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June 16, 2015

Shivers

by Franz Patrick


Shivers (1975)
★★ / ★★★★

A pair of scientists sets out to replace organ transplantation with a radical idea: breed a strain of parasite that can function as a human organ. The research comes to a halt, however, when one of the scientists, Dr. Hobbes (Fred Doederlein), becomes involved in a murder-suicide. Soon after the tragic event, Dr. St. Luc (Paul Hampton), a medical doctor, is asked to come see a man who has a strange lump in his abdominal area.

Writer-director David Cronenberg’s first feature film sets the foundation of what kind of movies he will be known for: bizarre, gruesome, curious, daring the audience to not look away. “Shivers” is a creature-feature picture with an effective rising action but the climax and resolution run for too long and tend to unfold in uninteresting ways at times. It is a mixed bag, but it is a work worth seeing once.

Usually in the horror genre, it becomes obvious in the first few minutes who the audience is supposed to root for. What is fresh here is initially we suspect that the couple considering to move into the newly established high-rise apartment will be the main characters. One can argue that it is easier to create a story and build a defined perspective from that of an outsider attempting to assimilate himself into a new environment. We see the story through his eyes.

Cronenberg understands suspense. Take the lady in the laundry room as an example. We are aware that a creature is out there using the vents to get from one place to another. Obviously, the creature will be in the room. Otherwise, there would be no point in showing the scene. But the filmmaker is patient. He shows the woman opening a washing machine, putting in the clothes, adding the detergent, and closing the lid. All the while we wait when the surprise attack will occur. The longer we wait, we cannot help but wonder: Will the “Boo!” moment transpire in this room? Right next to it?

The motivation of the monster requires a suspension of disbelief. I embraced the idea immediately because it relates to how diseases are spread. However, once the idea is explained somewhere around the halfway point, many of the scenes that follow grow progressively weaker in curiosity and anticipation. It hammers us over the head what happens when the creature infects a human being.

The possessed humans move slowly, sometimes leading to rather amusing results. Due to the lack of tension, I began to notice irrelevant elements like an actor wearing a bad wig (or an egregious dye job), obvious voice-overs of awkward moaning when someone is being attacked, or two separate shots of a bathtub denoting one event—most unconvincing because the water is bloody in one shot and clear in the other shot. Clearly, the picture needs to be edited further in order to eliminate the silliness and amp up the horror.

“They Came from Within,” also known as “Orgy of the Blood Parasites” and “The Parasite Murders,” has its moments of inspiration but they are heavily found in the first half which makes the latter half feel like a drag at times. Like a lot of horror films, the more it shows and as chaos ensues, the more we yearn for the quieter, creepy happenings.

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