• Shivers (Vestron Video/Lionsgate) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Vestron Video/Lionsgate
    Released on: September 15th, 2020.
    Director: David Cronenberg
    Cast: Paul Hampton, Joe Silver, Lynn Lowry, Barbara Steele
    Year: 1975
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    Shivers – Movie Review:

    David Cronenberg’s 1975 feature film debut, also known as They Came From Within (and before that as The Parasite Murders), is set entirely in Starliner Towers, a fancy high-rise apartment building that is essentially self-sufficient and which is located on an island near Montreal. As two possible tenants arrive and discuss the facility with the property manager, upstairs an older man named Dr. Emil Hobbes (Fred Doederlein, who also appears in Cronenberg’s Scanners) murders and then cuts open the stomach of a young woman named Annabelle Brown (Cathy Graham) before slitting his own throat.

    A tenant named Nicholas Tudor (Allan Kolman), who is having stomach pains, discovers Annabelle's body but keeps news of the murder to himself. When the on-site doctor, Roger St. Luc (Paul Hampton) finds the bodies, he makes a call to Hobbes' partner, Rollo Linsky (Joe Silver, who Cronenberg would use again in 1977’s Rabid), who explains to St. Luc that the deceased doctor was working on a parasite that could function as a human organ, hoping to save many lives with this idea. He also lets St. Luc know that Hobbes had a thing for young girls.

    Later on, Nicholas' wife, Janine (Susan Petrie), speaks to St. Luc about her husband's condition, concerned that he's no longer interested in her and that he refuses to get treatment for his ailment. Elsewhere, in the laundry room, an older woman is attacked by a strange looking creature, and shortly after that, another tenant, Betts (gothic horror icon Barbara Steele, of Black Sunday fame), is attacked while in the bath tub. As St. Luc and his nurse, Forsythe (Lynn Lowry of I Drink Your Blood and The Crazies), with some help from Linsky, try to figure out what’s happening in the building they quickly come to realize that Hobbes’ transgressions with young Annabelle have unleashed a parasite that turns its hosts into violent sexual deviants!

    Filled with some interesting foreshadowing (pay attention to the eel pushing against the glass of an aquarium while Linsky is on the phone and a quote about sex on the fridge in his lab) and ominous, sometimes disturbing imagery (a man slavishly eating a piece cherry pie while trapping a woman and her young daughter in an elevator), Shivers is as unsettlingly perverse as it is incredibly effective. For a film that takes place almost entirely inside a singular location, it never feels poorly scaled or lacking in scope. Cronenberg controls the pacing far better than a director helming his first feature should have been able to, and he manages to get excellent performances out of a very strong cast as well. The film’s reliance on special effects to give a few key scenes the impact that they require never feels contrived or out of place, even if admittedly a couple of the typically great practical effects work does show its age. A string is visible in one scene and occasionally the parasitical creatures look a bit too rubbery for their own good, but the bulk of this content is just fine, and still quite impactful. The script is intelligent and unique, an early example of the type of ‘body horror’ that the director would become famous for in the coming years.

    The cast all do fine work. Barbara Steele’s part is interesting, it’s great to see her cast against type after being familiar with her work in quite a few iconic roles in the Italian gothic horror pictures made the decade prior. Her interesting screen presence is exploited well in the film. Likewise, Lynn Lowry is really good here, her unorthodox beauty proving the perfect fit for such a bizarre story, with Cronenberg really doing a great job of capturing her quirky sex appeal. Paul Hampton is solid as the lead here, sharing some pretty good chemistry with both Lowry and a scene-stealing Silver, who provides a little bit of light comic relief as the pickle chomping doctor working alongside St. Luc. Allan Kolman and Susan Petrie are very good as the married couple in trouble, doing quite a bit to make their supporting roles stand out, while the various character actors that make up the bit part players all do their best to create some eerily memorable characters, particularly in the film’s creepy finish.

    Shivers – Blu-ray Review:

    Shivers arrives on Blu-ray from Vestron Video/Lionsgate uncut in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.78.1 widescreen and taking up 19.8GBs of space on the 50GB disc and overall, it looks really good. There’s no info here about the source used for the transfer and it’s entirely possible that it uses the same source as the Arrow Blu-ray from a few years back (which we don’t have on hand to compare, sorry!) but either way Lionsgate offers up a very nice transfer. This has always been a pretty grainy film and thankfully that look is well-preserved on this release, there’s no noticeable noise reduction at all. Some small white specks show up here and there but that’s about it as far a print damage goes. Colors are handled very well and look nice and natural, skin tones too. No noticeable compression artifacts were noticed during playback, and the picture is free of any edge enhancement, it always looks very natural and very filmic.

    The only audio option for the feature is an English language 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track. There are a couple of spots where a scream or two seems a bit high in the mix but otherwise, no complaints, the movie sounds really good for an older single mono offering. Dialogue is generally always clean and clear and easy to follow and the score sounds quite nice. Optional SDH subtitles are provided in English only while regular subtitles are provided in English and Spanish.

