Jessicka Rabid (2008)

Description (from
A dysfunctional family, the Hoffmans, have been living their lives in a veil of secrecy. Incest, rape are a part of their everyday lives.  A product of which, is Jessicka (Elske). After years of nameless abuse of her family and neighbors, Jessicka has been reduced to something less than human.  She’s more of a family pet than she is a true member of the family. Jessicka is the tragic character brought up from her surroundings, and suddenly finds her opportunity for revenge.

Major Cast:
Elske McCain as Jessicka, Trent Haaga as Marley Hoffman, Jeff Sisson as Brad Hoffman, Cisiany Oliver as Abby Hoffman

Special Features:
Behind the scenes featurette, The Lloyd Kaufman outtakes, Digital Jessicka Rabid comic, Trailer, Behind the scenes slide show, Exclusive SUPER HOT Elske McCain slideshow, Audio commentary, Tromatic extras

Written by Matthew Reel and Elske McCain
Directed by Matthew Reel

Some movies just make you feel kind of dirty, and some movies make you feel I-can’t-scrub-enough-to-ever-be-clean-again dirty; JESSICKA RABID is the latter.  Sure, it’s got boobs and blood.  Sure, it’s even got some fleeting glances at full-frontal nudity (which, if that’s what you’re looking for, you can easily find in the special features).  And sure, it’s got some heavy metal and some B-movie “names” in it.  But do not be fooled: this is no popcorn movie.  This is not a fun, campy romp through the woods.  This movie is dark, it’s twisted, it’s dirty, and it is very effective at doing exactly what it sets out to do.

I met Matthew Reel and Elske McCain at the 2005 TromaDance NM film festival, in which I also had something playing (I think it might have been NACHT VAN DE DUIVEL DVD-SPELER, but I don’t remember for sure).  I was impressed with their film THE GOAT SUCKER, and asked Matt to send me a copy so I could review it (here).  They were both nice people that loved movies, and had made a really stylish, impressive short.  I knew I’d see more from them.

Jessicka, in her cage

Fast forward a few years later; I have reviewed another short, ALL THE FRENCH ARE WHORES (here), worked with Elske on GIMME SKELTER (and she had a cameo in my flick, DEFECTIVE MAN!), and had been hearing about their feature they were making, JESSICK RABID.  I heard about it, and heard about it, and heard about it… and when I had just about given up on the idea of ever seeing it, it got distribution through Troma.  I know there was a lot of drama off-screen with this film, and I’m sure if your curiosity as to why it took so long to go from idea to finished film is peaked, a little internet detective work will bring up at least some of the drama, but I’m not here to talk about that.  I’m just glad that I finally got to see it.

Reel is a lover of old exploitation films, as is McCain.  I had heard that JR would be a “retro” or “throwback” film to the grindhouse era, which put me a little on edge at first.  A lot of people have made a flick, threw a film-grain video effect on it, and called it grindhouse.  Not many people have actually been true to the grindhouse era of films.  There is more to it than nudity and violence with some superimposed film grain.  Reel obviously knows that.  JR looks more authentically late-60’s / early-70’s than about anything else I’ve seen that attempts that aesthetic.  What makes JR feel truly grindhouse is not the film grain (which is used sparingly), it’s the attention to detail: the inserted missing frames, the out of focus shots, the over-saturated and washed out colors, the bad sound, the bad framing… it just feels right.  If you did not know that this movie was a homage to those films, you might think “man, this film is really badly shot and the sound sucks,” but if you know what JR is going for then you realize that it got there admirably.  There are a few shots here and there that undercut the fantasy that this movie was made in 1971, and of course there is the fact that the cars are modern, people talk on cell phones, etc.  As far as the look and sound of the film, JR really nailed the grindhouse feeling.

The "film grain" effect is used sparingly, but effectively

However, those exploitation films were not just characterized by a look and a sound, but by the fact that they were deviant, they were different, they were not your average story.  JR is not your average story.  Jessicka suffers from some unexplained, unnamed mental aliment.  She may be autistic, she may be slow, she may be just so abused that she no longer functions correctly; the explanation to this behavior is not explained and does not need to be.  What we know, what we need to know, is simply that Jessicka is not a person.  She is the family dog… a dog that just happens to have the sexual anatomy of a woman, and she is treated as such.  Raped, brutalized, taken advantage of; there is no innocent member of the Hoffman family.  All get their turn with the dog.

Jessicka has obviously been in this situation for her whole life, as have the rest of the family (and the neighbors and friends of the Hoffman’s), and no one seems to think it is wrong to do the things that are done.  They are commonplace.  To put this in place, you have to realize that the Hoffman’s are not the average family.  Marley drinks and drives (literally at the same time) while en route to deliver pot.  Brad feels no remorse forcing a blowjob onto his cousin, or making money off putting her in a shot-on-video porn.  Even Abby takes her turn to use Jessicka to get her jollies off.  It is no surprise that eventually Jessicka reaches a breaking point.  Be she slow or not, there are things that everyone knows are not right.  She comes to the realization that what she is enduring is not what she should be in, and she snaps.  If you beat a dog enough, no matter how nice a pooch it is, they will eventually go shit-bat crazy and eat your face; Jessicka is no exception.

Sisson, and his beard, as Brad... a bad, bad man.

Beyond the visual / aural esthetic of JR, the acting also was on a higher level than the average low-budget film, and especially so for the average Troma release.  Haaga, who consistently shines no matter the part, is both cool and frightening.  Sisson just emanates creepy sleaziness through his performance.  Oliver, whom you think would be the shining light in the darkness that is the Hoffman family, carries her part solidly.  JR is easily the best thing I’ve seen from McCain; and this is not a snarky comment (as she has no dialogue in the movie).  I truly felt the innocence in Jessicka’s eyes, and the confusion, the fear, and eventually the vengeance.

Reel’s direction was spot-on in JR.  As I mentioned earlier, he truly has captured the look and feel he was going for, but he has also captured the performances needed to propel such a heavy story.  His use of freeze-frame (with continued audio) was great, not only for the feeling of authenticity it brought the retro film, but for the emotional impact it brought to the story.  Reel knows when to drop sound out, when to drop picture out, how to really toy with the emotions of his viewer.  This man has some serious talents, and JR is a showcase of many of them.

Normally I don't like trippy effects, but the psychedelia in this scene felt spot-on.

Overall, JR was an awesome film.  It was not a fun film to watch, and I won’t be watching it again anytime soon, but it was most certainly worth the wait.  It captures the retro grindhouse feel better than any other attempt I can think of, from the look and sound of the film to the performances to the subject matter.  This is a lot heavier than most of the stuff you see from Troma; there is no camp, no silly fun gore, no boobs for the sake of boobs in this Troma release.  JR is all business, and business is dirty.

Overall 8 / 10

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