Jessicka Rabid can be difficult to watch at times. There's rape, forced incest, more rape, brutal violence, and the constant degradation and humiliation of a mentally retarded young woman. On the other hand, the filmmakers clearly have talent, and have put together an exceptionally authentic looking paean to the grind house exploitation films of the seventies.
Jessicka (Elske McCain, who also produced and helped with the story) is the mentally challenged, but surprisingly beautiful young woman in question. She lives with her cousin Brad (Jeff Sisson) and Marley (Trent Haaga), also apparently a relation, who lock her in a dog cage in the garage when they don't want to be bothered with her, and generally treat her as if she were a semi-annoying pet, complete with dog collar and leash and relieving herself in the back yard. Except that they also each have sex with her whenever they feel like it, and in Brad's case, hire her out to local pornographers.
Trouble starts when Brad's sister (with whom Marley seems to be romantically involved, but possibly not) Abby (Cisiany Olivar) comes home after a long absence, triggering a bitter fight with Brad. Marley promptly kicks him out of the house, but soon has to leave himself on an out of town errand, leaving Abby and Jessicka alone for a few weeks. Unbeknownst to everyone, Jessicka was bitten by the dog, who turns out to be rabid. Since no one knows she was bitten, presuming the mark on her hand was a cut, she isn't treated, and her normally passive demeanor begins to turn subtly more aggressive.
Abby at first seems to be the nominal good guy in all of this. Jessicka dotes on her, and always seems to be happier when she's around. But soon enough, Abby too begins to use Jessicka for her own ends, including her sexual gratification, in a disturbing scene involving peanut butter. For more detail, you'll have to watch the film. Of course, all of this ends in tragedy, as Jessicka's mind is taken over by the rabies, and lots of people die horrible, and mostly entirely deserved, deaths.
Despite its extremely low budget (one person was credited as an associate producer solely for paying for their own plane ticket to get to the location), Jessicka Rabid shows the clear mark of talented folks working on it. The image is (by design) grainy, fuzzy, washed out and full of film scratches and dirt, making it an aesthetic twin to the ultra low budget seventies exploitation films it is honoring. The acting is generally competent, though Haaga is a definite standout, blasting back and forth across emotional extremes with verve, but still managing a lot of nuance and subtlety in his performance. The effects are pretty good, too, except for one severed head that looked like it was made from papier-mâché. (Despite the brutal feel of the film, the violence is mostly implied, with scenes being cut before the actual kill, or viewed only obliquely.)
On the other hand, it has some definite flaws. Cisiany Olivar can't quite reach the emotional levels necessary to be entirely believable in her role, but does pretty well in the more even tempered scenes, as does most of the cast. McCain has very little to do acting wise, since Jessicka displays mostly simple emotions, like boredom or happiness, and is required mostly to just look good wearing only a tee shirt. The story is sort of weak, and could be seen as more of a character study than an involved narrative, if the film seemed at all interested in things like character development. The biggest problem, of course, is the absolutely repulsive nature of the people we are watching. There is simply no one we see that most people would even consent to be in the same room with, let alone anyone that could generate any empathy. Jessicka is clearly a victim here, and admittedly easy on the eyes, but does that justify the full frontal view we are given of her constant degradation and use as an object, even if the guilty parties are smitten with justice at the end? She undergoes at least four coerced sex acts, with a couple more attempted. It's difficult to see the narrative value, beyond mere salaciousness, that would merit this. Complicating this, however, is the fact that Elske McCain is not just the actor in the role, but a producer of the film, and enthusiastic participant and promoter. Listening to her on the commentary track, it's clear that she thinks the film is great, and is proud of her own contribution.
Is the film excessively degrading to women? This reviewer is inclined to say yes, but viewers will have to decide for themselves. It's certainly excessive in a lot of other categories, but also put together by a director with a true visual flair, and a group of people with lots of talent. Jessicka Rabid is not a film for everyone, or indeed for most people. Fans of the genre will find a lot to like, others very little. Rent it.
The Lloyd Kaufman Outtakes
Behind the Scenes Featurette
Behind the Scenes Slide Show
Elske McCain Hot Slide Show
Digital Jessicka Rabid Comic
Lloyd Kaufman Interviews Trent Haaga