David Cronenberg’s Shivers is an audacious feature film debut. It takes the zombie elements of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and effectively sexualizes them; instead of flesh-eating monsters, it’s about an apartment complex full of parasite-infected humans with libidos that have gone into overdrive. And Cronenberg’s later focus on publicizing private bodily functions is on full display as well with a grotesque, almost phallic instrument of chaos poking through abdominal walls and being vomited off stairwells. It’s not exactly a film for general audiences, but it certainly exhibits the interesting elements that Cronenberg would later flesh out (pun intended) in his directorial career.
An interesting element of Shivers is that it doesn’t technically have a main protagonist. In fact, one might say that the apartment complex is the victim of note: the film even opens with an advertisement for it, the audience’s first interaction being an inanimate object where the abundance of the film takes place. Within that complex is a spreading parasite that was originally meant to be used to create internal organs for human hosts, a symbiotic relationship that aids both organisms. Instead, that test subject has unwittingly passed on her parasite to a number of male victims after sexual interactions, which has then spread to other hosts. And the only one who really understands what’s going on is Roger (Paul Hampton), a doctor who has seen a few cases of this parasite manifesting in his patients.
Cronenberg’s idea is effective because it is somewhat based in reality, which has even more impact on viewers watching during a pandemic. The body horror elements of Shivers are the most compelling with special effects work that precedes the famous chestburster scene of Alien; here, the chief symptom is an abdominal lump that has a mind of its own, with a great interactive moment played to full effect by Allan Kolman. These moments – and other occasional gross-outs that are less explicit but play on viewer imagination – are sure to leave the squeamish cringing.
Where Shivers struggles, though, is remaining consistent throughout. As Cronenberg’s parasite continues to infect, the incubation time rapidly shortens, and at the end of the film literally everyone in the apartment is infected and sexually ravenous. The film doesn’t operate on a set of defined rules, instead leaving the parasite’s growth almost too vague; the sexual aspect tends to be here for the taboo elements it produces, like rape and incest, instead of truly factoring into the storyline. And Cronenberg’s thematic point is sort of lost here too; Shivers seems to be making a statement about promiscuity and sexual primality, but it’s a surprisingly conservative take from the director that doesn’t always resonate.
Shivers is definitely an entertaining watch with a lot of great moments of horror and dark comedy, but it does feel like one of Cronenberg’s less refined scripts. Its plotting tends to meander and its themes sometimes get lost in the undefined pathology of its parasite. And yet the body horror elements and the dark final scene of a cavalcade of cars rolling out of the apartment building’s parking garage to infect the population are well-sculpted, leaving Shivers a compelling film with a couple missteps.
Full uncompressed screenshots from this Blu-ray.
Vestron Video releases Shivers on Blu-ray as part of its Collector’s Series with a scan that looks to be sourced from the same restoration as Arrow Video’s previous Blu-ray release. We posted screenshot comparisons that indicate the transfer is about the same except for some damage reduction and a slightly different color tone. Neither Arrow nor Vestron reveal the source of this transfer, but we can assume that it is most likely not the original negative (generally, that would be a selling point they would list). The image quality is pretty good, though certainly a bit dated. Grain is medium-bodied but not obstructive, though overall the image is pretty soft. Detail is okay but background elements do suffer – at times, even words directly behind characters (like in the elevator) are not legible. The color tends to push beige-y. Whites are a bit blown as well. Darker scenes don’t have crush but definitely obscure detail. Overall, there’s not really much noticeable difference to speak of between Arrow’s previous Blu-ray and this one, so if you were not able to grab that release, Vestron’s video quality will be about par for what’s available already.
Audio is a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track (which differs slightly from Arrow’s LPCM offering), which sounds fairly good despite a bit of background audible hiss here and there. That hiss doesn’t really detract from the experience and it’s not overtly loud, but it is pretty consistent. Otherwise, dialogue sounds relatively crisp. English subtitles are also included with a couple errors.
Vestron’s extras are robust and all differ from previous Blu-ray releases of the film. A new audio commentary from David Cronenberg provides a ton of information about the film, production process, and shooting locations. Another new audio commentary with co-producer Dan Carmody goes over some similar information but also tackles elements like the special effects work. Both are great listens that are well-moderated to keep the information flowing.
Also new are a series of interviews with Cronenberg, Lynn Lowry who plays the nurse in the film, makeup effects creator Joe Blasco, and Greg Dunning (talking about Cinepix productions). All are strong and amount to almost an hour of new interviews. Collecting some extras from previous releases, the Blu-ray also sports an archival Cronenberg interview, a still gallery with optional audio commentary from John Dunning, theatrical trailers, and TV and radio spots. Overall, it’s a nice collection of features that will make this a particularly difficult decision for those wondering if they should double-dip.
NEW Audio Commentary with Writer-Director David Cronenberg
NEW Audio commentary with Co-Producer Don Carmody
NEW “Mind Over Matter” – An Interview with Writer-Director David Cronenberg (HD; 12:01)
NEW “Good Night Nurse” – An Interview with Actress Lynn Lowry (HD; 16:54)
NEW “Outside and Within” – An Interview with Special Make-Up Effects Creator Joe Blasco (HD; 12:55)
NEW “Celebrating Cinépix” – An Interview with Greg Dunning (HD; 10:05)
Archival 1998 David Cronenberg Interview (unrestored HD; 21:16)
Still Gallery with Optional Archival Audio Interview with Executive Producer John Dunning (8:37)
Still gallery (no chapter breaks; 8:01)
Theatrical Trailers (unrestored HD; 3:01)
TV Spot (unrestored HD; 1:03)
Radio Spots (2:17)
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Arrow Video Blu-ray
“Parasite Memories: The Making of Shivers” 2014 documentary
“Shivers” 2008 episode of the CTV television series On Screen!!!
“From Stereo to Video” 2014 video essay by Caelum Vatnsdal
48 page booklet
Reversible cover artwork
Silent opening titles
NSM Records Blu-ray
Audio commentary by film historians Dr. Rolf Giessen and Dr. Gerd Naumann
Super 8 Version
“Creative Cancer and the New Flesh” video essay by film historian Dr. Marcus Stiglegger
German trailer and recreated trailer
ESC Editions Blu-ray
Audio Interview with director David Cronenberg
“Parasite Memories: The Making of Shivers” 2014 documentary
“C’était les années 70!” interview with actress Lynn Lowry
“L’horreur organique de David Cronenberg” interview with Arte-France director Olivier Père
“Analyse de séquence” by Arte-France director Olivier Père
“Starliner Tours” advertisement
16 page booklet
Vestron Video has given Shivers a great new Blu-ray release with video quality that is effectively the same as the past Arrow Blu-ray and a lot of new features that might intrigue even those who already own the film on Blu.
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