Any fan of the legendary horror maestro David Cronenberg will be curious to know the origins of his talents, and Shivers, made in 1975, was his first movie, mostly funded by a Canadian Government organisation. The man who has since attracted much praise and much controversy with films such as Rabid, The Fly, Scanners, Videodrome, eXistenz and Crash suggested a preoccupation with horror in all its forms early on in his career, and Shivers, although since surpassed by other, more visionary tales, clearly has proved to be influential.
The primary plot is superficially simple, yet there is arguably a ruthless, secondary plot strand venting pro-Nixon-seventies and anti-Woodstock-sixties sentiments. Paul Hampton, or more accurately, the diabolically woeful Paul Hampton, plays Dr. Roger St. Luc, a person entrusted with saving an apartment complex's inhabitants from terrible parasites that take over the body's internal organs. A mysterious professor, who killed himself before witnessing the full atrocities of his actions, designed the parasites, and they cause their hosts to attempt to ferociously mate with any human untouched by them, thus spreading the parasite at an extremely rapid rate. On an academic level, it could be argued that Shivers is an attack on the liberal, sexually-proactive times of the sixties as seen from a Republican seventies viewpoint. Therefore, the ending is ambiguous as to which ideology the film supports. The film is also fairly misogynistic in its violent treatment of women, particularly towards the frenetic ending, although in its defence you could argue that the women treated with violence are all already possessed by the parasite.
The film looks extremely dated and extremely low-financed: the sets always look like sets and the acting is caught in the no-man's-land between amateur and professional. Some of the dialogue has been looped over in post-production, and this is fairly evident during the film, both with mis-timed voice-overs and fluctuating volume levels occurring in conversation.
Being a cheap budget horror film, Shivers is the usual variation of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers; characters gradually fall prey to the parasite, and the heroes find themselves with less and less help as the film progresses. From a horror point of view, there are many shock moments during the film, which will certainly please the thrill-seekers. Tension is maintained mostly throughout the film, although towards the finale the plotting strays slightly towards the absurd. Even so, Shivers is a very good piece of evidence that suggests that Cronenberg had tremendous potential even at the very start of his movie career, and his films improved greatly as he matured.
Presented in anamorphic cropped 1.85:1 widescreen, the picture suffers from an inconsistent transfer which at times looks perfectly acceptable and at other times suffers from excessive shakes and artefacting. The Region 1 version is presented in unmatted fullframe, and the high quality anamorphic Region 2 version reveals far more damage to the print because of this.
Presented in the original mono, the soundtrack fluctuates with volume levels, and dialogue ranges from being extremely clear to almost inaudible. To a large extent, this is the fault of the original, but the DVD certainly hasn't improved matters, with excessive hiss in places.
Introduction By David Cronenberg: A Film-Four produced ten minute segment showing Cronenberg talk about his reasons behind making Shivers. Cronenberg also mentions how he has often been accused of plagiarising Alien, even though he is quick to defend the fact that Shivers beat Alien by five years. The segment is mostly interesting, although Cronenberg waffles excessively towards the end about his opinions on being an artist.
Trailers: Trailers for Shivers, and Rabid, the other, similar Cronenberg film also released by Metrodome.
Production Notes By Kim Newman: A few words from talented sci-fi critic Kim Newman, presented as on screen text.
Filmographies: Filmographies for the main stars and Cronenberg.
Stills Gallery: A brief minute of promotional stills from the film, without any interaction from the user.
Shivers is an enjoyable if flawed low-budget horror movie that is a showcase for the potential talent Cronenberg had in his early days. It isn't necessarily an attractive enough DVD package to warrant a purchase (a commentary from Cronenberg could at least have been included), or even a repeat viewing, but any certified horror or Cronenberg fan should see this film as a prerequisite.