Shivers (1975)

T-E-R-R-O-R beyond the power of priest or science to exorcise!

Year of Release: 1975
Also Known As: They Came from Within
Genre: Horror/Science Fiction
Rated: R
Running Time: 87 minutes (1:27)
Director: David Cronenberg


Paul Hampton ... Roger St. Luc
Lynn Lowry ... Nurse Forsythe
Allan Kolman ... Nicholas Tudor
Susan Petrie ... Janine Tudor
Joe Silver ... Rollo Linsky
Barbara Steele ... Betts
Ronald Mlodzik ... Merrick
David Cronenberg ... Infected Crowd Member / Stabbed Shoulder (uncredited)

This is the second in a series of flicks I'm reviewin' in tribute to the ten guys that I feel made the biggest, and in some cases, most important contributions to the Horror genre, and this time we're headin' up to the great white north to honor a man who had the audacity to take perfectly good tax dollars and, to the horror of the Canadian Parliament, actually use 'em for the betterment of society. I speak, of course, of the medulla demolitions expert himself, David Cronenberg.


Starline Tower is a luxury, high-rise apartment complex situated on an island: the only access is a bridge connecting the island to the city. The residents enjoy country living, but with all the comforts and services of the city.

The complex boasts its own shops and recreation facilities and even has its own private medical clinic. Life is good on Starliner Island: the residents are wealthy and secure in their opulent isolation... until something odd begins to happen...

A strange disease which begins to pass from resident to resident puzzles Dr. Roger S. Luc, head of the private clinic. There appears to be no connection between those who contract the disease until he links it with the bizarre murder/suicide of a former medical professor and his attractive young mistress.

The disease, now dangerously virulent, is affecting more and more residents. The symptoms are frightening, inducing the victims to commit acts of uncontrollable violence accompanied by unusual sexual behavior. Dr. St. Luc engages in a desperate race to discover the cause and find a remedy.

But the race suddenly becomes a matter of escaping from the complex and warning those in the unsuspecting city across the bridge. St. Luc and his nurse, Forsythe, soon find that there can be no escape, however, as the building rocks with the screams of new victims and the vicious assaults of the infected ones...


Shivers, remindin' us that not all sexually transmitted invertebrates can be cleansed by shampoo alone.

And speakin' of critters no sane person'd intentionally cultivate, I wanna apologize for bein' MIA the last few weeks even though it wasn't my fault. I been gettin' so many phone calls the last month inquirin' about the "blessed event" that I keep havin' to put that nice lady from the IRS who talks with a Southeast Asian accent on hold every time she calls to get my credit card information and it's startin' to get to me.

I TOLD that driver's side airbag not to put an ad in the paper before she actually had the product in hand but she did it anyway and now I'm havin' to field calls from every wingnut in town who's still got enough fingers to dial a phone. They all wanna know when the Sadies' possum kits're gonna be for sale and word's gotten around about what happened to Abel Pankins when he showed up at their house and used a word typically associated with places little Dutch boys stick their fingers as temporary flood prevention; although given some of the punishments I've been handed over the years I think he got off easy just gettin' a garden hose forced down his throat.

Normally I wouldn't give a flip about whether or not Abel ingested the scientifically recommended eight glasses of water per day or whether it's a good idea to take 'em all within a span of 14 seconds, but we were tryna work out what was goin' wrong with our breedin' operation at the time and his cowardly, gurgled screams kept derailin' my train of thought.

"You about done out there?" I hollered out the kitchen window.

"Yeah. I guess," Sadie conceded, extractin' the nozzle and shovin' Abel's face into a mud puddle.

"Was that really necessary?" I asked as Sadie removed her filthy Crocs.

"No. Just wanted to show 'im I know my way around a hose," she giggled.

"I just don't understand," Mrs. Sadie puzzled, ignoring the Second Degree Assault and rubbing Eve's pointy little possum chin. "Eve and Shankles have been... um... intimate... at least six times but they haven't conceived yet."

