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I saw this movie when I was thirteen (it was rated R but I was big for my age) and all I really remember is the nudity. Just to be fair, I watched it again. I missed a lot.
SHIVERS aka THEY CAME FROM WITHIN was David Cronenberg's (RABID, SCANNERS, VIDEODROME, THE FLY, eXistenZ) first feature film*. He wrote it and directed it and originally wanted to call it "The Parasite Murders" (another working title was "Orgy of the Blood Parasites"). In the interview with Cronenberg included on the DVD he admits that he didn't know the first thing about directing a movie and at first wasn't sure he could pull it off. More on that later.
The story opens with a slide show presentation for an upscale Montreal apartment complex called the "Starliner." It's a very 70's futuristic boxy building with all the latest electric appliances. The slide show ends and we see a young couple arriving to look at an apartment. The apartment manager, a somewhat slippery looking guy named Merrick (Ronald Mlodzik: RABID) gives them a tour of the building. Now the movie begins jumping back and forth between the normal, everyday tour and the bizarre goings-on in a particular apartment. A young woman attempts but fails to keep a creepy looking, gray haired man from forcing his way in. Cut back to the nice couple on their tour, cut back to the creepy old guy strangling the young girl, laying her out on the kitchen table and cutting her open. He pours acid in the open wound. Then, apparently satisfied, he kills himself by cutting his own throat.
Excellent opening! Not because I like to see young girls cut up on kitchen tables, but because you can't help but ask, "What the hell is going on?" You're drawn in, which is what the opening scenes in any movie are SUPPOSED to do.
The body is discovered soon after and the police arrive. So does the apartment complex physician (the complex has it's own medical clinic), Dr. Roger St. Luc (Paul Hampton: WAXWORK II, DEADLY EXPOSURE). He mentions that this particular young lady got around, if you know what I mean. He also recognizes the dead old guy as Dr. Emil Hobbes (Fred Doederlein: BLACKOUT, SCANNERS), his former professor.
Roger decides to do some investigating of his own and that leads him to Dr. Hobbes' current research partner, Dr. Rollo Linski (Joe Silver: RABID, CREEPSHOW 2). Rollo tells Roger that Dr. Hobbes had been working on developing parasites that could function in the human body as replacements for organs like kidneys or livers, thus making organ transplants unnecessary. He also reveals that Hobbes was a serious child-molesting deviant who was of the opinion that humanity "thought too much" and should spend more time doing the nasty. Well, this was made in the 70's.
I think you see where this is going. Dr. Hobbes had been testing his parasite on the girl in the Starliner apartment. This sexually transmitted parasite is now all over the building and everyone is quickly transformed into sex-crazed zombies. Some scenes are reminiscent of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, but these zombies don't want to eat your flesh. These zombies want to get it on!
Wow, that got me over excited. It's time for a relaxing
Notable in the cast is scream queen Barbara Steele (THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, PIRANHA, CAGED HEAT, DARK SHADOWS [TV]) as Betts, Janine's friend and confidant. The scene where Betts becomes infected with the parasite was one of the more memorable in the movie and allusions to it ended up on some of the posters. Steele herself never liked being associated with horror and spent many unsuccessful years trying to start a non-horror career.
Cronenberg does a great job with this movie. His inexperience as a director shows through here and there and some scenes certainly could have been done better, but it's still a cool idea and a creepy horror flick. Cronenberg also makes several interesting revelations about the film, including how one actress needed him to slap her across the face as hard as he could before any scene where she was supposed to cry.
The most interesting revelation has to do with a similar movie. The parasite in this movie is about the size and shape of a. . . well, let's just say it's rather Freudian. In any case, there are scenes where it leaps onto faces and where it bursts from victim's exploded bellies. That, plus the apartment complex name ("Starliner") makes it an easy leap to Dan O'Bannon's parasite story, ALIEN. In fact, when Cronenberg showed this movie at a German film festival several years after it was made, a German audience member stood up during a question and answer period afterwards and accused Cronenberg of ripping off ALIEN. When Cronenberg pointed out that SHIVERS was made years before ALIEN (1975 vs. 1979) and that Dan O'Bannon admitted that he saw SHIVERS before he wrote ALIEN, the German said, "Ah. So now we know who the thief was."
But that's what lawyers are for.
SHIVERS is a good movie. I give it four shriek girls.
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