Shivers – A genetically engineered designer parasite—part aphrodisiac, part venereal disease—created by a modern-day mad scientist escapes into a colorless, self-contained apartment complex and goes searching for hosts. This monstrous parasite multiplies and invades the alienated occupants, turning them into a pack of id-driven sex maniacs.
The film’s mad scientist (a nice turn by Fred Doederlein, who pops up again as the yoga master in “Scanners”) wants to produce designer parasites that can be introduced into a body, devour a failing organ, and ‘become’ that organ, thus helping its host at the cost of a little blood.
But wouldn’t ya know it, his first experiment Annabelle (a fetching Kathy Graham) refuses to play along with the Doc’s good intentions, chiefly because the parasite has two complications: 1)within a few hours it turns its victim’s mind to mush, and 2)it also has the unfortunate side-effect of making the subject a ravening sexual psychopath.
In the film’s shocking opening sequences, the Good Doctor brutally tries to abort his little extracurricular activity, but Annabelle has been a popular girl around the Starliner apartments, and faster than you can say “sick building syndrome” the little parasites, which look like a phallic combination of extra-large garden slug and Jimmy Dean sausage, are going a-roving through the apartment building in search of victims.
And faster than the tenants can say “the check’s in the mail”, they’ve been converted into a legion of slug-infested serial rapists looking for love in all the wrong places.
“If this picture doesn’t make you scream and squirm, you should see a psychiatrist—quick!” shouts the film’s trailer. This time the hyperbole is right. Shivers, David Croneberg’s debut feature and Canada’s first domestic horror film, is an ingeniously engineered modern horror that, like George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), charts a social breakdown by tearing through our most intrinsic taboos. A genetically engineered designer parasite—part-aphrodisiac, part-venereal disease—created by a modern day mad scientist escapes into a colourless, self-contained apartment complex and goes searching for hosts. This monstrous parasite multiplies and invades the alienated occupants, turning them into a pack of Id-driven sex maniacs. Cronenberg’s suffocating vision of modern life turns his budgetary limitations—dreary, bland sets, flat lighting and numb performances—into a severe portrait of society out of touch with its physical and emotional existence. Cronenberg pushed the boundaries of gore in 1974, but more insidious is the way he pushes the boundaries of behaviour: under the influence of this insidious, invasive disease families turn to incest and murder, strangers sexually assault the helpless and finally they band together as a pack of bloodthirsty, libido-driven animals. That taboo-breaking display still has the power to get under your skin. The film has also been released under the titles The Parasite Murders and They Came From Within. Cult horror icon Barbara Steele co-stars.
Review by —Sean Axmaker