"You're prolly givin' him performance anxiety. Ya oughta put that camcorder away while they're jizzercizing," I suggested.

"Do you have to call it that? And I need to record every step of the process for the instructional Youtube series I'm working on," she insisted.

"Really? 'The process?' Can't imagine why they can't get in the mood," I snarked.

"It's no big mystery - your boy's sterile, that's all," Sadie asserted, scoopin' Shankles up and rubbin' his belly. "It's not his fault him's half a man, is it sweetums? Nossir! Who's an adorable little blank bazooka?" she emasculated.

"What the hell're you tryna say?" I snarled, taking offense on Shankles' behalf.

"I'm sayin' there's no fuel in his injector. I mean, think about it - how many other possums you seen around?" she shrugged.

"There's not *supposed* to be. He prolly fell asleep in some hungover college kid's hatchback and woke up over here when the kid drove home for Christmas vacation or somethin'," I rationalized.

"All I know is there's a perfectly good oven here and the dough's not risin'," she continued.

"And I spoze you've got a degree in veterinary gynecology and have confirmed her oven's in good working order? Maybe her oven's got a short in the element. Or maybe there's an *environmental* issue," I challenged.

"Meaning?" Sadie squinted.

"Meaning - she's been watchin' you two bob for oysters her whole life and decided she prefers Long John Silver's to Wienerschnitzel," I posited.

I had a lotta time to think after Sadie buried me up to my neck in the garden like Rory Calhoun in Motel Hell, and I guess I knew the "nurture" part of the equation really wasn't the problem. I guess I just didn't wanna admit that I was startin' to get invested in the whole cockamamie scheme, even if my primary motivation is to make sure Shankles' genes stick around after he's gone.

Anyway, I came up with a few constructive ideas 'round about the time the crow landed on my head and started usin' chunks of my hair to shore up a few structural defects in its nest, but before I could scream most of 'em toward the house the Ladies Sadie came runnin' out to extract me from the soil 'cause somethin' was goin' on with Eve.

"Come quick! It's happening!" Mrs. Sadie squealed, plungin' a spade uncomfortably close to my carotid artery.

"Musta been pregnant the whole time - I just thought she'd been tired lately," Sadie deduced, reachin' in for my arm and purt'near dislocatin' my right shoulder.

"Yeah, that tracks. If she'd gone into labor three hours ago I woulda missed out on the experience of havin' potato bugs crawl around in my drawers," I grumbled, diggin' a worm outta my waistband.

We all rushed inside and gathered around the sofa where Eve'd rolled onto 'er back in preparation for the big moment and waited patiently for the miracle to begin; Sadie bitin' 'er nails, the missus glued to 'er camcorder, and me shakin' the bean sprouts outta my shirt while Shankles watched on with interest from his perch on my shoulder, and then, after about ten minutes of tiny shrieks and a lotta straining, it happened.

I tell ya what, I haven't seen a pile of shit that big since the time we had that little septic pump "malfunction" at the Grime Time. Guess it's tough gettin' into a romantic mood when you're plugged from end to end with fish gut fertilizer.

Admittedly, this doesn't entirely explain the trouble our little friends've been havin' gettin' in a family way, but I ordered a coupla possum porno videos from National Geographic and convinced Mrs. Sadie to dig out some of 'er old Boys II Men tapes for mood enhancement purposes, so I'm confident that we should be hearin' the pitter patter of possum feet in the next month or so.

I'll be sure to keep ya updated on the situation, but if I'm bein' honest I was still kinda frustrated that our little project wasn't movin' forward, and since I couldn't possibly feel any filthier'n I already did I decided to pop in a Cronenberg. Think I needed to remind myself that growin' disgustin' little glopola monsters in your gutbucket is a natural process and that things'll work themselves out if ya quit fussin' over 'em.

