The Movie Waffler Blu-ray Review - <i>Shivers</i> (1975) | The Movie Waffler

Blu-ray Review - Shivers (1975)

High def reissue of David Cronenberg's feature debut, from Arrow Video.

Directed by: David Cronenberg

Starring: Paul Hampton, Joe Silver, Lynn Lowry, Allan Kolman, Susan Petrie, Barbara Steele

After initial signs of manifestation in his previous experimental films, Cronenberg's first eruption of full blown body horror was recorded in this, his feature debut. As a director, there was always a schism between the hard intellectual edge and the childlike glee of playing in the goo of the human body. If the war has gradually been won by the brain in his later work, his early films show an edge and a penchant for ideas that are still shocking some 30 years later.
As a concept, sexualised parasites is pretty outré, and the execution is sometimes a little bargain basement. The body warping effects are strong, but the parasites still look like a cross between draft excluders and turds. It could be laughable, but played dead straight and with full commitment from all involved it becomes warped and disturbing, with an uncomfortable erotic charge.
Using a mixture of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in which you can't tell who has been infected or taken over, and the zombies of Romero's Living Dead films (More Night of the Living Swingers in this case), Cronenberg takes tropes that have now been established in horror cinema and places them under forensic analysis. This is not to say Shivers is a cold film, far from it, at turns amusing and satirical with a sexual charge. It has always been the easy route to portray the director as some sort of mad scientist figure, cold and emotionless and in love with his monsters but not his actors. One only has to look at his work on The Dead Zone and Crash to disprove this.
The film is shot mainly in a sterile apartment complex, where an experiment has bred a parasitic sexually transmitted disease that turns those infected into aroused and voracious predators. From a bland opening presentation showing the dull, commodified living quarters and sterile apartment facilities, there is a feeling of troubling equivocation. If this hermetic, sterile existence is what passes for civilised society, then maybe it does need (literally in this case) fucking with. Roger (Hampton) and Nurse Forsythe (Lowry) may be the nominal heroes of this film, but there is never a clear definition of what they are fighting for. The limitations in budget actually help the film in this case, Shot with minimal fuss and maximum control, it reflects the bland beige palette of the complex, before erupting into orgasmic violence.
Unlike more exploitative film directors, the sexuality and nudity is of key importance to the narrative. There is a disturbing transgressive nature to some of the imagery, particularly those with children, more through implication than anything particularly graphic. There is an argument that this would actually work better without visualising the parasites. Whenever they are external from the body or leaping onto faces, the film falls into B-movie science fiction territory. Cronenberg understands the need for exploitation in order for the troubling subtext to be acceptable to both his distributors and audience. Controversy erupted because of the subject matter, but mainly because this was part funded by Canadian tax payers. This provoked an article from journalist Robert Fulford saying "you should know how bad this movie is, you paid for it!"
Released under a variety of exploitation alike film titles in various countries, which did scant justice to its mixture of Ballardian nightmare and William Castle cheap jack gimmickry, this is the opening salvo in a career perhaps unequalled in the horror genre. The concepts may be queasy and uncomfortable, but are always serious minded in approach. Cronenberg has proven himself a true auteur over the decades, and this debut has lost none of its strength over the years. About as essential as horror cinema gets.
The director approved transfer is a marked improvement on existing DVD versions; it is however still a relatively low budget production, so although the detail is intact it can only improve things so far. You also get an uncompressed mono soundtrack.
The meat of the extras is a new making of documentary, which features contributions from actors Barbara Steele, Allan Kolman and Lynne Lowry, along with film critic Kier-La Janisse who contextualises the film and the initial controversy regarding the tax funding for the film.
Special Effects expert Joe Blasco discusses his work on the film. Joe has a very high opinion of his work and himself but is good in conversation. Alas no Cronenberg.
You also get a 40 minute Canadian TV show, which has the director and co-producer discussing the release history of the film, and works as a nice companion piece to the newly commissioned Arrow doc from the ever reliable Calum Wadell.
There is also a short video essay from Caelum Vatnsdal, which would in truth work better on the page.
A trailer and the usual reversible sleeve and booklet, featuring the writing of Paul Corupe, and an excerpt from Cronenberg on Cronenberg.
A great set of extras but a little light on input from the director and producer Ivan Reitman.