Monday, December 31, 2012


I have been a fan of director David Cronenberg for many years and his work almost always has some sort of disturbing aspect to it. In particular his earlier work through the 1980’s featured a proclivity to what’s been called “body horror”, where the creepy aspect is derived from special effects showing the body doing unnatural things. I’m willing to forgive the gross out factor in his films because they are offset by an overall intellectual aspect. His shocks are specifically designed and thoughtfully considered when he uses them. Mr. X supplied me with a copy of David’s first horror feature, a 1975 film called “Shivers”, a movie that I have wanted to see ever since I first became a fan. As a veteran of watching his filmography, I *thought* I was prepared for anything he could throw my way… but I was mistaken. For me, it turned out to be the most upsetting entry in his catalog.

The story concerns a physician who develops a new and radical medical therapy where he has designed a biological parasite that has a specific talent that the host is deficient in. So if a man has a failing liver, the parasite might perform the function of cleaning his blood. Unfortunately the parasites also bring with them some serious side effects. They make you insane and induce an overwhelming degree of  sexual desire. Or to put it more succinctly, they turn you into horny, sex zombies. The parasites also reproduce and can be transmitted, people to people. The outbreak is initially limited to an upscale apartment complex, where the doctor had been having sexual relations with his infected patient. A different physician lives at the same complex and along with his nurse he is trying to stop the contamination from spreading.

Okay what’s so upsetting about that scenario you may wonder? Well it’s two things. The damned parasite looks like…there’s no way to put it gently.. a turd. So in one scene you have it exiting a man through his oral cavity and it looks as if the guy is taking a bloody dump out of his mouth. The other element is not so much a visual one but a conceptual one. The infected people are so sexually charged that they become poly-sexual. So the sexual acts alluded to include hetero, homosexual (both mail & female), bondage, incest and even pedophilia. We are spared bestiality, unless I somehow missed that vice.

I should also make mention that the acting is not very good. There are a few decent performances but some are outright goofy. Specifically I refer to the smarmy apartment manager and the doofus security guard. Maybe they were there to bring in a humorous element but if so they seemed to be wholly out of place.

Despite those “sins”, I actually did enjoy the film. It’s certainly not Cronenberg's best by any means but dammit, it is very smart. In a way it is an allegory on both consumerism and the lapse of sexual mores. On the former front this predates Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” and I wonder if George wasn’t influenced by the film when he did Dawn. 

Pat Hilger

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