Shivers - Blu-ray Review

'In the end, Cronenberg seems to say that a little fun is an orgy, whilst too much fun is a rampant, unchecked zombie-like plague.'

There are few directors whose work I am enjoying exploring more at the moment than David Cronenberg's. Whether it is the Canadian's contemporary productions or his historical schlock, I am yet to come across something by him that has not produced a reaction. I'd struggle to name something I've hated as much as Cosmopolis in recent years (I had a similar reaction to A History Of Violence) whilst, on the other hand, I thought The Brood was fascinating and I enjoyed vast parts of A Dangerous Method.

The new Arrow release of Shivers keeps up the trend. Falling firmly into his schlock selection, Shivers is unpolished and uncomfortable in equal measure. Detailing the events of one day and night in an isolated tower block Cronenberg here doesn't bristle with the anger of The Brood, which would come four years later, but is well entrenched in a mindset willing to question disgusting acts with disgusting results. The Brood pulses with a very personal anger, whilst Shivers seems to invite you to be angry at it and its characters with a calmer detachment and an eye for quiet incitement.

The key for me to Shivers is in the small amounts of reveal towards the character of Annabelle (Cathy Graham), shown being murdered during the film's first few minutes. The casual presentation of Annabelle's demise feels deliberate. Later in the film it is revealed that her murderer, Dr. Emil Hobbes (Fred Doederlein) began a relationship with her when she was just 12 and he was her teacher. In a key element, Rollo Linsky (Joe Silver) seems to have known about elements of their relationship all along, and is later seen looking at Hobbes' naked photos of Annabelle. As more information is leaked casually by Cronenberg, it is also revealed that Hobbes has been experimenting on her for years; implanting parasitic organs as part of his Dr. Frankenstein master plan.

The plague that Shivers depicts then is a result of horrendous child abuse, ignored or unobserved, over a sustained period of time (Annabelle is later revealed to be 19 at the time of her death). As the infection spreads, so too does the level of guilt held by the tower block's randy residents. At least two of them - one of whom, Nicholas (Allan Kolman), is married - are also in some level of sexual relationship with Annabelle. In the background, Hobbes' anarchistic and animalistic intentions are revealed in full focus, as Cronenberg observes the breakdown of any level of psychosexual repression. In short: Hobbe's spreads his own disease; that of a sexual criminal and child abuser, and we meet the consequences.

Famously liberal, as shown in his censor-baiting films, Cronenberg's attitude here seems to be one of embracing a level of sensible repression and/or punishment of dark, criminal or societally unwelcome desires, despite what the appearances of his nudity-filled film may first suggest to the uninitiated, or the censors. Cronenberg himself, quoted in the booklet discussing why his films have in the past been banned, points out that 'I think it’s because of the imagery, not the philosophical suggestions behind the imagery. It’s the imagery that strikes them first, and then the general disturbing quality of the films.'

This reading of his own ideas is backed up by his more recent projects. In A Dangerous Method, for instance, Freud, Junger and Spielrein 'advance' only after rejection of overt hedonism, peddled by the Otto Gross character, though clearly by the end Junger at least is missing something, almost shocked by his lack of sex. In his essay in the Arrow booklet Paul Carupe, a writer on the so-called 'Canuxploitation' genre notes on this as potentially something audiences, critics and censors may share, that 'after almost a decade of lively films that celebrated swinging sex, Shivers’ bizarre rebuke of the dangers of unfettered hedonism must have been like getting slipped a bad hit of acid.'

In the end, Cronenberg seems to say that a little fun is an orgy, whilst too much fun is a rampant, unchecked zombie-like plague. Protagonist Roger St Luc (Paul Hampton) and Nurse Forsythe (Lynn Lowry) are pictured running through a selection of wooden stalls, as arms grasp at them from within. The film finally ends in a mass pool-based love-in, where it seems drowning is as likely as achieving any sense of bodily satisfaction.

Shivers is out on Monday 13th October on new DVD and Blu-ray in the UK.

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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