were simply an inevitability. Most of his movies are like immoral documentaries, devoid of boundaries, and, more disturbingly, humanity.
His first feature film, 1975’s Shivers, is, like his later, more frequently discussed movies, chilly and nasty, a splatter film told with cinéma vérité indifference. In it, a mad scientist develops a slimy alien parasite and sets it free in a shag-carpeted apartment building. The organism, red and spongy, is a combination of an aphrodisiac and an STD; spread through sexual contact, it causes insatiable sexual desire in the host. As such, the movie is a sort of zombie piece, except the rising number of antagonists would rather fuck us to death than eat our brains.
Such makes for an icky, though entertainingly icky, premise, appropriate for a ‘70s exploitation movie. But Shivers never really resembles a typical ‘70s exploitation movie. Directed by anyone other than Cronenberg and the feature might have turned out to be schlocky reverie with perhaps enough mischievous humor to turn it into a cult classic.
But so much deliberation has been put into the muted camerawork and the oppression of any real kind of emotion that Cronenberg tricks himself into thinking that he’s made high art, a “pointed,” Freudian satire that speculates what might happen if there weren’t anything stopping us from acting on our sexual desires. What Cronenberg forgets, and what makes Shivers such a boring self-important lug, is that a movie of its cuckoo renown cannot get away with such flat, intellectual delivery. In a zombie movie, we expect broad-stroked horror, or even dirty-faced adventure if the director’s feeling generous.
Cronenberg’s subverted take is too cold. We witness horrific events and manage to feel nothing because he himself seems to feel nothing. His attempts to sidestep genre tropes fall flat — though the movie does have a soupçon of memorable visuals.
It’s an admirable debut for a director whose oeuvre is generally more admirable than it is enjoyable. But Shivers, released back in 1975 as part of a double-bill with the grungy, Grand Guignol trash heap Snuff, nonetheless hints at soon-to-be mastery of the horror genre Cronenberg would eventually see through. But the movie is strictly for fans; newcomers might be better off looking in the direction of The Brood (1979) or Videodrome (1983). C
Shivers October 14, 2017
avid Cronenberg’s style is not really having a style. To counter other horror directors, whose works usually carry easily distinguishable artistic quirks, Cronenberg shoots his movies with purposeful coldness. The characters in his films regularly find their bodies mutilated and their lives destroyed, but the filmmaker watches it all happen aloofly, as if all in front of him