Saturday, October 28, 2006
31 Days of Halloween - Day 28 Movie 2
"Shivers" (1975), aka "The Parasite Murders", aka "They Came From Within," was writer/director David Cronenberg's first professional movie made on a shoestring budget and schedule, and it shows.
As with most of Cronenberg's movies, this one deals with transformation of the human body, disease, and medical science gone haywire. In this case, the residents of a secluded, luxury residential highrise, fall victim to a scientists notion that humans have become too cerebral, and have fallen out of touch with their baser instincts. Accommodating research in breeding parasites as replacement organs, he develops a parasite which transforms its human hosts into aggressive sexual predators. The parasite plague quickly spreads throughout the complex, with only a single doctor standing in its way.
The ideas are there, but the execution is flawed in many areas. A short schedule, and by Cronenberg's own admission, a lack of knowing what he was doing on his part, give us a film where his usual careful compositions are nowhere to be found. The allegedly luxury highrise, is not so fancy, I'm sure even by early 70s standards. The hallways are drab and dark, and because there was no budget for production design, they resorted to using actual residents' apartments that mostly matched the personalities of the fictional residents. Some of the actors are pretty good, but many of them were clearly amateurs. There are also too many characters, all of whom are presented to us as sketches of people, and not genuine people so it's hard to worry about their safety. There's also no real sense of suspense. The Doctor spends a lot of time running through the building, without encountering any of the sex-crazed residents until almost the end of the movie, while everyone else living there, is attacked left and right. The infected residents also act inconsistently. Some are coherent, and able to act like normal people. Some attack in a sex-crazed frenzy. Some shuffle around mindlessly, as if they stepped out of a George Romero zombie movie.
Was it a bad movie? No. Cronenberg is a writer/director with ideas, which is always refreshing. The effects are pretty state of the art for their time, though the parasite itself looks like a cross between a flukeworm and someone forgot to flush. The music, by producer Ivan Reitman (who would go on to direct "Ghostbusters" among many others) is perfect for the movie, and suggestive of later Cronenberg scores by Howard Shore. I felt it was definitely worth watching even with all the flaws. If Cronenberg had taken the time to develop a core group of five characters into really likeable people, or even just two of them and made them the focus, then the threat would have felt more threatening, and the film might have had the tension it needed, and lacked. If nothing more, this could have been the rapist version of "Night of the Living Dead."