I've gotta admit that I don't always understand the point Dave's tryna make with his movies and I've thought about firin' off a letter to ask what it all means except I'm afraid he might tell me and then I won't be allowed in church anymore. The only thing I know for sure is that after seein' one of 'em, you'll need a shower and have absolutely no desire to share said shower with another person as long as you live.

Tryna review a Cronenberg flick kinda seems like doin' it a disservice given that there's no way anyone could ever hope to cover all the hitherto unspoken insights into modern life, so lemme just preface these observations with the admonition that they were only a *few* of the sagacities that struck me during my personal viewing experience, and that you should always watch an entire Cronenberg film start to finish to achieve a full understanding of why humanity is doomed. First, you can bioengineer an inhibition-lowering free-love mudskipper if you want to, but it's no substitute for Woodstock. Second, it's perfectly legal to abort your parasite in Canada, but most people are too polite. And third, it takes a real talent to take somethin' as mundane as murderin' a Catholic school girl to keep the souvenir you left in 'er belly from escapin' and make it weird.

The movie begins with a timeshare presentation for Starliner condominiums - homestead of the future - where the indigenous Mole Person population has been exterminated for your subterranean parking convenience, and the management's commitment to chemical-free living shines through in the pristine, green waters of its fabulous indoor swimmin' pool. From the outside the place seems like an immaculate monument to modern middle-class Montrealian megalomania, but on the inside, some old dude (Hobbes) who looks like the blueprint for every blowhard Westerner who ever led an expedition into the primordial jungles of Africa is stranglin' a Catholic school girl so he can spread 'er out nekkid on the kitchen table and pour acid into 'er gutbucket to test a new form of Alka-Seltzer tablet under authentic gastrointestinal conditions. His test fails, and with the demand for stuffy, know-it-all paleontologists in children's television programming sinking to all-time lows, Hobbes decides to slash his own throat and take his secrets of digestive relief to the grave. A few minutes later, Adam Driver's non-union Canadian equivalent (Nick) stops by the dead gal's apartment to go snorkelin' in 'er unmentionables and ends up nopin' outta there without a word 'cause he don't want his wife (Janine) to find out he's been spendin' all his spare time in the deceased's neutral zone rackin' up high-sticking penalties. He tries goin' to work but he can't focus 'cause he's got these free-range tumors swimmin' around in his poutine processor threatenin' to make 'im regurgitate all his organs in reverse alphabetical order, so he decides to head home and blow chunks in the bathtub where he's alarmed to find his vomit refuses to stay put.

Whatever-it-is squirms its way down the shower drain and into the buildin's laundry room and ambushes this lady who looks like she's taken home the gold medal in the Olympic freestyle cannonball competition for Canada eight years runnin' and wiggles its way back into the plumbin'. Then Janine comes home and finds Nick takin' a nap on the vegetable crisper and helps 'im into bed, only instead of relaxin' he starts talkin' to the subdermal dumplins livin' in his crap condo and tells 'em that they're gonna be makin' like the Jeffersons and movin' on up to fancier digs real soon. Meantime though, Hobbes' partner (Linsky) goes through his notes and realizes the guy was playin' Calvinball with the scientific method, and that the girl he killed was a guinea pig whose innards he'd been usin' to breed a new species of parasite that would secrete sex hormones and 'cause Caligulitis in its hosts so we'd all quit our jobs and return to Summer of Love levels of debauchery. Unfortunately, Hobbes underestimated the effects the crappy crawlie'd have on the female libido and she ended up doin' some unauthorized test marketing that infected several men in the building with the slurmidia, so by the time Linsky and the building physician (Roger) figure this out Herpie the Love Bug's already attached itself to the buns of Barbara Steele and kicked off a hostile free love revolution that the hippie framers would never have endorsed.

