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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 video is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, and as stated above has a lot of intentional flaws. There's grain, blur, deep shadows, murk, scratches and washed out color. All of this is done to replicate the look of low budget seventies films, and in this regard works very well. Just don't expect a crisp, clear image.
The audio is Dolby digital 2 channel, and works well enough. Like the video, there are issues, but these seem to mostly fit into the exploitation theme. There's the occasional hiss and difficult to make out dialogue, which makes the lack of subtitles frustrating, but it's hard to ding the film for this when it all could have been deliberate. No alternate language track is included.
There are a number of extras included. They are:
The trailer is three minutes long, and captures the feel of the film pretty well.
The Lloyd Kaufman Outtakes
This is behind the scenes footage of a cut scene in which Lloyd Kaufman appeared.
Behind the Scenes Featurette
This clocks in at eleven minutes, and shows a lot of behind the scenes material, setting up for shots, rerecording audio, joking around. Fairly interesting.
Behind the Scenes Slide Show
Just what it sounds like. Less than a minute of stills from the film.
Elske McCain Hot Slide Show
A minute long slide show of Elske McCain in various states of undress.
Digital Jessicka Rabid Comic
A few pages of a comic book that parallels the story of the film.
Lloyd Kaufman Interviews Trent Haaga
While most of the so called Tromatic Extras are the same old boring stuff, this interview with independent actor and writer Trent Haaga, who plays Marley in the film, is actually quite interesting. He has a lot of anecdotes about working in low budget film.
Elske McCain, Cisiany Olivar and another fellow who did graphic design for the film do the commentary. It's interesting at points, though a little unfocused. There are a lot of stories about the production, which was filmed in McCain's own home, but the commentary isn't as engaging as it could be.
Jessicka Rabid is something of a study in contrasts. It is incredibly offensive, but often executed with skill and subtlety. It seems denigrating to women, but is cheered on and indeed co-created by a number of intelligent women. It's difficult to recommend a film of this kind, or to predict how people will receive it. Viewers will either enjoy the grotesqueries presented, or be repulsed by them. Either way, it is an interesting addition to the genre that has something to say, whether one can stomach it or not.