Format: 35mm Colour
Runtime: 87 min
A research scientist, Dr. Emil Hobbes (Fred Doederlein), hopes to use a parasite he has genetically engineered to sexually stimulate the world, thus bringing about a sensually oriented, pacifist society. But after implanting it into his promiscuous mistress, he discovers the parasite is uncontrollable and he kills his mistress and himself. However, the young woman had been sleeping with several other men in her apartment complex – an elite, self-sufficient high-rise habitat on an island near Montreal – and the parasite, which is part venereal disease, part aphrodisiac and spreads through sexual contact, has already infected Nick Tudor (Alan Migicovsky) and several other residents.
The parasite spreads quickly and the complex is soon overrun with raving sex maniacs. The apartment’s resident doctor, Roger St. Luc (Paul Hampton), his nurse Forsythe (Lynn Lowry) and Hobbes’s assistant, Rollo Linsky (Joe Silver), fight back against the rapid spread of the infection. But their efforts to escape and warn the authorities are thwarted when they, too, are infected. As news of the outbreak finally reaches Montreal, the island residents set out for the city.
David Cronenberg’s uncannily visionary third feature (it is essentially an AIDS paranoia film that predates the emergence of the disease) marked his graduation into the fringes of the commercial mainstream after his two experimental features Stereo (1969) and Crimes of the Future (1970). Both frightening and funny, Shivers continued the thematic concerns of his earlier films (the mind-body split, sexual permissiveness, hedonism), but – with its B-movie recycling of horror genre conventions – abandoned the alienating, distancing styles central to Stereo (1969) and Crimes of the Future (1970). As in Cronenberg’s earlier work, the liberated sexuality becomes destructive and the forces of reason are swept away.
One of Ivan Reitman’s early successes as a producer, Shivers established Cronenberg’s reputation for depicting “the horror within” and became a cult favourite. Produced for $179,000, it played in thirty-three countries in fourteen languages and grossed $3 million. Bitterly attacked by several critics, it was roundly supported by others. The film was also the subject of controversy after its release when it was singled out by critic Robert Fulford (who at the time was writing for Saturday Night under the pseudonym Marshall Delaney) as a misuse of public tax money. Fulford stated: “If using public money to produce films like this is the only way that English Canada can have a film industry, then perhaps English Canada should not have a film industry.” However, Shivers did not cost taxpayers any money, since the Canadian Film Development Corporation’s $145,000 investment was repaid – with profit – due to the success of the film.
It was originally released in Canada as The Parasite Murders and in the United States as They Came from Within, but its title was soon changed to Shivers, as it is now best known.