UK Release Date: 13th October 2014
Runtime: 87 minutes
Director: David Cronenberg
Writer: David Cronenberg
Starring: Paul Hampton, Lynn Lowry, Fred Doederlin, Barbara Steele
Synopsis: In this classic body horror, sexually transmitted parasites make their way around a tower block.
Nowadays, David Cronenberg is permanently enshrined in history as a true icon of horror cinema. His work is so recognisable and iconic that it’s common to refer to a work of visceral body horror as “Cronenbergian”. Even as he moves into more dramatic pieces, such as A Dangerous Method and the recent Maps to the Stars, it is body horror that will define his career.
Shivers was Cronenberg’s first feature-length film and marked the beginning of his obsession with gruesome, flesh-based horror. The 70s shocker has never been seen on Blu-ray, until now courtesy of this new release from Arrow Films.
The film follows the residents of an apartment block as Roger St Luc (Paul Hampton) tries to bring an end to the spread of a parasitic sexual infection. Those who are infected by the worm-like creatures become lustful and aggressive, desperate to pass on the disease to others.
| "Disease is the love of two alien kinds of creatures for each other."
The beauty of Shivers is that its lo-fi effects still hold up even today. The practical effects are delightfully gruesome from start to finish, disguising the tiny budget. Every creature attack is an explosion of brutality and gore that is remarkable for its time, with Cronenberg’s use of suggestive blood trails masking the lack of creature presence in the first act. The stunning new Blu-ray transfer really makes the effects sing in a way that they never have before.
It’s a difficult film to pin down, with a structure that reflects the unfolding chaos around the characters. Rather than a work of narrative cinema, Shivers is a cautionary tale against using science to alter the nature of humanity. It also works as a critique of a society obsessed with sex, pushing that idea to its logical, debauched conclusion.
Shivers also boasts one of the most chilling endings in the history of cinema. In its final moments, the film shows a stream of cars leaving the apartment complex, filled with infected residents. Without needing to show the carnage wrought by the zombie-like army, Cronenberg makes what happened next clear – the planet was infected.
| "I loathe to eat alone. It makes me feel so fat and lonely."
Despite its low budget roots and an inexperienced filmmaker behind the camera, Shivers manages to be an atmospheric, effective horror movie. It’s rough around the edges and does not match up to the director’s later work, but it’s a worthy first step on Cronenberg’s ascent to body horror legend status.
Extras include a brand new documentary, Parasite Memories, packed with on-set information from the set of Shivers and a specially commissioned video essay on the career of David Cronenberg.
Pop or Poop?
It’s certainly not Videodrome or The Fly, but Shivers is the work of a director who always had bags of potential in the horror arena.
For genre fans and Cronenberg completists, this new release from Arrow Films is a must-buy. And for everyone else, it’s a chance to witness the first work of a true master of his craft.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
Shivers is available on Blu-ray from today courtesy of Arrow Films.