension and frequently improvised dialogue, rather than treading all over them in smug film student fashion. We’re thankfully spared trickery such as fake cigarette burns and film reels either ‘missing’ or ‘breaking down’.
Performances are solid across the board, with McCain (who co-wrote alongside Reel) impressing in her raw, honest delivery of what must’ve been a demanding, sometimes gruelling role for her. Haaga continues to be the most prolific actor working in the US underground genre scene today (notable gigs include DEADGIRL and EASTER BUNNY KILL! KILL!), and exudes a physical presence here that helps underpin the tension.
Speaking of which, Reel does successfully build a mounting sense of pace in the arid Arizona setting despite events rolling out quite episodically. All of this in spite of the lo-fi visual style and a maudlin, ambient score: the fact that he holds the viewer’s attention for 79 minutes (not 82 minutes as per the back cover) and escalates the action towards a satisfyingly grim finale is compelling evidence that he is a talent to watch in future.
Thematically, it’s impossible to view JESSICKA RABID without linking it mentally to Lucky McKee’s recent THE WOMAN. But the violence towards the title character is more reserved here (possibly because of budget). Even when McCain is getting raped, these sequences are highly stylised and filmed in such a way that anything overtly explicit is avoided.
Reel employs as much matter-of-fact docu-style filmmaking techniques as he does artistic flourishes, but the end result is thankfully more consistent than that perhaps sounds. It’s all grounded well by a constant atmosphere of sleaziness, and those aforementioned convincing performances.
Of course, this being distributed by Troma, readers have probably guessed already that there is a fair amount of full-frontal female nudity on offer too...
Troma’s disc is region free and opens with a 2-minute video introduction to the film from Lloyd Kaufman. If you’re expecting anything other than silliness, then you’re a fool.
The film itself is presented in anamorphic 1.78:1 and looks very good. Images range between being sharp and soft, and there is a fair amount of both scratches and grain. But the film has clearly been doctored to look this way and emulate the 1970s grindhouse vibe, so all ‘damage’ is intentional. Colours are strong, blacks are solid throughout and detail is healthy.
Likewise, the English 2.0 track provided is relatively clean and consistent for the duration of playback.
A static main menu page leads into an animated scene-selection menu allowing access to JESSICKA RABID via 9 chapters.
Extras begin with an audio commentary from McCain, co-producer Olivar and associate Gregory Mannino. Between them, they offer a fluent, lighthearted and very detailed commentary track – one of the more engaging in recent memory.
Next up is the film’s 3-minute trailer, which is an admirably arty effort. It has a definite retro vibe to it, complete with freeze-frames and moments of slow-motion for added impact. It’s also totally reliant on score, being dialogue-free.
Outtakes relating to Kaufman’s cameo in the film are mildly diverting and are over in less than 2 minutes.
Much better is the 11-minute "Behind the Scenes" featurette, which features a lot of decent on-set footage that reveals the shoot to have been a dedicated but jovial one.
This is perfectly complemented by a slide show of behind-the-scenes stills. There are only 10 stills on offer though, which is a shame.
A second slide show is even briefer, offering only 5 stills. However, these are of McCain in various states of undress and in two occasions, baring her shaven haven, so it’s all good.
A 1-minute gallery of the "digital Jessicka Rabid comic" is excellent, and shows the comic as being a surprisingly well-made, arty affair.
The disc is rounded off by the usual "Tromatic Extras". In this instance, they include a few trailers (FATHER’S DAY, POULTRYGEIST: NIGHT OF THE CHICKEN DEAD, MR BRICKS and THE TOXIC AVENGER), previously available footage of Kaufman interviewing Haaga (12 minutes) and a Transvestite Public Service Announcement hosted by Lemmy, and leading into silent comedy shenanigans from Trey Parker and Matt Stone (92 seconds).
Less vicious in detail than THE WOMAN but no less contentious in theme, Matthew Reel’s JESSICKA RABID deserves to be observed further than its dumb title suggests. It’s very low budget, yes, but is well crafted and atmospheric, with some solid performances helping it to get under your skin early, before delivering the gore in a satisfyingly old-school finale.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Troma Entertainment|
|Region 1 - NTSC|
|see main review|