Cronenberg’s Shivers

In 1975 David Cronenberg assaulted audiences with Shivers, his third feature, introducing many of the interests and themes that would preoccupy his subsequent films.

Shivers starts by introduces to a luxury high rise apartment complex situated on an island. The only access is a bridge connecting the island to the nearest city which happens to be Montreal. The complex is almost totally self contained with it’s own shops, swimming pool, golf course & even it’s own medical clinic manned by Dr. Roger St. Luc (Paul Hampton) & Nurse Forsythe (Lynn Lowry). On a seemingly ordinary day like any other something terrible is happening in the apartments, a university professor named Dr. Emil Hobbes (Fred Doederlein) has just brutally killed a young girl whom he was both having an affair with & using as a guinea pig for his bizarre experiments & he slits his own throat shortly after. Dr. St.Luc decides to do a little investigating himself & talks to Hobbes partner Rollo Linski (Joe Silver) who says that they were working on breeding a parasite that can take over the function of a diseased or damaged human organ. Meanwhile back at the complex a resident named Janine Tudor (Susan Petrie) is worried about her husband Nicholas (Allan Kolman) as he seems ‘very ill’ which he is. Nicholas begins to vomit up leech like creatures that then start to bite & infect the other residents of the apartment who in turn go on a violent, sexual deviant rampage as the strange disease carried by these grotesque parasites spreads rapidly through the complex. Dr. St. Luc & Nurse Forsythe discover the truth but while it may already be too late for the apartment & it’s unfortunate residents they must stop the parasites from escaping the island & into the city where they will be all but impossible to stop.TIn 1975 David Cronenberg assaulted audiences with Shivers, his third feature, introducing many of the interests and themes that would preoccupy his subsequent films. he film’s chaotic structure mirrors the collapse of residential life in the apartment block. The opening shows a young couple being welcomed as residents to the tower block, intercut with Dr Hobbes murdering his adolescent mistress by strangling her, then cutting open her stomach and pouring acid into her body to kill the parasites, and then cutting his own throat.

This Canadian produced film also known as The Parasite Murders & They Came from Within, both Orgy of the Blood Parasites which would have been a fantastic name for a film & The Parasite Complex were apparently working titles, was written & directed by David Cronenberg. You must also give Cronenberg credit for giving credibility & substance to a somewhat silly premise as he directs with deadly seriousness. Cronenberg throws in all sorts of everyday metaphors & messages as you would expect, the perils of sleeping around. All of the characters are interesting & well flesh out so we actually care for them which helps the film enormously. Shivers doesn’t contain much blood or gore, a few slimy parasites crawling around, the parasites themselves poking around around inside people causing their skin to bulge & a bit of blood is about as graphic as Shivers gets. Technically Shivers is a little on the rough side but this is to be expected since it was Cronenberg’s first film and the early days of Canadian cinema.

Director Cronenberg said he identified with the residents after they were infected; and shows the swinging sterility of “normal” life mercilessly caricatured through the characterisation of the bland, rich, young professionals inhabiting the apartment block, and the hard-sell estate agent’s sales pitch from Merrick (Ronald Mlodzik), which accompanies the opening titles.

Shivers was Cronenberg’s third feature film, and was the most profitable Canadian film made to date in 1975, but was so controversial that the Canadian parliament debated its social and artistic value and effect upon society, because of objections to its sexual and violent content.

The Canadian journalist Robert Fulford decried the content of Shivers in the pages of the national magazine Saturday Night. Since Cronenberg’s film was partially financed by the taxpayer-funded Canadian Film Development Corporation (or Telefilm Canada), Fulford headlined the article “You Should Know How Bad This Movie Is, You Paid For It.” Not only did this high profile attack make it more difficult for Cronenberg to obtain funding for his subsequent movies, but Cronenberg later said Fulford’s article also resulted in him being kicked out of his apartment in Toronto due to his landlord’s inclusion of a “morality clause” in the lease.