Shivers (1975), in terms of its basic concept, feels very much like writer/director David Cronenberg’s version of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1957). In place of alien “pod people” Cronenberg gives us a blood parasite, made in a laboratory, that attaches to a human host and causes the host body to give into any and all sexual urges. Shivers, which hit theaters in the mid-seventies, is an indictment of “free love” that exploits the viewer’s fundamental fear of venereal disease.
Shivers is as gross as it is sleazy; combining the genre trappings of body horror with those of the grindhouse sexploitation film. It’s essentially Cronenberg at his least filtered. Images of chests bursting with phallic insect-looking parasites coincide with sequences of sexual assault. Yet Shivers is extremely well written and directed. As with Crash (1996) the narrative of Shivers revolves around the intersections of various character’s lives. These characters are linked by the film’s single location, a state of the art apartment building, that has become the home of a deadly contagion.
The narrative momentum of Shivers rests squarely on the duo of Dr.Roger St. Luc (Paul Hampton) and Nurse Forsythe (the always excellent Lynn Lowry). These two characters battle the parasite at ground zero and it is their endeavors to stop the spread of the parasite that links all of Conenberg’s gory vignettes and kinky set pieces.
Cronenberg’s reaction to the sixties is secondary to the spectacle of body horror. The balance of his later works has yet to emerge so Shivers feels more of its genre than his subsequent work. As imaginative and well crafted as the film is, Shivers is not an early masterpiece. Images may stay with the viewer for a while but the ideas within the film quickly fade. Personally it left me wondering if Lynn Lowry ever made a picture where things ended up okay for her.