A Sci-Fi Honey Classic Review by Katie

Shivers (1975)

There are cult directors out there, especially in the horror genre, who have a distinctive visual style, an auteur-esque mastery over certain themes and subjects, and a passionately loyal following of fans.  For all of these particular elements, there are certain directors whose films I will return to time and again: David Lynch, Guillermo Del Toro, and, of course, the master of Body Horror himself: David Cronenberg.

Last month Netflix added Cronenberg’s very first feature-length film, Shivers, to its list of streaming sci-fi/horror offerings.  Also known as They Came From Within, The Parasite Murders, and my personal favorite: Orgy of the Blood Parasites, Shivers was released in 1975 to great controversy in Cronenberg’s homeland of Canada, which made it difficult for him to get a subsequent film financed and released.  A no-holds-barred take on the sordid nature of the swinging 1970’s, Shivers is a low-budget launch pad for one of the most important and visionary horror filmmakers of our time.
Oh yes, there will be blood.
The film opens in an uber-modern apartment tower, where a young yuppie couple is being sold on the many conveniences of contemporary living – a scene which is intercut with the goings-on in a neighboring apartment: a bizarre murder-suicide.  Cronenberg wastes no time in this opening sequence inundating the viewer with a barrage of imagery he will later be well-known for: violence with a sexual suggestion, bodily penetration and mutilation, and graphic – but somehow twistedly beautiful – death tableaus.  An investigation into the death of these residents soon uncovers a mad doctor’s secret plot to transplant a parasitic organism into unsuspecting victims.  Like some perverted version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, this parasite plagues its host with a deviant and insatiable sexual appetite.  Acting on these desires is a surefire way to spread the infection, and bam! – a decade before Cronenberg meditated on the pandemic of HIV/AIDS in the subtext of his masterpiece The Fly (1986), Shivers conveys its own commentary on the repercussions of reckless sexual behavior.

Parasitic slugs: Worst. STD. Ever.
By the time the mid-1970s rolled around, the hippie movement was dead and “Free Love” evolved into the seedy stuff of suburbanite wife swapping, group-gropes and key parties.  Cronenberg taps into the underlying horror and anxiety of this amoral trend by unleashing every sexual taboo on the viewer, from incest to pedophilia.  The parasitic “monster” of the film is really no more than carnal lust gone rampant, infiltrating first a tight-knit community and then extending into greater society.  Even in a modern context, what Cronenberg manages to depict in Shivers is no less frightening in its concept (especially now that STDs are so widespread) and no less shocking with what he was able to get away with.  From The Last House on the Left to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the mid-1970s was a daring time for horror filmmaking – and Shivers contributed to that trend in spades.

You don't want to admit it, but your parents
totally had orgies in the 70s.
Now that I’m familiar with most of Cronenberg’s work in the decades that followed, what struck me while revisiting Shivers this time around is how completely, unapologetically Cronenbergian it is.  There is nothing in this film that tells me he was struggling to find himself as an artist, and nearly everything in Shivers is a nod to some other aspect of his long and illustrious horror career following this debut.  Cronenberg would later champion erotic and body-centered horror in films like The Brood, Dead Ringers, and Videodrome – not to mention the odd sexual proclivities portrayed in Crash – and you can find fragments of each lining the seams of Shivers.  Sure, it’s his first film and it’s extremely low-budget, therefore it could use some polishing – but there is genuine potential lurking behind the film’s amateurish shortcomings.  Shivers is a creepy, prurient, and decidedly un-sexy experience that may keep you from the boudoir for a night or two.

Sci-Fi Honey Rating: Four slithering sex parasites out of five.