director David Cronenberg
Shivers, whether you’ve seen it or not, is the kind of movie that one thinks about when one thinks about David Cronenberg’s “body terror” period. It is, of course, Cronenberg’s first feature film, interestingly, produced as was Rabid (1977) by Ivan Reitman. It’s about sexually transmitted lust parasites and the 1970’s monoculture that they infect.
A lot of Cronenberg’s early work in body terror has been considered prescient of things like the AIDS virus, medical experimentation, and other societal events that have given further interpretation to his films. And it’s fair enough to make that jump.
Really, Shivers has within it a critique of the free swinging 1970’s, some orgiastic culture, falling victim to a new disease attached to its transmission and intersections. What seems especially interesting is that where the zombie film and in general, the zombie concept that some disease that transforms a living being into a dying, undead thing, has become such a pop culture staple, here we have disease that doesn’t kill but creates lust. You don’t eat people. You rape them.
It’s seriously a much more perverse scenario.
In the film, it all takes place in a modern mega-building, a self-contained world on an island in Montreal, a fancy high-rise with its own grocery, restaurants and physicians. Only it’s also got the mad scientist who does vivisection on his student, creating this parasitic aphrodisiac organism that starts getting all over the place. No doubt the constraint of limiting the story to a single structure offered some cost-effectiveness, but the setting seems yet another critique of modern urban life. That said, the people of the building are all quite nice and normal, not monsters at all, until they are infected.
The film features two notable, gorgeous actresses. The beautiful Barbara Steele, of so many great horror films of the 1960’s. And Lynn Lowry, less well-known, but unique-looking, she appeared in Radley Metzger’s Score (1973), George A. Romero’s The Crazies (1973), and even Paul Schraeder’s Cat People (1982).
Between Shivers and Rabid, you’ve got vintage Cronenberg. Movies of the Canadian horror auteur that are films that only he could have made, weirder and more compelling than most anything from the period.