Friday, October 17, 2014

October Horror Movie Challenge: Shivers (1975)

Shivers (also known as They Came From Within) is a science fiction horror film directed and written by David Cronenberg. While investigating the strange murder-suicide of a scientist and a teenager, a doctor discovers that the scientist was doing experiments on the use of genetically engineered parasites as organ transplants. However, something has gone terribly wrong. Instead of replacing failed organs, the parasite creates an uncontrollable sexual desire in the host, one that manifests violently. The scientist tried to destroy it, but the parasites are now loose in the building and the doctor and his girlfriend must escape before they become infected too.

Cronenberg is one of the principal originators of what is commonly known as the "body horror" subgenre. This subgenre typically explores people's fear of bodily transformation and infection, usually intertwining the psychological with the physical. Shivers is one of Cronenberg's first entries in the genre.

The parasites in Shivers represent venereal diseases. The creatures generally pass from one host to another through sexual contact. While its not the most subtle metaphor, it definitely works. The film presents a situation where a scientist created these parasites with the noblest of intentions, but the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. The parasite seems to unlock this primal, sexual urge within the host, one that dominates their mind and demands to be quenched (violently if need be). While the parasite facilitates this, the true horror of the situation is that our bodies would be so susceptible to this, unable to fight it and be dominated by our base impulses. Shivers delivers that message and delivers it well.

Really, Shivers' only weaknesses are based on it being one of Cronenberg's first films. You can see it as a young director experiment with ideas and theme, seeing what works and what doesn't. There are weird shots that really have no context (like a random first person perspective at one point) and weird moments of slow motion. The characters are a little bland and the film's narrative is not as tight as Cronenberg's later efforts, with the ending being rather weak and underwhelming.

However, the film's concept is really the driving force behind everything. This really isn't a film you watch for an enjoyable experience. You watch it to investigate this interesting idea and experience the horror of the situation. The characters and narrative are really second nature to the concept. With that being said, I'll freely admit that's not everyone's cup of tea and that's totally fine.

Shivers is an interesting film with a neat concept, but its story and characters are somewhat lacking. If you can overlook that and embrace the film's basic premise and the horror of the situation, you'll probably like Shivers.