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  Shivers Sex Mad
Year: 1975
Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Paul Hampton, Joe Silver, Lynn Lowry, Allan Kolman, Susan Petrie, Barbara Steele, Ronald Mlodzik, Barry Baldaro, Camil Ducharme, Hanka Posnanska, Wally Martin, Vlasta Vrana, Silvie Debois, Charles Perley, Al Rochman, Julie Wildman, Arthur Grosser
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: This is the island Starliner apartment complex, a self-contained living facility where not only are there homes to buy and stay in, but shops, leisure areas, doctors and a dentist, all guaranteeing you need never leave the place if you do not wish to: it's futuristic enough to be its own world in there. However, just as a new young married couple are being shown around with a view to purchasing one of the apartments, there is something decidedly not so comfortable going on in one of the rooms: a doctor is attacking a young woman, subduing her and then performing an operation on her...

So what's going on? David Cronenberg was announcing his statement of intent to the world of cinema, that was what, as Shivers, also known as They Came from Within or The Parasite Murders, was the first of the Canadian auteur's movies to truly gain international attention. He had produced experimental films before, but nothing commercial, yet here as he wed his particular outlook on society to the horror genre, he made many film fans sit up and take notice. Not always in a good way, either, as he seemed genuinely taken aback when he was accused of having one of the sickest minds in the movie business.

The trouble that the naysayers had with Cronenberg's horrors was not so much that they depicted acts of bloody violence, but that he apparently saw nothing wrong in siding with the diseased and maniacal in those works, and so it was here: it resembled a film about parasites made by emotionless insects. Not that he neglected the intellectual aspect of his premise, for we are given a rundown of what to expect from the next hour and a half, as that doctor we see apparently cutting open a schoolgirl against her will is actually trying to stop the infection he has created from spreading. But she's no schoolgirl, and she has been conducting an affair with one (or more) of the residents of the complex.

Which means she has been infecting others, and it's a businessman (Allan Kolman) who is the main carrier, casually throwing up the fat slugs which then go on to somewhat farcically creep up on their victims, or even leap out at them like jack-in-the-boxes. Cronenberg was not working with a huge budget here, and it showed, with muffled sound and visuals that looked far less slick than you imagine he was aiming for, although those parasites were appropriately slimy, and he didn't skimp on the blood by the time characters began to be murdered. Not that the disease wants its hosts to die, it has a more reproductive plan for them than that, from which follows shots of the cast passing the slugs from mouth to mouth in their oversexed state.

For all its grungy, physical imagery, Shivers was a film of ideas, and expected you to consider what was occuring on a more cerebral than visceral level. That was hard for most audiences to do such was the strength of those ideas that triggered a gut reaction most of the time, but Cronenberg was always a filmmaker who came across as creating his works for himself first, and if anyone else liked them that was a bonus. He was not alone in seeing the tension and thrills that could be generated from such a shocker movie situation, as the plot owed a lot to J.G. Ballard's novel High Rise, mixed with parts of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers and Night of the Living Dead. One drawback of this was its concentration on the progress of the infection left the human characters lost amidst the mayhem, with supposed lead Paul Hampton (as the doctor) making little impression till it was too late, although the ever-reliable Barbara Steele did well in a memorable role. This was a shaky production in its way, but Cronenberg had to start somewhere.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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David Cronenberg  (1943 - )

Highly regarded Canadian writer/director who frequently combines intellectual concerns with genre subjects. Began directing in the late-70s with a series of gruesome but socially aware horror thrillers, such as Shivers, Rabid and The Brood. 1981's Scanners was Cronenberg's commercial breakthrough, and if the hallucinatory Videodrome was box office flop, it remains one of the finest films of his career. The sombre Stephen King adaptation The Dead Zone and the hugely successful remake of The Fly followed.

The disturbing Dead Ringers (1988) was a watershed film, based for the first time entirely in reality and featuring a career-best performance from Jeremy Irons. The 1990s saw Cronenberg in uncompromising form, adapting a pair of "unfilmable" modern classics - Burrough's Naked Lunch and Ballard's Crash - in typically idiosyncratic style. M. Butterfly was something of a misfire, but eXistenZ surprised many by being fast-moving and funny, while 2002's powerful Spider saw Cronenberg at his most art-house.

His later films were the acclaimed, bloody comic book adaptation A History of Violence, London-set thriller Eastern Promises, an examination of the sources of psychotherapy in A Dangerous Method, drama in a day Cosmopolis and Tinseltown takedown Maps to the Stars. Never one to bow to critical or popular demands, Cronenberg remains one of modern cinema's finest filmmakers.

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