SHIVERS – 1975
AKA: They Came From Within; The Parasite Murders
Dir: David Cronenberg
Starring: Paul Hampton, Joe Silver, Lynn Lowry, Allan Kolman, Susan Petrie, Barbara Steele.
Shivers in out in the UK now on Dual Format DVD & Blu-Ray from Arrow Video.
Shivers makes a bow on Blu-Ray as Arrow Video put their considerable talents to creating a definitive edition of Cronenberg’s early classic. David Cronenberg is now something of a household name respected and revered by both horror fans and the cineastes alike. Shivers marked his feature debut and immediately singled him out as a talent to watch and a subversive voice in the darkness. Although it was un-appreciated at the time, Shivers is intensely intelligent, yet creatively schlocky and emerges as a minor masterpiece, showcasing early examples of many recurring Cronenberg themes.
The story of a medical experiment gone wrong, it follows a group of people living in a high class high rise as a nasty parasite is loosed upon them. Causing violent and aggressive sexual tendencies in its victims it becomes a fight to survive for those who have kept the parasite at bay. Thematically ahead of its time, and dealing with some heavy issues Shivers is a sexually charged, grotesque affair that deals head on with the darker side of sexuality, the dangers of insular communities and the asinine impersonality of modern living. Many of these themes would inform his later work and the cold, detached style would be perfected in later films like Dead Ringers (1988) and the astonishing Crash (1996).
Its views of modern living and the dangers inherent within sexually repressive societies were quite revolutionary at the time. Trapped by the confines of the apartment block, and of their own lifestyles the residents are easy pickings for the parasites, and as it brings out the repressed desires of its hosts it passes easily from person to person. Foreshadowing the outbreak of HIV and presenting the penis shaped parasites as penetrative creatures forcing their way into their victims was a subversive idea. As they corrupt the routine and infect the social equilibrium the film presents a society that is released from its prison and all leads to an orgiastic conclusion that didn’t sit well with critics.
The film was branded repulsive and disgusting by some on its release, and questions were asked as to whether or not the Canadian government should be helping to fund such ‘trash’. Completely missing the films core points about repression and the lack of intimacy within modern communities, these critics would also miss the films streak of jet black humour. Cronenberg is often viewed as an overtly serious film maker but many of his films are laced with a wicked sense of humour that underline the darker principles at work.
In its way it is a strange retelling of Romero’s Night of The Living Dead (1968) with the zombies replaced by the sex crazed hosts as the movie progresses. However, Cronenberg’s film avoids a lot of horror’s usual tricks and approaches the material with a scientific eye, introducing Cronenberg’s obsession with the inside of the body forcing its way out. Rabid (1977), Videodrome (1983), The Fly (1986) and even A History of Violence (2005) would return to some of the ideas that he first explores here. It may be a little rough around the edges, and there are times where Cronenberg’s lack of experience as a film maker are evident, but Shivers is something of a classic in own right; transcending its b-movie trappings to become a smart, rebellious picture that would mark Cronenberg’s arrival as one of the foremost directors of a generation.
As is now the norm with most Arrow releases the image here is pretty good. It isn’t the best I have seen but it is a step up from any DVD release that I have previously viewed. It’s a little grainy at times and doesn’t quite live up to Blu-Ray expectations but that suits the films humble origins and its gritty ideas. The special features here are a decent batch with two documentaries that detail the films production and feature contributions from almost everyone involved, including Cronenberg himself and producer Ivan Reitman who would go onto make such mega hits as Ghostbusters and Twins.
But its special effects maestro Joe Blasco that provides the most entertaining interviews. His lively, excitable recollections of how he came to be part of the production are engaging and thoroughly amusing. There is also a video essay by Croneberg expert and avid fan Caelum Vatnsdal detailing the directors career from his early shorts right up to his first major studio outing Videodrome (1983). It’s a very detailed piece covering everything including his television work and the little seen Fast Company (1979).
As to this being a definitive edition it has sadly come to light that several seconds have been cut from this version of the film. Arrow have released a statement regarding this and they are looking into what has happened. Unusually for Arrow they were not directly involved in the restoration of this one and the first they knew of the problem was after the film’s release. So if you are a purist it may be best to hold on to your DVD copy right now. I haven’t been able to do a comparison as I no longer have a DVD copy, but the word is that around 14 seconds are missing from various scenes throughout the film.