Then Nick tries puttin' the moves on Janine but she turns stuck-up on 'im when he starts burpin' up belly boogens and she basically leaves 'im to tug his tapeworm while she runs off to make the sign of the sand-blasted mud cabbage with Barbara. While that's goin' on, Roger's chick (Forsythe) gets jumped in the parkin' garage by one of the incurable romantics and he hasta plug the creep with a revolver while the geek's tryna slip 'er his gastropud, 'cept when they try escapin' through the security gate they get t-boned by another sex maniac and figure their best chance is to just hide out in the boiler room until the zombie sex orgy subsides. That'd prolly be fine except that in all the excitement Roger forgets he's scheduled a consultation with Linsky, who ends up runnin' into Nick and gettin' his face melted when a coupla Nick's peptic pets glom onto his face and make it look like the final exam at the Hollywood Academy for Reconstructive Surgery. 'Course Roger's got problems of his own 'cause he doesn't realize his date got slipped an icky and so he hasta punch 'er out and wrap a bandana around 'er mouth to keep 'er from launchin' love leeches at 'im while he lugs 'er around the buildin' searchin' for someone capable of a platonic relationship who can help 'em escape from the symbiotic swingers club. Gonna go ahead and can the chatter right here since there ain't a lotta movie left, but for those of you worried about the well being of our final boy, you can take comfort in the knowledge that Cronenberg is known the world over for his heartwarming happy endins, and I'm sure everything'll work out just fine for good ole Roge.

Alrighty, so essentially, Cronenberg's first genre flick is an 87-minute Army hygiene opus that got him in all kinda trouble with the Canadian press for usin' taxpayer dollars to make the greatest science fiction/romance bio-engineered sex slug odyssey the world had ever seen. It probably goes without sayin' that a few guys on the Canadian Parliament's budget committee found themselves on the receivin' end of some constituency blowback, and it eventually got bad enough that they hadda have a little chat about Shivers in the ole Centre Block to decide whether it had any artistic value for the public at large. Strangely, Cronenberg had a little trouble securing funding for future projects after that. Here's what I wanna know though - didn't somebody on the National Film Board's grant committee read the script before cuttin' the man a check? And if so, what part of "hormone secreting parasites cause angry yuppie orgy kerfuffle in Montreal high-rise" did they not understand? The man promises an enraged, nekkid hippie mating ball, they greenlight the shoot, and when he delivers an enraged, nekkid hippie mating ball they get all P.O.'d about it. Naturally, the resulting public outcry succeeded in making Shivers the highest-grossing Canadian film up to that point and launched David Cronenberg's directorial career, but that's probably not much consolation to everybody who hadda wait two years while Dave raised the funding for Rabid after the government turned off the money faucet. That said, it's a small man who can't move on and forgive someone for their mistakes, so anytime you mooks in parliament decide you're ready to apologize, I'm willin' to listen.

Cronenberg would later suggest that the Chestburster from Alien was a concept lifted from Shivers, though it was hardly the only instance of such a thing occurring because Shivers pretty clearly influenced quite a few genre flicks in the years to come including Parasite, The Hidden, Jason Goes to Hell, Slither, and the Leech Woman marionette from the Puppet Master series, but fortunately, in the years to come his flicks would take such a sharp turn towards Scootersville that most people gave up on tryna steal his ideas. Matter of fact, it could be argued that of all the great horror directors of the '70s and '80s Cronenberg's flicks deliver more consistently than anyone else's because not only is his resume untainted by a single dud, but during that period the only film he made that even borders on mediocre is The Dead Zone and it's still considered by most to be a classic. Shivers certainly isn't his best work - the special effects are primitive, it doesn't settle on a protagonist until really late in the proceedins, and it's intentionally sillier than the rest of his flicks, but regardless, his films are some of, if not *the* most unique ever committed to celluloid. The man is one-of-a-kind, and even his weakest movies (by which I mean the merely good and not quite great) are stranger and more entertaining than those produced by most of his contemporaries on their best day.

