AKA They Came From Within, Frissons, The Parasite Murders
Written By: AD
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
Director: David Cronenberg
Producer: Ivan Reitman
Screenwriter: David Cronenberg
Release Date: October 10, 1975
Paul Hampton as Roger St. Luc
Joe Silver as Rollo Linsky
Allan Kolman as Nicholas Tudor
Susan Petrie as Janine Tudor
Rating: 3.5/5 Graves
In a luxury apartment complex in Canada, a doctor has been conducting some very unethical experiments. Believing that humans are too cerebral and have lost touch with their true, animal impulses, he has developed a parasite to help humans return to their primal state. As a result of these experiments, the parasite begins to spread through the apartment complex thanks to the doctor’s first guinea pig, Annabelle.
This movie does have some blood and guts, but much of the gory violence happens in a slightly shielded way or off-screen. However, your imagination will fill in the blanks.
The Grave Review
This film almost plays out like a science experiment: how fast could a disease or parasite spread among an enclosed apartment complex (and by extension, an island, then to the rest of Montreal, and so on)? Director, David Cronenberg lets us know that it would take hardly any time at all.
Cronenberg is known for his body horror films, and although Shivers is more subdued, it fits right in with his films that are more well known. This was only his third film, and though you can tell that he wasn’t working with the kind of budget he had for, say, The Fly (1986), he works around budget constraints well. Even when the lower budget effects are clearly “lower budget”, they’re still effective and can invoke dread, at least in part thanks to how plain gross they look.
Of course, the very concept of the movie does the rest of the work: the idea of infection is a pretty basic human fear. Not only can the pathogen be passed on through bodily contact (a character in the film describes it as a venereal disease) knowingly or unknowingly by its carrier, but it can also leave its host body altogether, and will enter through any orifice available. A particularly horrifying moment, perhaps the most intense I’ve seen in any horror movie, has a parasite discovering a woman relaxing in the tub.
Even more effective than the violence is the amorous behavior the pathogen wakes up: it is just so wrong compared to the way people should be acting in response to the violence and insanity that is around them. The violence is discomfiting, even more so because it has the quality of a snuff film. This makes the few brief scenes of sexual violence even harder to watch, as well.
The movie does have an odd structure that can help or hurt it, depending on the tastes of the person watching. It really does play almost as a documentary of an outbreak, so we get snippets of things from apartment to apartment, and character to character. Earlier on, a colleague of the doctor that developed the parasite sets the score and baldly explains what is going on and why. It is somewhat jarring—he knows everything that will happen but has no idea that it has already begun. This does make parts of the movie drag disproportionately. Once these moments are over, it does let the viewer sit in shock undisturbed, though. Characters never have an opportunity to take a break and understand what is currently unfolding. Rather, the characters are only able to adapt to the circumstances as best they can. This is, perhaps, more realistic horror, especially considering the film’s less-than-happy ending. Once you get past the documentary-style scenes, the pace of the film progresses in a swift and entertaining manner.
Altogether, Shivers is gritty and real, the breed of horror that hits disturbingly close to home because of its themes and the way it is shot. Although it’s definitely worth a watch for horror fans, it’s also a better choice for those with stronger stomachs. There’s no shame in tapping out on this one!
For the foregoing reasons, Grave Reviews gives Shivers (1975) three and a half graves out of five graves.
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