Shivers was Canadian director David Cronenberg’s first real feature. Partially financed with tax payer money, the film depicts a small scale apocalypse when a batch of sex obsessed brain slugs runs amuck in a modern apartment block and turn its inhabitants into horny pseudo-zombies.
Scenes of mass sexual assault, sexually charged adolescents, incest and more than a few brutal murders didn’t make Cronenberg many conservative friends. The Canadian Parliament debated the film’s artistic merit, and an article titled “You Should Know How Bad This Movie Is, You Paid For It,” reportedly got the thirty-two-year-old director kicked out of his apartment.
Not quite as refined or as spooky as The Brood, Shivers is a raw exploitation piece, one that takes shots at how our cultural quest for comfort and convenience has morphed us into dull, sexless bores. Here, the infected aren’t so much as tortured as they are liberated to follow whatever wild fantasies their brain can cook up.
Of course, the movie largely ignores that our id-driven fantasies may not always find a consenting partner, and, consequently, Shivers gets a bit rapey more than a few times.
With no real over-arching plot to contend with, Shivers concentrates mostly on breaking taboos. Cronenberg relishes scenes involving children and the elderly, first putting them through the horror movie wringer and then showing their steamy actions after the slugs take hold of their brain. There’s a noteworthy scene in which a group of adults hold down a security guard and then cuts away just as a small girl plants a big kiss on him. It’s an uncomfortable scene that Cronenberg gets away by making it just un-chaste enough to make the audience uncomfortable before letting their imaginations do the rest of the dirty work.
Far from Cronenberg’s best movie, the film still boasts a great deal of the director’s trademark viscera. It’s a showcase that illustrates that, even early in his career, Cronenberg loves nothing more than to prod the sore spots of our psyche.