After a few frighteningly “normal” films, and with his most recent foray into “respectable” cinema almost netting him an Oscar (“History of Violence”), I felt it was time to go back and see what it was that made David Cronenberg’s early films such wildly perverse delights. Sure, Cronenberg’s still capable of the weirdness that made “Videodrome” and “Scanners” such genre-bending classics, but none of the director’s recent offerings comes close to his wonderfully eccentric seventies output, with 1975’s “Shivers” serving as my personal favorite from the period.
Set in a somewhat isolated luxury apartment complex, Shivers opens with a disturbing murder of a young woman who, as we soon find out, was very popular among the mail inhabitants of the building. The young woman’s killer, a researcher working on a revolutionary new organ transplant system using parasitic implants, leaves behind a series of confusing notes and photographs that lead the apartment complex’s live-in physician (Hampton) and the dead researcher’s partner (Silver) to believe that the girl was killed as a result of an experiment gone horribly awry. When her regular suitors begin to exhibit signs of increasingly violent sexual appetite, it becomes clear that the parasites designed to better the chances of mankind’s survival could very well lead to its extinction.
The director’s first feature, Shivers is a low-budget yet remarkably assured “debut” (after nearly a decade in television and shorts) of the Cronenbergian aesthetic; the blend of sex, paranoia, isolation, and violence - as well as a genuine sense of distrust for science, medicine, and technology – that would permeate through most of Cronenberg’s later offerings and define him as a filmmaker.
As of this writing, the reviewed Region 1 DVD of Shivers (Image Entertainment) is currently out-of-print, but a Region 2 offering is still readily available. Neither version, however, features much by way of supplemental material, and, by all accounts, suffer from less than impressive transfers.
I’m hoping that, with his recent mainstream success, Cronenberg’s earlier films will get better treatment on DVD and am especially hopeful that Shivers will get the extra special treatment it deserves, being that it is not only a legendary director’s first feature film, but also a defining moment in horror cinema history.