I’d wager most movie fans know the name of writer/director David Cronenberg, and odds are you’ve seen at least one of his movies from a career that’s essentially bifurcated into two genres. The first half of Cronenberg’s career is primarily cemented in the horror genre, while the latter are straight-up dramas about human relationships. Whichever side of Cronenberg you prefer, I find all the writer/director’s work boils down to examining one subject. That being, the complexities and the horrors of humanity. Be it through the subgenre of Body Horror, which Cronenberg essentially innovated, or through looking at the human relationships in drama.
Back in high school, when I was suffering from a stomach bug of all things, I made a bad decision. I decided I’d watch my first Cronenberg movie, none other than his remake of The Fly (1986). What can I say, teenagers don’t always think things through.
Even with my stomach in knots, I thought The Fly was fantastic; but to this day, it remains one of the grossest flicks I’ve ever seen. Over the next decade, I’ve watched most of Cronenberg’s movies sporadically and randomly. While I respect all of his work, I prefer his horror movies,
However, it wasn’t until a couple of Summers back when I was finally introduced to Cronenberg’s early genre entries when the great Joe Bob Briggs showed the auteur’s sophomore effort Rabid (1977) during The Last Drive-In 24-Hour Marathon (2018). (And yes, I stayed awake and watched all 13 movies as they were initially streamed on Shudder). Anyway, I loved Rabid and knew I needed to catch up on all of Cronenberg’s horror efforts, which I had yet to see. But, I also knew I wanted to wait and see his debut film, Shivers (1975), for the first time on a proper Blu-Ray release. Well, as luck would have it, the genre division of Lion’s Gate Home Video, Vestron Video, has done just that by finally releasing a Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray! But more on that later, I’ll cover the movie itself first:
Shivers takes place almost entirely in a luxury high-rise apartment complex. Inside this building are housed all the amenities one could think of and some that let you know these residents are genuinely living in the lap of luxury. The prime example is an in-house physician, Dr. Roger St. Luc (Paul Hampton), and his sole assistant, Nurse Forsythe (Lynn Lowry). Together, these medical professionals exclusively treat the residents of this high-rise complex. However, the pair soon have more on their hands than they can handle when there is an outbreak of parasitic infestation in the building. Now, the good doctor and his nurse are the only defense a parasite that turns its numerous hosts of apartment residents into mindless, violent, sex-crazed fiends!
On the surface, Shivers is simply an old-fashioned 1970s sexploitation flick. But, despite that plot synopsis that confirms as much, this movie has more going on than simply being, “Night of the Living Dead with a libido,” as Cronenberg himself describes it. Shivers is an allegory for the sexual revolution/liberation and the risks of venereal diseases that come with that evolution. This allegory comes as no surprise considering Cronenberg has always approached his material from a medical, almost cold perspective. It’s this approach that makes Shivers disturbing because well, a disease that’s easily transmitted and contracted is scary. This is particularly the case in our current age of global pandemic.
Even if we weren’t experiencing this ongoing pandemic, I think Shivers would still hit home for one simple reason. This movie is so well-made that it feels realistic despite its low-budget. Cronenberg manages to create such a tangible atmosphere here that even the visibly rubber parasites, which look like turds (although, I have no doubt they were initially intended to look more like phalluses), do not detract from the effect of the film.
Aside from the atmosphere, I must also give full credit to this cast. Every cast member of this film delivers a performance that plays as if they are not acting. On the contrary, they feel like real people. Thanks to all this realism, Shivers is worth watching for any fan of old-school horror/exploitation films and/or Cronenberg.
If the name Vestron Video rang a bell earlier, it probably means you’re a genre fan who grew up in the video store era like myself. Back in the day, Vestron was responsible for releasing a ton of horror titles that resonated with fans and, thus, gained a cult following. Recently the Vestron Video brand was resurrected by their parent company, Lions Gate, following an acquisition of the Vestron label. I’m thankful for this because frankly, Lions Gate’s desire to grow Vestron is the only reason we’re getting this Collector’s Edition of Shivers. Otherwise, I don’t think this release would have occurred, considering the studio has done nothing with Shivers since releasing the movie on DVD back in 1998.