Okay, that's it. I'm gonna stop gushin' about all the times Dave's made people gush in this movie and get down to the task of scientifically critiquing the quality with which his subjects gush or are made to gush by psycho gush monsters who've made gushin' an artform by not restrictin' the places from which they gush.

The plot's a little free-wheeling in the sense that you never really understand all the capabilities of the parasites until they suddenly start secretin' an acid that melts the faces off of intervening character actors, but when you get right down to it that's not really a flaw because it isn't going against something that's been previously established. You don't hafta like it, but it's not logically problematic, and I stand by that statement 'cause if there's one thing I will not tolerate, it's unlogic from a glopola libido leech epic. Some people may not like the decision to forego a traditional protagonist in favor of a "last man standing" ensemble cast either, but I kinda like the film's refusal to declare a main character early on because the absence of plot armor keeps the audience off balance. Sometimes the zombies have a single-minded focus on gang-infecting somebody, other times they just wander off in search of easier pickins; some still have the ability to drive, others have devolved to the point that they can't even speak, but even though your first inclination may be to call this inconsistency, a person could argue that some people may be more resistant while others take less coaxing to turn into degenerate party animal sex fiends. And again - you might not *like* that there are no hard and fast rules that govern the victims, but there's still nothing precluding the possibility of different effects on different physiologies, so I don't see this as an issue. So yeah, I'm goin' on the record here - the biologically engineered libido super-charging slime glopola creature premise is logically sound.

The acting isn't what you'd call weak, but at the same time there aren't any standout performances. Lynn Lowry has an utterly bizarre presence about her that makes her a great choice for any Cronenberg flick, and it's always nice to see Joe Silver pop up 'cause he's got an unparalleled everyman energy that the audience can identify with, but both, particularly Silver, are kinda wasted here. Probably not as wasted as OG scream queen Barbara Steele, but at least Dave had her make out with Susan Petrie in a sequence that probably upset a buncha Catholics in Montreal. Now, I realize that a certain percentage of both cast and crew had to be Canadian in order for the grant to come through, and I also understand that this was a low-budget production, but I find myself thinking - what if instead of Paul Hampton, you had someone with a little charisma? Like Donald Sutherland, or Michael Ironside, or even William Shatner in that role - then you potentially could have had this insane story AND somebody to pull for. I guess it's all water under the ice flow at this point, but the movie's good enough that you can't help but notice the weak points and wonder "what if." In any event, there are no bad performances here, but also no great ones.

Here's who matters and why (besides Barbara Steele): Paul Hampton (Waxwork II, Women of the Prehistoric Planet), Joe Silver (Rabid, Creepshow 2), Lynn Lowry (Model Hunger, The Crazies 1973, Fang, Bloody Hooker Massacre, He Knows, The Last American Horror Show Volumes I & II, Hell of the Screaming Dead, Brimstone Creek Rd, Death Care, Sky Sharks, Hematic Web, Necropolis: Legion, Rabid 2019, Those Who Deserve to Die, Like a Shadow, Exposure, Odissea dello Morte, Hell's Kitty, Trinity, Ditch Day Massacre, Terror Tales, Pretty Fine Things, Whispers, Blood Brothers, Volumes of Blood, Dead Girls, A Grim Becoming, Dys-, Mostly Dead, the Legend of Six Fingers, Torture Chamber, Ovulation, Trashtastic, Omhis: Alien Invasion, Mondo Sacremento 2, The Trouble with Barry, The Haunting of Whaley House, I Spill Your Guts, Hack Job, The Theatre Bizarre, The Super, Next Door, Spirit, The Crazies 2010, Basement Jack, George's Intervention, Schism, Beyond the Dunwich Horror, Spider Disco, Dead Things, Cat People 1982, I Drink Your Blood), Allan Kolman (Se7en, Hidden 3D, Necessary Evil, Scanner Cop II, The Pyx), Ronald Mlodzik (Rabid 1977), Wally Martin (The Pyx), Vlasta Vrana (Hall, Territories, Carny, Dead Like Me: Life After Death, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 2008, The Reaper 2000, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow 1999, Night of the Demons 3, Highlander: The Final Dimension, Brainscan, The Lifeforce Experiment, Scanners II, The Kiss 1988, Eternal Evil, Heavy Metal, Happy Birthday to Me, Rabid 1977), Julie Wildman (The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, The Pyx), Arthur Grosser (Eternal Evil), Dorothy Davis (The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, Cathy's Curse, Night Fright), Joy Coghill (The Crow: Stairway to Heaven, Omen IV, Blue Monkey), Joan Blackman (Visit to a Small Planet), Kirsten Bishop (Visiting Hours), Fred Doederlein (Scanners), Sonny Forbes (Rabid 1977, Ilsa the Tigress of Siberia, Scanners), Felicia Shulman (Blood Quantum, Carny, Bleeders).

