A scientist living in an apartment complex kills a girl and uses acid to destroy her internal organs, and then kills himself. While investigating, a doctor discovers that the scientist was doing experiments on the use of genetically engineered parasites as organ transplants. Soon, other people in the complex begin showing signs of carrying the parasites, spreading the things through wanton orgiastic abandon, and the complex begins suffering an attrition problem.
Directed by: David Cronenberg
. Starring: Paul Hampton
, Joe Silver
, Lynn Lowry
, Allan Kolman
, Susan Petrie
, Barbara Steele
, Ronald Mlodzik
, Barry Baldaro
, Camil Ducharme
, Hanka Posnanska
, Wally Martin
, Vlasta Vrana
, Silvie Debois
In an interview on Dutch television, film-maker Alex van Warmerdam dryly remarked how he enjoyed listening to the now late kitsch-painter Bob Ross, as he found the guy's voice so relaxing, a healthy substitute for sleeping-pills or a shot of the Ol' Jack.
I have the same kind of thing with Canadian film-director David Cronenberg. If I had a tough day at the office, I often pop in a tape of one of his television interviews; his charming mannerisms, his M.D.-like appearance, and his soft, relaxed voice have a calming effect on me. The paradox here is that, when I listen to WHAT Cronenberg is saying, the effect is not quite so soothing. You see, Cronenberg usually talks about his rather unusual take on life. He talks about The Flesh a lot, to an extend where it's no longer a fascination, but a downright obsession. The Flesh as the reason we live. The Flesh as the reason we die. No God. No devil. No afterlife. Just Flesh containing information and slowly disintegrating. The end of The Flesh as the end of the existence.
Although I couldn't disagree more with The World According To Croney, I still consider him as one of my favorite film-makers as he stays true to his art and his vision. He isn't afraid to tell stories which might upset or even anger the audience (although I have to admit that the sole act of breaking taboos or hitting people were it hurts, has little to do with great filmmaking; even the most weak kid can defeat a high school bully by kicking him in the nuts). His oeuvre stands out because of its original stories and variety, as it contains such titles as The Fly, Videodrome, Dead Ringers, Crash, The Dead Zone, and Existenz. I don't necessarily regard any of these films a masterpiece, but non of them left me unaffected.
Shivers is one of Cronenbergs first motion picture efforts. Quite frankly, while watching this I couldn't figure out whether I was supposed to take it seriously or not. In a Canadian High Rise apartment building, a mad doctor creates a parasite which shall 'Change the World into one mindless orgy'. In a variant of Romero's Night of The Living Dead, the isolated location is overrun by drooling sex-maniacs of all races, ages, and sexes. I found myself laughing at several scenes: a woman emerging from her apartment, attacks an unsuspected delivery-boy while crying out "I'm Hungry! Hungry for love!"; The constantly sobbing housewife Janine stumbles upon her unconscious husband Tudor and finds out that hubby dearest just about puked his guts out as the bathtub is one bloody mess. So she does what every loving wife would do: she puts him in bed and turns on the TV-set. A little later, he calls her, saying: "I feel wonderful. Join me in bed"; An elderly couple just stands there and looks on in agony as one of the parasites is slowly climbing the woman's cane, about to attack them; Tudor pukes out a parasite on an ignorant woman holding an umbrella. She wipes off the blood and exclaims "poor birdy"; dr. St. Luc, on the run for two homosexual attackers, hides in a darkened living room, only to stumble upon a father and his daughter sitting on a sofa. "I think you'd like my daughter Erica", the man says, just before he starts kissing her; a hysterical Janine puts in her contact lenses and a close-up reveals perfectly stable hands.
"Mindless orgy"? Well, in the final scene, the entire community, walking like zombies, looking like zombies, sounding like zombies, attacks dr. St. Luc, the only 'survivor'. In the next scene, everybody is able to act normal again and they drive into town. Is this the behavior of mindless creatures acting on instinct? Instead of doing just that and screw each other to death, these people actually interrupt their intuitive actions to make people join them and eventually even carry out some political statement.
But whether this is supposed to be tongue in cheek or not, the fact remains that, both technically and artistically, this film screams amateur-nite from beginning to end. The voice dubbing is done very poorly. The photography is ugly, so are the colors and the outdated production design, which adds to the (unintentional) laughs. The scenes are clumsily staged, which I just chalk up to the lack of experience. Of course there are gory special effects, but more often than not, victims don't seems to have any wounds but are just covered with fake looking blood. Also, I often felt if Cronenberg was stalling time (to give this movie a feature-length) as scenes are prolonged by pointlessly following people all the way from entering the building to arriving at their apartment. Throughout the last third of the movie, we constantly intercut with dr. Lansky, following him from getting in his car at home to arriving at the building. The acting is very uneven with, for the most part, unappealing and untalented actors portraying unappealing characters.
While closing credits roll, we hear clips of a news bulletin, announcing that the city of Montreal is ravaged by a series of seemingly unstoppable sexual harassments. While this 'grande effect' does give the film a maximum bleak effect with its inclination of a world wide spread, Cronenberg should have stayed faithful to the premise (the parasite turning men into animals driven by instinct) and end the film in the building making the events an isolated incident.
All in all, it seems as if Cronenberg was learning how to make a feature film, by simply making one.
Review by marc hendriks from the Internet Movie Database.