As has come to be the custom with genre releases of this nature, Shivers comes in a slipcase that holds a standard Blu-Ray case inside, both of which feature a version of the film’s original poster art. (Although, I should note that the cover art is not reversible as it is with some boutique competitors. The audio and video quality on the disc itself is top-notch as the video was remastered in 2K from the original film negative. But let’s get into what, in my opinion, determines a purchase for every collector- the special features.
- Commentaries: This Blu-Ray contains two audio commentary tracks. The first features David Cronenberg, while the second features Shivers co-producer, Don Carmody. Both of these tracks are moderated by Fangoria editor and horror movie critic Chris Alexander. Each of these individual commentary tracks is very informative and entertaining enough. Cronenberg’s is a little dry, but still very interesting; whereas Carmody’s commentary, while equally informative, plays more like a long string of mildly humorous making-of anecdotes. Alas, both these commentaries suffer from the same, big problem- moderator Chris Alexander. Frankly, this cat fanboys out a little too much. As a result, Alexander tends to step on his commentators somewhat and throw them off-track occasionally. I hate to say, but I could have done without him as a moderator for these otherwise insightful commentaries.
- Mind Over Matter: An Interview with Writer-Director David Cronenberg. This 12-minute interview appears to have been shot a couple of years back when Cronenberg was also doing a series of interviews for the now-defunct Film Struck streaming app (which was recently rebranded The Criterion app.) In any event, a lot of information is packed into this short interview. Though, Cronenberg’s main focus was discussion of getting Shivers financed by the Canadian government and getting it distributed by Cinepix in his home country of Canada. What I found most interesting was that Shivers was initially titled Blood Orgy of the Parasites, then re-titled The Parasite Murders before eventually gaining its final title of Shivers by the American film distributor, American International Pictures (AIP).
- Good Night Nurse: An Interview with Actress Lynn Lowry. In this 16-minute interview, the actress discusses her broad experience working on the movie. Lowry explains how she loved working with Cronenberg; so much so that she did so again on Shivers. On the other hand, however, Lowry touches on the fact that she and Paul Hampton didn’t get along well. Such a reveal came as no surprise to me considering that’s essentially (and appropriately) their chemistry on-screen.
- Outside and Within: An Interview with Special Make-Up Effects Creator Joe Blasco. Sadly, this interview with Joe Blasco is only 12 minutes in length. I say that because I honestly would’ve loved to listen to a whole commentary with this guy! It’s evident that Blasco has a love for his work and dug working on Shivers. In this interview, he talks in-depth about creating the parasite and also shows an old one off.
- Celebrating Cinépix: An Interview with Greg Dunning. Greg Dunning, son of Cinépix co-founder and Shivers executive producer John Dunning, talks about the important legacy of Cinépix and the Canadian film industry. In turn, Dunning also touches on how much his late father loved being in the movie business. While I’d certainly say this 10-minute interview is somewhat inside baseball, I think it will appeal to anyone who loves the inner workings of moviemaking like myself.
- Archival 1998 David Cronenberg Interview. Originally included on the DVD release of Shivers, the writer/director talks at length, for 23 minutes about making his feature film debut. I was pleased to see how humble and candid Cronenberg was about the fact he felt unprepared to make Shivers.
- Still Gallery with Optional Archival Audio Interview with Executive Producer John Dunning- At 8 minutes in length, we’re treated to a myriad of behind-the-scenes photos and marketing materials for Shivers (or It Came from Within, as the movie was initially titled in Canada.) Over this still gallery runs a short audio interview with Dunning about the evolution of Cinépix, which I found very enjoyable.
- Theatrical Trailers
- TV Spot
- Radio Spots
As you read, this Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray is jam-packed; despite not having any making-of documentary on it. I recommend any fan or collector who’s so inclined to pick this release up. The best part is unlike pricier genre releases from other niche labels, this Blu-Ray will only (currently) cost you $13!
The Shivers Vestron Video Collector’s Edition is Available Now
I’d wager most movie fans know the name of writer/director David Cronenberg, and odds are you’ve seen at least oneCOMICONRead More