(dir. David Cronenberg, 1975)
“T-E-R-R-O-R beyond the power of priest or science to exorcise!”
Unlike a lot of horror and cult film fans, I never really grew up watching the likes of the Universal monster movies, Godzilla or anything like that. My parents weren’t prudes or strict in that regard, I just never really had an interest. I was one of those mainstream kids who loved Action Man, football and video games. It wasn’t until I was in the final years of high school that I started to discover the wonderfully weird world of psychotronic cinema. Every weekend, my parents would take me to Music Zone (remember that Mecca UK folks?) so I could buy a CD or DVD for that weekend. I discovered some really nice schlock thanks to my visits to the shop that sold (what I considered at the time) menacing looking titles like Zombie Flesh Eaters and Cannibal Holocaust in the black cases with nothing but skulls and bold gold lettering. I was a kid, I didn’t know they were butchered prints from the infamous Vipco label! One weekend, I was able to pick up a few titles at once. This was when I discovered David Cronenberg’s Shivers. Little did I know how big of an effect this film would have on me personally. Little did I know that this film would kick-start a journey in to the world of cult cinema and forever change my viewing habits. I still own that DVD copy and will probably never part with it. That being said, the folks over at Arrow Films have recently released this cult classic for a new generation of film fans to experience. It’s time to relive the horror that is Shivers!
So in a nutshell, Shivers follows the story of the residents of Starliner Towers, a luxurious and state-of-the-art apartment complex. There’s a dark secret lurking behind the fake smiles, and it’s not very neighbourly. A laboratory created parasite that was intended to be used as a replacement to organ transplants has been unleashed upon those unlucky enough to live in the luxurious surroundings. Those unfortunate to be infected suffer a fate worse than death… The overwhelming desire to ravish anything and everyone in their way. Yep, it turns people in to sexually charged animals. Forgive me if you have heard this one before but, where do I sign up!? It turns out one of the genius’s behind the creation, Dr. Emil Hobbes (Fred Doederlein) was something of a horny professor in the first place. You see, Mr. Hobbes was having an affair with a young, nubile student and passed the parasite on to her. Within the first 5 minutes of the film, we are treated to him chasing the young girl, choking her, laying her down on the kitchen table and performing a little bit of DIY home surgery before he offs himself. Noble.
Although everyone within the complex ‘suffers’ at some point, the film focuses on a handful of characters. We have Nicholas Tudor (Alan Migicovsky), an insurance adjuster and his wife Janine (Susan Petrie), her manipulative friend Betts (Barbara Steele), the Starliner’s on premises doctor, Roger St. Luc (Paul Hampton), his assistant nurse and lover, Nurse Forsythe (Lynn Lowry) and the business partner of Hobbes, Rollo Linsky (Joe Silver). As the film plays out and the main cast work out just what’s going on and what they can do to survive or potentially stop an outbreak, we are treated to seeing residents, young and old, getting attacked in a variety of ways, often quite funny. The scene of the old couple getting attacked in the hallway and the large woman reacting hilariously in the laundry room when she comes face to face with the parasite are personal highlights. The bit players don’t have all the fun though. Ever wanted to see a bathing Barbara Steele attacked by a parasite that resembles fecal matter? Now you can! It seems like every 5 minutes, someone is attacked by the parasite or by someone infected. Don’t get me wrong, there are some nice trashy and sleazy moments, but this is more than a mere B-movie. In some ways, the film deals with sexuality and the theme that disorder and chaos can happen even in the Utopian like setting populated by seemingly superior members of society. Delve deeper and you can link it to what was happening at the time in Quebec.
Overall, Shivers works on different levels. You can watch this merely as a sexually charged and gross exploitation picture, but there is also the social commentary and various underlying themes for those who like to explore cinema in a more academic sense. The effects are fantastic from Joe Blasco. The parasite is genuinely disgusting and the scenes where it can be seen crawling under people’s skin are very effective. Fans of Alien take note, that infamous scene involving John Hurt owes a lot to this film! The use of music is subtle, but adds the tension and atmosphere when needed. The acting is probably the ‘weakest’ element of the film, but I mean that in the best way possible. Paul Hampton should be honoured for his over and under acting in this film, he just doesn’t seem all there and it’s fantastic! His performance alone is a reason to watch this. Those who become infected also are fantastic to watch. Again, don’t let that put you off because it really does not distract at all! Oh and fans of Lynn Lowry will definitely like a certain scene, but that’s something you’ll have to discover yourself!
Small imperfections aside, David Cronenberg did a terrific job on what people often forget is his first feature-length film. You really see Cronenberg’s genius throughout. The body horror that he would become famous for is clearly evident and his intelligence shines through. For me, Shivers is my all time favourite Cronenberg film. When I first watched it all those years a go, I loved it for how trashy it was and also loved it as a so-good-it’s-bad style of film. Upon recent viewings, with what I know now in mind and what I have experienced on my journey through the world of psychotronic cinema, Shivers is an extremely competent and intelligent film that tickles both the intellectual and schlocky parasites that live within me. The presentation of the film on the DVD is wonderful and makes for a great upgrade to the copy I have had for all these years. I can only imagine how lovely this looks and sounds on Blu-ray. Features include the informative Parasite Memories documentary as well as the On Screen! Making of Shivers feature, a video essay from Caelum Vatnsdal looking at the work of David Cronenberg, promotional gallery, original theatrical trailer, a collector’s booklet with writing on the film by Paul Corupe and reversible artwork including a newly commissioned piece by Nat Marsh. Not only that, but you can pick up a rather gorgeous steelbook version if you so desire. It’s a wonderful package for a wonderful film.
If you like disgusting creatures, incest, lesbians and medical induced hyper-sexuality that would make Freud wince, then Shivers will be slithering it’s way in to your film collection on the 13th October from Arrow Video.