Monday, January 24, 2011

Shivers: The Horny Disease


I've been dreaming of what watching Shivers would be like for a very, very long time. After reading in length about some behind the scenes "drama" and the backlash it caused Cronenberg as a filmmaker, I was positive that I needed to see it immediately. My dreams were put on hold however for 6 months or so until I was able to dig up a copy and now that my dream is over all I can say is.....wow. I would never have imagined that the range of the phallic symbol could go so far, nor would I have ever imagined that J.K. Rowling would ever have based Ron Weasley's horrible slug vomiting mishap on horny parasites.



I suppose I have to believe it now. Shivers is pretty amazing and pretty impressive considering it was Cronenberg's first big time film. Sure it's dated and some parts a bit dodgy, but overall the film ends up being one of his most subversive. Some view it as a zombie film, some view it as a vampiric disease where blood is switched for sex. Some view it as a social commentary on the restraints and taboo-like nature of sex AND some believe that Shivers is proof that Cronenberg inadvertently foresaw the development of AIDS. What do you believe?


Taking place in an idyllic apartment building, we find that Dr. Hobbes has developed a parasite to aid in organ transplant. However, due to his own observations, Hobbes concludes that we have lost touch with our bodies and instincts, and so he creates the parasite to act as both an aphrodisiac and venereal disease. The parasite has been tested by Hobbes' young mistress, but after realizing quickly that the parasite has gotten out of hand, he kills the woman and the parasites inside her, before killing himself. What he didn't know however was that his mistress was getting freaky with some other people in the apartment, causing the parasite to spread....


To put it lightly, the parasite turns people into sex crazed maniacs. They act like zombies except they want to rape you instead of eat your flesh. To be honest, I don't think I knew going into it that this was what Shivers was about. I believe I was fixated on the image of the squirmy, slug like thing in the bathtub with Barbara Steele more than I was the actual plot.



When all was said and done however, I must say---Shivers goes places. Yes, one's first reaction to zombies that just want to have sex might be laughter---but think about the kind of people that a typical apartment building houses. We're talking, old women, little children, teenagers and their parents.......all wanting to have sex. It's really quite frightening when you take a step back.

For some reason I didn't anticipate the possibility that children would be in involved in all this and then....this happened.


Later on, Roger is running through the building and comes across 2 young girls leashed like dogs being led by someone. Still later, we come across a young girl and her father just about to do the deed. It really was one of the more disturbing moments that I have ever come across--and it really made me think.

Aside from all this disturbia, Shivers also has phallic symbols up the wazoo. Or perhaps it's one phallic symbol whatever---the point is, these parasitic creatures are disgusting. Not only do they look like penises but they also suffer the grave misfortune of looking like a piece of poop.


Few things are more terrifying than seeing someone open their mouth and having this come out.




It's also terrifying for me, as someone suffering from a fear of vomit--to hear someone violently puke blood and parasites up in a bathtub. Which reminds me.... why do people find it necessary to throw up in things that ought not to be thrown up into? Why would you throw up in something that doesn't offer the quick and easy clean up method that a toilet does? This really bothers me...but anyways. This dude pukes in the tub of all places, and it's a cringe worthy scene. Later he goes out to the balcony where he throws up a parasite on top of an old lady's umbrella--which she erroneously thinks is a bird. Sigh....the brilliance of that particular scene is stifling.

Shivers also boasts the good fortune of Barbara Steele!


She sits in a bathtub and a parasite plops out of the drain and goes inside her......vagina. Then there's all this blood and nastiness and boom-- Barbara Steele is a sex maniac. She makes out with Janine and then pukes a parasite into her mouth.


Yes, Shivers is full of awesome.

Aside from all the social commentary and the you know, important things--Shivers is surprisingly entertaining. There's laughter, there's fear, there's sex, there's sadness. Shivers really has it all. One thing in particular that I noticed is how great the end is, where Roger is running all over the apartment building slowly realizing that everyone has been infected. It kind of reminded me of that scene in The Shining when Wendy stumbles upon that man getting a blow J from that guy wearing a mask. Take that moment and multiply it by about 20, and you have this ending scene. It's like behind every door was a highly uncomfortable and embarrassing situation, and they seemed to get worse with every door he went or looked into.

Sure its bizarre seeing someone just jump somebody and want to do them--but it comes off as being a lot more invasive than I would have guessed.


I mean really, it's all just a bunch of raping isn't it? And the best part is it isn't just women getting raped by men. It's really just a big game of equality. Men raping men, women raping men, women raping women, children raping men, men and women raping children.



I can see why Cronenberg's reputation with the Canadian film board was slightly tarnished after this. There is a lot of boobage, a lot of gore, and a lot of freaky deaky shit in this. With a director as smart and subversive as Cronenberg however, these things are all just stops on the train to mind explosion. Much like I did after watching Rabid, I wandered over to an interview where Cronenberg talks about Shivers. Some of the stuff he says is pretty inspiring, especially all the stuff about how being a true artist requires that you be subversive to some extent. If people get disturbed and upset--then you know you're doing something right.

Overall, Shivers is one of the better Cronenberg films--unpolished yes but I maintain that the ideas and the themes tackled are pretty insanely brilliant. For a director's first film to be this wild it takes some serious guts. I'll need to see it again to fully wrap my head around everything but I am confident nonetheless that I love this film.

Oh and finding a copy of Shivers can be tricky if you aren't planning on dropping a few bucks (or 40)--so I think we should all just pester people until they re-release this on DVD. Thank you.





6 comments:

Dod said...

I really like this movie. I stumbled across it late night a few years ago, and thought it was an interesting take on the "infected masses" genre.

And it has Lynn Lowry.

Todd Miro said...

This was one of the earliest horror movies I can remember watching as a kid. In a drive-in. With my folks.
Yep, that might explain a few things...

The Film Connoisseur said...

I enjoyed it, but see all of its flaws as well. Mainly on the technical level. The film looks really grainy, the lighting is not very good at some points and neither is the sound, but the thing about Cronenberg is that he improved by leaps and bounds with each film he made. Its like from this to Rabid and then to The Brood...I mean, he just got better and better.

But even with its flaws, this film is awesome in my book. Because of its themes, and its ballsiness.

I also enjoyed the extras hearing Cronenberg talk, he seems so mild mannered and educated!

Michael Williams said...

I love this movie. I remember reading an interview w/Cronenberb in Starlog magazine where he talked about his earlier, pre studio film and they sounded pretty bizarre. These earlier films were about sexually transmitted diseases. Shivers was supposed to be a continuance of the idea of am addicting SDT loose in society.

When I finally got to see the film, about 10 years ago, I immediately thought of AIDS.

Emily said...

Nice review and one I agree with. I scored a VHS copy from a yard sale last year for a whopping $1. Twas kind of the highlight of 2009.

onipar... said...

I had the great luck of seeing this film at my local theater's monthly horror marathon. A fun movie to see on the big screen. Nice write up.