Troma // 2010 // 82 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // December 14th, 2011
They kept her in a cage!
They raped her!
They brutalized her!
They made her an animal!
Now she escaped and she is biting off more than the hand that feeds her.
I love the Internet, but sometimes it feels like we have access to too much information. When I was a youngster (pre-World Wide Web), I most often encountered movies (old and new, but especially old) in the video store. Crazy covers and outsized boxes caught my eye, and I rented many a horror or exploitation flick purely on the strength of the cover art. Most of these films disappointed, but a few managed to be genuinely disturbing and creepy. The fact that it was often impossible to tell who the people in the film were, and who might have made the film or for what purpose made the films even more creepy. These days I find out about most films on the Internet, where their backstory is available instantly from Google. I can't be the only person who misses those wild days of obscure, possibly dangerous films, and Jessicka Rabid is all the proof I need. It's a throwback to an earlier era of shoestring budgets and total strangeness. Though it strives mightily to recreate a golden era, it only serves to remind us that the moment has passed.
A couple of guys (one of whom is played by Troma-alum Trent Haaga) keep their cousin around as a pet. When she misbehaves they lock her in a cage, and when they want sex they just rape her. One day she gets tired of their treatment she escapes and gets her revenge.
Although I hate the term "torture porn," if we're going to go with the idea, then Jessicka Rabid is nostalgia porn. From the look of the film to the weird structure, everything about Jessicka Rabid screams, "We want to go back to 1975." There's intentional film degradation, those sweet Texas Chain Saw Massacre-looking colors, and a general vibe that feels straight out of a drive-in double feature. The structure of the film -- lacking any kind of driving plot -- feels like Manos: The Hands of Fate meets Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (though this comparison makes the film sound way cooler than it is). The fact many viewers won't know any of the actors (except maybe Trent Haaga) makes the film feel like it could have been a recently rediscovered '70s flick, and maybe it's a documentary of Jessicka's actions.
I miss the era documented by the fetishistic detail of Jessicka Rabid. I really do. However, emphasizing the details only leads to the audience feeling more nostalgic for the period, not less. We've moved on as genre fans, and no amount of wacky filters is going to change that. The central problem of Jessicka Rabid is that by clinging so hard to its roots in the '70s means that it misses out on the ability to appeal to modern fans. A tighter story with more drive would probably win the film more fans, even if it would betray the '70s aesthetic the film is going for. This mismatch between intention and effect marks out why Jessicka Rabid can never succeed as a film.
It's not all bad, though. Trent Haaga is positively magnetic in his role here as Marley. Though he'll never get the recognition or awards for it, I don't mind comparing his portrayal here to a young De Niro as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. Jessicka Rabid is no Taxi Driver, but Haaga's violent, amoral sociopath is always interesting to watch, even when the rest of the film fails to support his performance. The other positive thing to say about the film is that it fulfills the drive-in trifecta of blood, boobs, and beasts. In this case there's not much of a beast (though Jessicka does wreak her revenge), and the blood is amateurish. However, the film does try to liven things up with some lesbianism and several pairs of naked breasts.
The DVD is also pretty strong for this type of flick. The film's shot-on-video origins and heavy post-processing don't leave it with a stunning presentation, but the transfer feels true to the director's intentions. Colors are that funky '70s brown and yellow, and detail is hampered by fake damage and intentional softness, but that's what it's supposed to look like. Audio has a similarly lo-fi aesthetic. Most of what's said is pretty easy to hear, but there are moments when the low-budget nature of the film makes some stuff difficult to parse. Again, that's not the fault of the DVD.
Extras are fairly extensive as well. We get a commentary with Elske McCain (Jessicka herself, as well as co-screenwriter), co-star/co-producer Cisiany Oliver, and comic artist Gregory Mannino that goes over the typical production material. The trio are obviously proud of their creation and are happy to talk about it at length. The only real problem with it is the lack of Trent Haaga. There's a behind-the-scenes featurette that includes production footage, and a behind-the-scenes slideshow. We also get outtakes with Troma founder-and-CEO Lloyd Kaufman, and a slideshow of exclusive "SUPER HOT" pictures of Elske McCain (which basically means she's naked). Finally, we get a digital Jessicka Rabid comic and the film's trailer.
There's nothing at all socially redeeming about Jessicka Rabid. It aims to be a sick homage to the gritty underground flicks of the '70s, and while it succeeds in capturing the look, it doesn't quite capture the feel of those earlier films. Fans of Trent Haaga will want to check this one out, and the extras make it an attractive package for fans of the film.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Digital Comic