Shivers (1975)


Going by a slew of alternate titles, “Shivers” is probably one of the most intense bits of dark horror comedy I’ve ever seen with Director David Cronenberg presenting a premise that is gutsier than most independent films I’ve ever seen. Cronenberg’s horror film is a study of sexual demonizing, and is a movie that only could have blossomed from the seventies. It was a time where puritanical America was suddenly introduced to a range of open sexual exploration and an unabashed orgy of controversy and backlash from hold outs who watched free love, pornography burst into the mainstream, and the celebration of homosexuality.

Director Cronenberg instantly grabs us by the throat by beginning his movie with a slide show of a closed off and withdrawn new community high rise complex where a series of apartments have formed as a cul de sac society cut off from the rest of the city, while the narrator explains the Utopian community being ideal for renters looking for peace and solidarity away from the noise. He then unfolds this community to reveal much of what America has sewn under the illusion of perfection. It’s the feeling of sexual repression and lust that is turned into an evil device and continues to be shunned. Even after sexual liberation was brought to the forefront for most Americans. After watching an older man rape and murder a young girl (who Cronenberg dresses to look very much like a teen), we soon discover the presence of a parasite harboring within the young girl, that begins to spread like wildfire among the closed off community.

Originally intended as a way to replace organs, the mad doctor in the story that engineered it was so enamored with sex, that he’d decided to use the organ as a way of enticing its bearers into becoming sexually hungered individuals who’d soon devolve in to sexually violent savages with no taboos or limitations to their sexual hunger. It was his way of manifesting his dream of “a world wide orgy.” And even worse is that this organ comes in the form of lust and seduction that creates a chain from tenant to tenant forming an army of perverted fiends who violently subdue their victims and pass on the organ, as the bearer of the parasite’s own repressed feelings burst from the seams.

Incest, pedophilia, lesbian sex, threesomes, orgies, it is all on the table in the form of this organ once it burrows in to its hosts body. With “Shivers,” Cronenberg demonizes and satirizes the sexual revolution and our horrific fear of sex. He breaks down all taboos exploring crimes of these parasites that often break down barriers causing its victims to engage in all forms of violent sexual proclivities, all of which were and still are socially condemned. The themes of incest and pedophilia aren’t an implication of sexuality unfairly demonized, but more acts of sexual violence by the bearer who may subconsciously desire such acts. While Cronenberg doesn’t openly suggest that pedophilia and incest are a taboo in need of being broken, there are implications thrown to where Cronenberg seems to be slightly in favor of it.

During a mad rush to avoid the sex freaks, one of our characters walks in on an older man making out with his preteen daughter, and in one instance one of our sex fiends bursts into an elevator where a mom and her ten year old daughter are standing, attacking both. Cronenberg only hints at what may have occurred when the door later slides open with both the mother and daughter now bearing insatiable hunger for sex, while the scene alludes toward statutory rape as our sex fiend stands close to the young girl smelling her hair. This scenario is further sold when the young girl (seen eating cherry pie) attacks and sexually molests an inept guard. These themes are hinted on further with more suggestions of prepubescent sexual acts that are never gratuitous or shoved in front of us, so much as they are cleverly implied.

Cronenberg’s film is brilliant and very creepy for its ability to be incredibly disturbing without being needlessly violent. The mere suggestions of sexual violence turns into a quite suspenseful result of the infection, while those inflicted with the parasite become raving, merciless maniacs busting down doors and passing on the organ. The only caveat is that Cronenberg ultimately can’t decide on a protagonist, as we set down on individual characters only to see them fall under the spell of the sexual allure of the victims, or under their raving madness of sexual chaos. And I didn’t care for the constant news updates on the radio that ends up being a predictable plot device. Regardless, “Shivers” is a simplistic and maddening little gem that spoofs our fear of sex while pushing sexual content on film to its very limits.