For this week’s Exploitation Alley, I thought it would be cool to head back to the ’70s, which is my favorite decade when it comes to horror/genre films. The horror films of the ’70s didn’t dumb themselves down for their audiences, and didn’t rely on extremely quick editing to tell a story, they relied on storytelling. One of the best examples of the slow-build aesthetic, is David Cronenberg’s body horror feature debut (his first two films were barely an hour), 1975’s SHIVERS. It’s a film that starts slow, and eventually heads into a freak out last half, in the best of ways. So stay away from the promiscuous girl in apartment 1511, and try not to get infected, it’s SHIVERS time!! *(Spoilers aplenty in this one!)
SHIVERS begins with basically a commercial for a luxurious apartment block, followed by a pretty odd opening, which involves a couple being shown the apartments, inter-cut with a doctor showing up to a young woman’s apartment, killing her. After killing her, the doctor (Hobbes) cuts open her stomach, pours acid in it, then decides to cut his own throat. What makes the opening really effective in my opinion, is how it just plays out in front of you. It doesn’t rely on action movie editing to establish a crazy tone, it just happens.
We’re then introduced to a few different characters, including Nicholas Tudor, a married man who has been sleeping with the murdered young woman and now has severe pain in his stomach; Tudor’s wife Janine, who is concerned with her husband’s health and seeks solace in her friend Betts (played by the great Barbara Steele, PIRANHA, BLACK SUNDAY), and lastly, Roger St. Luc, the apartment block’s physician.
After arriving at the opening’s crime scene, St. Luc begins to investigate Dr. Hobbes, and eventually meets with a colleague of the late doctor a couple of times, who explains to St. Luc that Hobbes wanting to create a parasite that could act like a human organ. He also informs St. Luc that Hobbes was sleeping with Annabelle, the young promiscuous girl whom he had murdered, and wasn’t only wanting to create the parasite for medical reasons, but also because of his disdain for humans and their lack of real desires. Hobbes wanted to make a parasite that would serve as a aphrodisiac and venereal disease, and putting two and two together, St. Luc realizes that Hobbes implanted the parasite in Annabelle, and murdered her and himself out of guilt, and that the parasite will spread if he doesn’t stop it.
Eventually Nicholas Tudor throws up tons of blood and the parasite comes out of him, and faster than you can say “that looks like blood covered chicken strips”, the apartment block is infected by the parasite. Betts is infected when the parasite comes through her bathtub drain and into her…yeah. Pretty soon everyone is crazy blood spewing, horndogs, and St. Luc, along with his girlfriend/nurse Forsythe, tries his damnedest to escape. They end up finding an area of the apartment block where it seems like is vacant and not crazy parasite town, and all is well…until St. Luc realizes that Nurse Forsythe is infected, forcing him to go out on his own. In a somewhat schizophrenic ending, St. Luc, in his attempts to escape, gets stuck in the apartment block’s pool, and is surrounded by a whole horde of infected, horny residents (hey, what’s wrong with that?!..jk) and infected himself.
The film ends with one of the infected tenants leaving the apartment block in a car, making it more than obvious that pretty much the whole world is screwed at this point. Definitely a downer of an ending, but really, when has Cronenberg done otherwise?
SHIVERS is a really fun movie, but not in a group watch type of setting. It’s a film that begins at a slow pace, then midway through, picks up and doesn’t really stop until the end. There are definite statements on society’s opinions of sex and each other’s bodies going on in the subtext of the film, but more than just that, it’s just a great movie to watch. Watching SHIVERS made me want to revist RABID, THE BROOD, VIDEODROME and other early Cronenberg classics. If you’re not very familiar with Cronenberg’s work, I’d highly recommend beginning with SHIVERS, as it really shows the genesis of his style and aesthetics that he would carry on into later films as well.
Until next week, have a good one!