Review for Shivers
Director: David Cronenberg
David Cronenberg will forever be synonymous with the term "body horror", thanks to his output between 1975 and the early 90s. Before becoming one of the most exciting, subversive of mainstream directors, the Canadian filmmaker made a name for himself as one of the horror genre's boldest talents. He horrified audiences with efforts such as Rabid (1977), The Brood (1979), the disturbing Debbie Harry starring, Videodrome, and perhaps most famously of all, 1986's remake of The Fly. Not only was his genre work often gruesome in the most audacious of manners, but it was always accomplished, thought provoking, and very memorable.
For many Cronenberg enthusiasts though, it all started here, with Shivers, or to use it's more appropriate, original title, "They Came From Within", or as the script was originally titled, "Orgy of the Blood Parasite".
In an eerie apartment complex/self contained community, a rather rotund individual, Dr Hobbes, murders a young girl, before committing suicide. It turns out that the nefarious doctor was knocking off the girl, whom he implanted with a parasite designed to serve as an aphrodisiac. Being a promiscuous sort of lass, she's rather recklessly spread the illness around the building, highlighting the biggest problem with such a sterile, closeted society- it may keep many problems out, but in this case, it contains one within.
Meanwhile, wandering husband to Janine Tudor (the convincing Susan Petrie) Nick, has clearly picked up the bug himself, and beings to display horrific side-effects. Obviously, stressed by these in house developments, his better half sees the defacto hero of the piece, Roger St Luc (Paul Hampton), to investigate the situation further. In the meantime, the situation degenerates, and it becomes increasingly apparent that this may not be something that can be contained by the medical staff on site.
As the film progresses, what starts out as an oddball, disquieting story becomes increasingly paranoid and specific. As St. Luc becomes increasingly exposed to the weird sexual abnormalities that his neighbors are subjected too, the film begins to suffocate the audience with bizarre behaviour as the net closes in around him.
This is at times, very much a disgusting piece of work, and occasionally treads into disturbing territory. However, it is never boring, and never feels gratuitous. It's both sexually alluring and sexually repulsive. Essentially, the viewer is left watching a shocking parade of gang-rapes (both male and female), and sexual assaults, including an attack on a child (it's always the bearded individuals selected to depict the most heinous crimes... Sigh!), though in this regard, what is visible is certainly tame in comparison to the visceral wounds/parasites.
There's a deeply cynical disregard for the all-inclusive insular lifestyles offered by Starlight.This is aided hugely by the score, which is alternately advertorial and comforting, then disconcertingly menacing. Same sounds, but with a much different undercurrent emerging.
Obviously, Shivers isn't a perfect piece by any means. The standard of acting veers wildly all over the place, some actors are very strong indeed, with a few others being utterly terrible. The male lead is rather a bland character, left to aimlessly run himself around in circles making very poor decisions. The otherworldly sense of isolation also helps cover up some alarming irregularities- the most notable of which is surely the lack of police presence in such a building, which hosts an apparently vile murder. When Nurse Forsythe is attacked in her apartment, she returns the scene not long after to ensure dinner isn't ruined- the jokey tone coming across as very forced considering the shocking attacked she's just endured.
The suspense of the first half arguably amounts to more than the paranoid chase of the second, but overall, it's a compelling, and snappily told tale. It boasts one of horror cinema's most memorable climaxes, and is absolutely essential viewing for Cronenberg fans.
At just under 45 minutes, this is a meaty example of an Arrow documentary, looking back on the legacy of the film.
This includes Lynn Lowry talking about being uncomfortable doing full nudity in this case, and having to talk the producers into going with just topless in her case (she's correct- anything more is unnecessary for her character). Alan Migicovsky is equally chirpy, and bizarrely looks almost the same as he did back then, aside from his hair being a few shades lighter!
Creatures Creator/Makeup Artist, Joe Blasco is an invaluable contributor, offering warm insights and tidbits into the filming process. As can often be the case, the set-up and design of practical effects is great fun to learn about.
Canadian critic, Kier-La Janisse offers solid background information and bio into Cronenberg giving the documentary some much needed cohesion and perspective. Generally, the running time is packed with anecdotes and informative side-notes that really add to one's appreciation of the film.
On-Screen! - The Making of Shivers
A 47 Minute television programme from Canada about Cronenberg and the release of Shivers, directed by Tristan Orchard. This provides a really interesting glimpse at the filmmaker's early, short films, Crimes of the Future, and Stereo. Contributors also delve into the murky ground of attempting to analyze his intentions and influences. An interview with Cronenberg himself is hugely illuminating, touching on many of the problems that the young director faced in making the movie. Cronenberg's inexperience in suddenly being thrust into the position of actually being responsible for a cast and crew makes for amusing tales.
From Screen to Video
A video essay by author Caelum Vatnsdal profiling Cronenberg's early career. This is excellent stuff, and running 26 minutes, manages to cover a huge amount of material in a very brief time frame. However, there are spoilers contained within, so first time viewers of the director's work, beware!
Original Theatrical Trailer
This is a much brighter looking image than previous releases, something that has been a point of consternation for some viewers. But it's a crisp, sharp picture, much bolder and with better contrast than previous versions. The audio, as perhaps you could expect, isn;t quite first class, at times a little uneven, however it is largely robust and clear.For the most part though, Cronenberg's film looks great and sounds fine, particularly considering its origins and age.
Also worth noting, is the controversy that has arisen since the release, concerning the absence of material that some fans regard as crucial. Totaling what some estimate to be up to 17seconds, several scenes are shorn with brief cuts to violent material. Arrow for their part, are "currently investigating", as the restoration was performed under Cronenberg's supervision, for Toronto International Film Festival.
This issue appears out of Arrow's hands, however regrettable it may be. Whether it affects the appeal of this new release, is entirely up to the individual. For my money; it doesn't really damage the film and certainly will not be noticeable for the vast majority. With that said, it is an understandable frustration for fans, particularly as previous releases have been more complete.
In all other regards however, Shivers is a winner. Copious amounts of nudity, lashings of stomach churning gore, Sex-crazed zombies, and a low-budget are all elements that make this sound like a typically wild exploitation picture of the era. However, in the hands of Cronenberg, it is a different beast entirely. At times cold, others devastating, this is a ferocious depiction of a remote situation that manages to disturb and hit closer to home than the desolate faux-community it depicts would suggest.