It’s effective, for sure. Not my gig, even slightly, but it is not a bad film. It might even be considered good for the time.
Written and Directed by David Cronenberg
Starring Paul Hampton, Lynn Lowry, Barbara Steele, Joe Silver, Vlasta Vrána, Alan Migicovsky, Susan Petrie
Shivers is one of the Cronenberg films that promises something extraordinarily disturbing. It is disturbing, but not for the same reasons one may expect. When one describes a film as body horror, it brings body dysmorphia to mind. One won’t see anyone taking off a limb in this film.
I was shocked to discover that it had been produced by Ivan Reitman. This is not Stripes or Ghostbusters though. Not even close.
The story starts in a supposed “state of the art” condo outside of Montreal on an island. An old geezer murders a teenage girl. He then slices open her stomach, then pours acid in the wound. Then he kills himself. The two are discovered by a man who immediately begins to convulse and leaves without telling the police.
This sets off a chain reaction and we discover, through a series of expositions, the true purpose behind the old man with the young girl. It only gets creepier.
Turns out the man was working on a parasite that could take over parts of the body, like a fully functioning organ. This parasite in particular turns those infected into sex-crazed zombies intent on getting it on with anyone around.
I won’t tell you what they do with cherry pie.
Done poorly, this would be a detestable film. Cronenberg manages to make the premise interesting, even if he’s working out some personal kinks along the way.
The film drew the ire of its native Canada upon release, so much so, the director even was kicked out of his own apartment in Toronto due to a morals clause. Its depravity was despised, but the film was Cronenberg’s biggest hit up to the time.
It is not a film that should be easy to watch. I haven’t watched more than a handful of Cronenberg films, but they aren’t ever a picnic to observe. There is a coherence to his editing, if nothing else, when it comes to Shivers. If you can navigate through the questionable morality of it all, you get the sense of mad science out of control. This is intended to shock, like Frankenstein shocks.
There is enough of a structure to give the viewer a sense of the walls closing in, with every young girl and old couple it infects. It’s effective, for sure. Not my gig, even slightly, but it is not a bad film. It might even be considered good for the time.
(**1/2 out of *****)
From Ebert’s Original Review:
“…Now what’s especially effective about “They Came from Within” is that most of the horror is suggested, not shown…”
(**1/2 out of *****)