In early 2012 The Museum of the Moving Image ran a comprehensive David Cronenberg retrospective. A couple of fellow film buffs and I were excited to meet up for the screening of Shivers, Cronenberg’s first commercial feature, which none of us had seen. Two hours later, we staggered out of the cinema, blinking stupidly, gapemouthed, silent. After slugging back half of the first post-screening cocktail, we erupted into a chorus of “What the fuck just happened?” “What was that?” “Oh My GOD!” Part gut punch, part brain teaser, Shivers retains a power out of all proportion to its micro-budget, condensed shooting schedule, and inexperienced director. The opening credits are a deft, economical set up of the scenario. A bland voiceover describes the delights to be unlocked by nothing more than a signature on a lease in Starliner Towers, a sleek, modern apartment block, self-contained and secure on an island just 12.5 minutes away from downtown Montreal. To 2012 eyes, the sparkling sales pitch is belied by the carousel slide projector cha-schlicking through dim, grim photos of the building’s amenities. A deserted, Hopperesque restaurant, an indoor heated pool with a suffocatingly low ceiling, windowless shops and clinics, sinister underground parking garage. Thus, the first question raised by Shivers is “How did this read in 1975”? It’s a question that comes up again and again throughout the movie. Did viewers at the time see this presentation as an accurate reflection of their own aspirational consumer desires, or did they share our sense that it is establishing the creepy, off-kilter tone that characterizes much of the movie? Were the impractically low chairs and absurdly non-illuminating light fixtures actually cutting-edge interior design or included specifically to make the audience squirm? The next puzzle is “Who are these people”? We know that this is a horror movie, so when the attractive young couple arrives for a viewing we immediately wonder if they’re our heroes or the first victims. The security guard’s Brad Douriff as Barney Fife schtick hovers disconcertingly between comedy and potential violence. And then, three minutes into the film, low key tension explodes into a full-on assault on the audience’s brain and gag reflex. An androgynous young person in a school jacket and tie tries unsuccessfully to keep an old man from forcing himself through a door. Is it a boy? A girl? A woman dressed as a child? Is the old man the father? The police? A john? As the two struggle, the violence takes on a sexual tone, and it’s not clear whether it’s consensual. Stuffed animals on the bed render the scene even more disturbing and disorienting. Only when the old man strangles the ‘girl’ to death is it firmly established that this more than some particularly rough play. The audience is still left trying to interpret or impose meaning as the old man (inexplicably shirtless now) tapes the corpse’s mouth shut, cuts open her chest cavity, and pours acid into it before cutting his own throat. The complete lack of context about the participants and their relationship gives this scene an enduring impact that is undiminished by the flood of torture porn that has followed. We soon learn, through highly entertaining exposition provided by the great character actor Joe Silver, that the old man was a professor of neurology, virology, and psychopharmacology who turned those skills to address his concern about humanity’s over intellectualization. Specifically, he developed a parasite that would act as a ‘combination aphrodisiac and venereal disease’ passing from person to person reducing inhibitions, and turning the world into ‘one beautiful orgy’. Here again the question of how this read in 1975 comes up. Closer to the front lines of the sexual revolution and earlier days in the women’s and gay liberation movements, did this philosophy sound at all groovy, or was it always obviously some creepy geriatric’s extraordinary effort to get laid? Whatever the theory, the practice did not go to plan. The dead girl was the professor’s guinea pig. He infected her with the parasites as a test case, but sexual liberality intensified to sexual frenzy, which devolved into mindless violence. The professor killed the girl and himself in an attempt to contain the outbreak, not realizing that the girl had already infected several other building residents. The rest of the film follows various characters major and minor through the good ship Starliner’s descent into chaos as the egalitarian parasites infect everyone from the youngest to the oldest, culminating in a scene reminiscent of a George Romero Living Dead movie, if the living dead were brain dead fuck monsters instead of rotting corpses. Unexpectedly, as soon as the last resident is subsumed into the parasite tribe, the frenzy dissipates. The final image of the film is of peaceful and happy infected couples driving toward downtown Montreal, only 12.5 miles away. This begs the final, most persistent question, “What is this supposed mean?” It is difficult to try to interpret Shivers without the impact of the AIDS crisis or the threat of an antibiotic resistant pandemic coloring the view (and speculation as to what a contemporary remake might leave in or take away is endlessly fascinating). But attempting to look at it on its own merits as a piece of its time rewards repeat viewings. Shivers comes across quite differently if you read it as the ad absurdum inevitable conclusion of rampant egoism and consumerism than it does if you imagine it as a rallying cry for complete sexual liberation. And how much was Cronenberg taking the piss and how much being serious when he suggested it wasn’t about the humans at all, but was a hero’s journey for the parasites? In our post-screening debate of all these questions, my friends and I came to agreement on two unquestionable absolutes. First, David Cronenberg’s genius and unique vision burst forth in this movie fully formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus. The Shivers screening was preceded by a couple of his underground or student films, which were a bit pretentious, a bit tedious, with some interesting bits, but you wouldn’t want to sit through them again. Absolutely nothing in them prepared us for Shivers’ onslaught of dread, shock, and revulsion expertly punctuated with absurd humor. Not only did it establish that Cronenberg was a very capable filmmaker, it launched the tropes of body horror and sexual grotesquerie that have persisted throughout his career in a stunning revelation of just how complete his vision has been from the very beginning. Second, a barefoot Barbara Steele drinking rose while doing fiber crafts on a shag rug is the most 70s possible in a single shot, and if Cronenberg’s career had ended after Shivers he still would have credit for one of the finest moments ever captured on film. See larger image Shivers ( They Came from Within ) (Blu-Ray & DVD Combo) [ NON-USA FORMAT, Blu-Ray, Reg.B Import – United Kingdom ] United Kingdom released, Blu-Ray/Region B : it WILL NOT play on regular DVD player, or on standard US Blu-Ray player. You need multi-region Blu-Ray player to view it in USA/Canada: LANGUAGES: English ( Dolby Linear PCM ), English ( Mono ), English ( Subtitles ), WIDESCREEN (1.78:1), SPECIAL FEATURES: Blu-Ray & DVD Combo, Booklet, Cast/Crew Interview(s), Documentary, Interactive Menu, Photo Gallery, Posters, Remastered, Scene Access, Trailer(s), SYNOPSIS: A scientist living in an apartment complex kills a girl and uses acid to destroy her internal organs, and then kills himself. While investigating, a doctor discovers that the scientist was doing experiments on the use of genetically engineered parasites as organ transplants. Soon, other people in the complex begin showing signs of carrying the parasites, spreading the things through wanton orgiastic abandon, and the complex begins suffering an attrition problem. …Shivers ( They Came from Within ) (Blu-Ray & DVD Combo) New From: $21.26 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... 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