4 out of 5 stars
David Cronenberg’s 1975 directorial debut, ‘Shivers,’ or ‘They Came From Within,’ is a sexual infection film, offering a glimpse into the visionary mind of Canada’s most daring filmmaker. Themes of abnormality course through this picture, beginning Cronenberg’s long running fascination with the bizarre qualities of every day life. ‘Shivers,’ is a modestly constructed film, clearly showing young Cronenberg’s monetary constraints at the time. Much of the work was financed by Canada, offering a twisted account of the horrors of venereal disease for potential young viewers. Pairing well with ‘Rabid,’ Cronenberg’s following film, both works display Montreal in disaster, harkening plague/zombie films like Romero’s Living Dead series. Like Romero’s efforts, both ‘Shivers,’ and ‘Rabid,’ possess underlying political or moralistic messages about society and ourselves.
The entirety of ‘They Came From Within,’ is set around a luxury apartment complex on Starliner Island near Montreal. Following a renegade doctor’s attempts to create an infectious parasite, in the hopes of revolutionizing the world of organ transplantation, ‘Shivers,’ shows the futile attempts to quarantine the quickly spreading plague. Transferrable at the slightest physical contact, the parasite lives within the innards of its host, exiting through the mouth as a slimy sluggish creature. Strangely, once infected, the host becomes a sex-crazed zombie, allowing numerous scenes of perverse debauchery. Unfortunately, the disease cannot be contained, giving ‘Shivers,’ most memorable scene a haunting, reflective aspect upon viewers. After the plague spreads to the entire community, a shot is given of the residents leaving the parking garage and driving away, one by one, sharing the infection with humanity.
Much of Cronenberg’s trademarked inventive special effects are absent, furthering one’s realization that ‘Shivers,’ is a debut film. Surprisingly there is a severe lack of excessive violence, sex or gore within this film, instead relying on schlock to satiate its viewers’ sensational pallets. A heighted emphasis on atmosphere is placed upon ‘They Came From Within,’ a feat justly met, if not exceeded. The opening credit sequence is a perfect example, showing film slides of the apartment complex to a narration, inviting potential residents to the island. The bulk of these various aspects give the film a gritty, yet imprinting resonance.
The themes prevalent through ‘Shivers,’ are continued into ‘Rabid,’ Cronenberg’s next work, portraying a spreading infection on a much larger scale. One can almost say that the ending of ‘Shivers,’ translates into the beginning of ‘Rabid,’ following the Starliner residents into the city of Montreal. Both films share even smaller details, concerning bizarre medical procedures, and defunct doctors. In a way, ‘Rabid,’ offers the audience a better-financed version of ‘Shivers’.
Far from Cronenberg’s best, but still a defining classic,’ Shivers,’ is absolutely essential for all horror fans, or those tracking Cronenberg’s filmography. While not a film for everyone, ‘Shivers,’ is surprisingly accessible to viewers of all ages, despite its adult subject matter. Include ‘Rabid,’ for a great double feature from one of the greatest living directors.
Watch the Film: