Shivers (1975)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #214


AKA They Came From Within
Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: October 10, 1975 (Canada), July 6, 1976 (United States)
Sub-Genre: Body Horror
Country of Origin: Canada
Budget: $179,000CAD
Running time: 87 minutes
Director: David Cronenberg
Producer: Ivan Reitman
Screenplay: David Cronenberg
Special Effects: Joe Blasco, David Dittmar
Cinematography: Robert Saad
Editing: Patrick Dodd
Studio: Canadian Film Development Corporation (CFDC), Cinépix, DAL Productions
Distributors: Cinépix Film Properties Inc. (Canada), Trans American Films (US), Vestron Video (VHS)
Stars: Fred Doederlin, Paul Hampton, Lynn Lowry, Barbara Steele, Ronald Mlodzik, Joe Silver, Alan Migicovsky, Susan Petrie, Barry Boldero, Vlasta Vrána, Silvie Debois

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Suggested Audio Candy

Lil Louis & The World “French Kiss”

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Few creative minds could ever so much as dream of coming up with a concept quite as ludicrous as those that form the framework of David Cronenberg’s early works and fewer still could have made them a reality on next-to-no budget. Such a complex psyche it is that manages to strike the perfect balance between sexually and repulsion and Shivers also known as They Came From Within and The Parasite Complex encapsulates everything which has made him such an enigma and perpetual inspiration to indie film-makers nearly forty years on.

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Later Cronenberg would explore the relationship between humans and technology and the radical possibilities of transcending human evolution by using science to drastically alter our bodies and minds. Shivers however was his first full-length horror feature and instead scrutinized the fragility of the human shell in the first of his ‘body horror’ trinity. Watch this, Rabid and The Brood back to back for some real head-fuckery although this was by far the wackiest of the three.

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The intro of Shivers featured a commercial for Starliner Tower Apartments, a modernized yuppie condo which comes equipped with electrical appliances, cable TV, a golf course and an on-site medical clinic. The self-contained studio apartments were lavish by seventies standards, spacious and have the added selling point of being a breeding ground for an orally transmitted parasite which sends its hosts’ libidos haywire. Just a regular day at the office for Cronenberg then.

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The parasites in question didn’t discriminate or become bogged down by politics or emotions. They weren’t choosy and only had a singular aim…that being procreation. Cronenberg paddled against the tide here as traditionally there was more of a sociological stimulation for the creatures of seventies horror flicks and we all know the master likes nothing more than to upset the apple cart and oppose convention. With Shivers he broke down boundaries and it wasn’t until a full ten-years later that the penny began to drop and folk realized his grander scheme.

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He used an almost documentary-style approach with unobtrusive camerawork and plenty of low wide angles. This helped Shivers to transcend its meager budget and create an authentic environment that we made us feel almost like flies-on-the-wall. What’s more he somehow managed to make the whole package seem rather seductive as manifestation allowed the residents to shake free of their shackles, become liberated from their repressive lifestyles and engage purely in fetish-led activities and coitus. It all made for a pretty appealing proposition.

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Once infected the truculent inhabitants were transformed into fun-loving free spirits and Cronenberg’s film was undeniably a whole high-rise of fun. All the elements of a great B-movie were present and correct and, while crudely shot, it was opaque that he had unbounded potential and there was a delicious line of subtext for those fascinated by the social implications of overt sexuality.

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The whole building represented a petri dish for biological experimentation and Cronenberg provided us with a haunting image of sexual excess and accompanying perversions. By the time the infection had spread to almost the entire population of the Starliner apartments, participants had become deranged pleasure-junkies with nobody being spared, regardless of gender, race, status, or age. This included incestuous behavior and fetish a la two girls on leashes, crawling about on all fours looking for a leg to hump. Meanwhile the closing scene in the resident’s swimming pool is still as affecting now as it was all those years back, offering a suitably bleak conclusion.

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Shivers is disgusting. It is repulsive, sick in the head, reprehensible and trashy in the extreme. I loved every last minute of the excessive debauchery. If Cronenberg was testing the water for future works then he certainly had no issue with diving in head first. Strip away the madness however and it is an intelligently written and thought-provoking piece of work which was aeons ahead of its time.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: Plentiful schlock but the image which became infamous was that of horror veteran Barbara Steele taking an ill-advised bath and falling foul to a sea-faring parasite which slid along the base of the tub before finding a warm spot to incubate. Forget Fred Krueger’s scissorhands, this was far more effective at forcing your rubber ducky to turn away in disgust.

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Read Xtro Appraisal
Read Night of the Creeps Appraisal
Read Rabid Appraisal
Read The Deadly Spawn Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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