I could have been lazy and chosen any number of legendary 80’s slashers such as My Bloody Valentine and Prom Night to fill the Canada slot in this blog project. But I decided to delve into this seminal work by David Cronenberg, who’s style of “body horror” is groundbreaking, disturbing, and has rarely been my cup of tea (Debbie Harry was my reason to watch Videodrome.) It’s an interesting and unique film; not perfect, sometimes nauseating, but 100% original.
Director: David Cronenberg
Writer: David Cronenberg
Notable Cast: Paul Hampton, Joe Silver, Lynn Lowry, Allan Kolman, Susan Petrie, Barbara Steele
Plot: The residents of a suburban high-rise apartment building are being infected by a strain of parasites that turn them into mindless, sex-crazed fiends out to infect others by the slightest sexual contact.
Commentary, with SPOILERS: Right off the bat, Shivers is gauzy and grainy. It begins with a sterile, washed-out marketing slideshow accompanied by soft muzak that introduces the high rise complex, Starline Towers – really a self-sufficient gated community on a small islet. It appears aspirational and very upper middle class.
And then? We’re taken through an icky, sexualized murder of a woman in a schoolgirl uniform, by the man later revealed to be one Dr. Emil Hobbes. Not only was Dr. Hobbes sexually molesting the woman since she was a teenager, he also infected her with an insane parasite of his creation, with this purpose:
“a combination of aphrodisiac and venereal disease that will, hopefully, turn the world into one mindless orgy”
The end result, as you can imagine, is a pseudo-zombie film set in this high-rise community. Hobbes will not be getting the wild swinger party of his dreams (unless, he does? Ugh.) The sex in this film, implied or otherwise, is ugly.
- Ugly little turd parasites turn the infected into bizarre horndogs with no concept of consent or safety words.
- Our hero is a macho doctor (Roger St. Luc; Hampton) who sleeps with his hot nurse (Lowry).
- Barbara Steele may or may not have slept with the murdered woman.
- An infected father makes a completely skin crawling proposition concerning his daughter “Airrrica.”
The – err, climax – of the movie is a perversion of the joyous pool scene in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Ultimately, I found Shivers fascinating, very original and very disturbed.
What We’re Afraid Of: I won’t even pretend to be able to give insight to this movie the way that The Faculty of Horror podcast (creators Alexandra West and Andrea Subissati), with special guest Paul Corupe (an expert on Canadian cinema), did. Listen here and find out how Shivers ties in with a string of 1970s Canadian historical points including tax shelter films, “maple syrup porn”, Catholicism, conservative blacklash, the FLQ and the October Crisis. I can definitely feel the tension of a backlash against sexual liberation.
However, as I also found out on this podcast, Cronenberg has apparently stated that he “identifies” with the parasite. I think this is the crucial takeaway. As Nurse Forsythe explains to Dr. St Luc in a crucial scene:
“even old flesh is erotic flesh, that disease is the love of two alien kinds of creatures for each other, that even dying is an act of eroticism”
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