Mainstream credit is as follows: Joe Silver (Seymour Starger in Deathtrap).

The special effects are without question the film's weak point, and this can likely be attributed to Canada not having access to the kinds of effects creators we have in America, who even here, were few in number in those days. So the parasites are kinda pitiful, and you're likely to pick up on an articulation string now and again, but I feel that the story is unique enough that these deficiencies can be overlooked. Though again, this is an area where you wish there'd been a little more money or somebody on the crew with more experience creating creatures who coulda stepped in and ironed out the wrinkles. Most of the blood is too bright and thick, as was common in the '70s, but I do wanna bring attention to the blood in the very first scene where the scientist slices open his guinea pig so he can burn the parasites rootin' around in her stomach, because the blood in that particular scene is virtually perfect. Strange that they were unable to reproduce it in subsequent scenes, but that's some of the best-looking blood you'll see in any flick for the next ten years.

The flick was filmed on Nuns Island in Quebec inside a high-rise condominium complex that so closely mirrors the setting in the movie that you've gotta assume Cronenberg took one look at the place and made it canon, and not only is the complex still standing, but the exterior appears virtually unchanged from what you see in the movie. Because the building is 12 stories high and the DP isn't shy about showing it off the place feels enormous and, consequently, forfeits any chance it might otherwise have of creating a claustrophobic atmosphere even after the parking garage is revealed to be locked, but the threat of so many infected tenants tryna ram tubeworms down their neighbors' throats mostly makes up for that. Nonetheless, it's a pretty cool building that came complete with interesting furnishings from a bygone era, and if there's one saving grace about the building's size, it's that each individual apartment is decorated distinctly enough that you always know where you are. Major kudos to the management for letting these lunatics film in their building.

The soundtrack is comprised of previously composed tracks from the KPM music library which the music supervisor was able to license cheaply, and yet somehow, the selected scores share an unusual, depressing tone that feels strangely fitting as the theme music for a collection of well-to-do people who've isolated themselves from the rest of society. It's generic, yes, but it really sets the stage for a film occupied by a cast of characters whose money can buy them all the most modern conveniences, while they themselves occupy a hollow, joyless existence filled with meaningless decadence. In short - it works. I dunno how it works, or why it works, but it does, and producer Ivan Reitman really deserves a lotta credit both for solving the problem of budget inadequacy and for selecting tracks that enhance a film whose tone is as absurd as it is bleak.

Overall, the general theme of Shivers would be improved upon two years later when Cronenberg released Rabid, but all his flicks are blessed with a certain batshit insanity unlike anything you've ever seen before, and he is one of the *very* rare directors who can still be counted on to create something truly original 50 years after his first horror flick shocked audiences. There'll never be another like him, and although I don't know that he's actually my favorite director, he might be the only one for whom I feel confident saying - yes, go ahead and buy every single one of his horror films even if you're not familiar with them, 'cause there's not a weak link in the bunch, including this, his debut feature.

Rating: 75%