It’s clear what the issue is here, an apartment complex that is bereft of pets is clearly the spawn of the devil!
Written By: David Cronenberg
Directed By: David Cronenberg
Shivers is often credited as David Cronenberg’s feature film debut, but that is not actually the case. 1969’s Stereo was Cronenberg’s first feature film, but it was an independent film that was barely seen at the time and is still an unknown today even among pretty hardcore Cronenberg fans. Shivers was Cronenberg’s first chance to make a feature with some decent money behind it, and the first chance for Cronenberg to explore his two favorite topics, sex and human flesh.
There was a fair bit of controversy behind Shivers upon its release, enough to get Cronenberg kicked out of his Toronto apartment and cause him trouble in finding Canadian funding for his following directorial efforts. The content was deemed lewd and lascivious at the time, but having seen the picture it’s amazing how much restraint Cronenberg employs. Unlike his later efforts Shivers functions on the unseen glimpse principal, meaning that we see glimpses of blood and hints at the sex that is taking place but we never actually see any of it full force. The sex and gore in Shivers rests in the mind and the mind alone and this is a a very smart move by Cronenberg, it stops Shivers from turning into an exploitative movie.
It shouldn’t surprise you when I tell you that the impetus in Shiver’s plot is some sort of parasite poking out of human flesh and causing problems, this is a Cronenberg film after all. Similar to John Carpenter’s The Thing, the parasite only functions in service of greater messages or themes. Shivers was made at a turning point in human culture, this was the point when people realized that sex had consequences. Because of this the way Shivers deals with sex can be viewed any number of ways. You can watch Shivers and view it as a precursor to the AIDS scare to come, or as Cronenberg’s attempt to punish society for its sexual excess, or any of the other ways the movie can be interpreted. I watched Shivers and saw something else, I saw a warning against the puritanical ways of Western society.
The sexual deviancy we see in Shivers comes about because of a society repressed, and when you really boil it down we don’t see much sexual deviancy in Shivers so maybe that isn’t the right word. We do see some promiscuity, and there are a few obvious cases of rape, but think about what happens to the people who are taken over by the parasite for a second. They enjoy themselves for the most part, they do go too far in most cases, but they do enjoy themselves. I believe Cronenberg wants us to look at that part, at the part of our brain that enjoys sex and revels in our sexuality. It’s only when the sex is repressed that the most violent acts occur. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m reading the film the wrong way, but at the very least Shivers makes you think about sex and how society views it.
There isn’t much polish to be found in Shivers, it is a raw movie with blemishes to be found. Some movies can get away with that however, their rawness adds to the overall experience. Most times in a multi-million dollar film you don’t want those blemishes, but in a near rookie effort with limited funding trying to say the things Cronenberg is interested in saying the gritty nature of the film adds to the overall experience. If you are a Cronenberg fan and you haven’t seen one of his earliest works then you owe it to yourself to give Shivers a chance. Maybe you’ll like it, maybe you’ll hate it, but at the very least it should make you think and that’s all Cronenberg ever wants.