    Extra features start off with a new audio commentary track featuring writer/director David Cronenberg moderated by Chris Alexander. Cronenberg notes that it's appropriate that he has a cold and is occupied by a virus while recording this commentary and how this, his first commercial movie, opens with a literal commercial. He details what it was like shooting the film in and around Montreal, working with Ivan Reitman, using 'needle drop' music due to budgetary restraints in both this and Rabid, working with a director of photography for the firsts time and how to 'get my mind through the machine' in that regard. There's plenty of talk about the cast and how good a job the director feels they did in the picture, the use of ADR in the film, how they landed Barbara Steele for the film and the importance of her presence in the film, working with Cinépix who wanted the screenplay but were cautious about letting Cronenberg direct, how Cinépix wanted to use a horror film to break into the American market, why Cronenberg tends to stage key scenes in bathrooms, the film's comparisons to Alien (Shivers was made first!) and the use of parasites in both pictures, how happy Cronenberg is with how the effects turned out given the film's limited budget, why there isn't a lot of cutting in terms of how the movie was edited and how 'sex was always a part of this movie.' We also hear about when and where Cronenberg's voice cameos in the film, how Cronenberg wound up literally getting stabbed during the shoot, his thoughts on the Canadian film industry and the effect of a specific review on the film's reception, Cronenberg's work as an actor on films like Nightbreed and working with Clive Barker, his own way of wanting to work with actors, how something as simple as a hairdo can wreak havoc with a shooting schedule, using the Fournier brothers for the stunt-work needed, Alexander's memories of seeing the movie for the first time (and how it ties into Niagara Falls' strip club, The Sundowner!) and quite a bit more. It’s an excellent discussion packed with information and delivered in a very laid back, listenable style.

    A second commentary joins co-producer Don Carmody with moderator Alexander for a track that covers how he came to work on this for Cinépix, his first as a producer, and how he came to work with the company. They talk about casting the film (many of whom he describes as 'young wannabes' which made it easy to get people to work on it), getting Barbara Steel in the film, how both Cronenberg and Carmody used this picture as his own film school, shooting the picture for $105,000.00 in total over 15-18 days, working with Ivan Reitman on the picture and how they had to collectively keep an eye on Cronenberg who was still pretty green, the creative use of camera angles in the film, memories of shooting specific scenes, using a fridge to light a specific scene and the difficulty in getting the parasite to 'move underwater' during Steel's iconic bathtub scene. Carmody also notes that save for one film (which he doesn't name) he's enjoyed working on pretty much every production he's been involved with over the years, various projects that people who worked on this film have gone to make over the years and a fair bit more. Carmody's track isn't as interesting as Cronenberg's but he's still got some great stories to tell and a lot of information to divulge about the making of the movie.

    Up next is a new twelve-minute featurette called Mind Over Matter which is an interesting interview with Cronenberg. This covers some of the same ground as the commentary but is still worth checking out. He talks about how after making Stereo and Crimes Of The Future he wanted to make a feature. He then talks about working with Cinépix, coercing them into letting him direct, the lack of genre film tradition in the Canadian film industry of the day, shopping the picture to a few L.A. based production companies like Corman's New World, how and why the film wound up getting made in Canada which kept Cronenberg himself in the country, memories of early production meetings, learning from the people he worked with on the production, ‘Marshall Delaney’s’ scathing review in Saturday Night magazine, how the movie was received overall, the Alien comparisons and more.

    Lynn Lowry is up next in a new interview called Good Night Nurse that runs seventeen-minutes in length. She talks about how it's tough to explain what makes Shivers so universal, how creative and groundbreaking the movie was and still is and how she was approached to be in the movie and accepted the role. She describes working with Cronenberg as a dream, noting that he was very kind and supportive, how she got along with her fellow cast members, filming the car accident scene, her thoughts on playing a villain, how it was nice to play a role where she makes it to the end of the film (!), filming her strip scene not for her co-star but for Cronenberg himself, learning her lines the way that they were written and, of course, shooting the finale in the pool. It's a great interview, Lowry is a class act and comes across as very gracious and down to Earth.

    Outside And Within is a new interview with special make-up effects Creator Joe Blasco. Here, over thirteen-minutes, we learn about his background and his training, turning down Easy Rider and Night Of The Living Dead, getting turned on to Shivers by a union connection who knew of the film, his thoughts on the script and how he thought the movie was 'like a porno film', accepting the gig once he learned that Barbara Steele was in it and insisting that he personally do her makeup in the film, what it was like working with some people who were very new to the industry and some of the problems that this created, how much he truly enjoyed working with Cronenberg who he describes as a genius and how he created some of the creature effects featured in the movie using condoms, washers and enema bottles. He also talks about how the bathtub sequence was done by using a sink for the close-up shot of the parasite, wanting to redo a shot where a string is visible but not being allowed to and more. Towards the end he shows off one of the parasite props from the film. It's interesting stuff!

    The ten-minute Celebrating Cinépix: The Legacy Of John Dunning interviews Greg Dunning, the son of the film's producer. He talks about being allowed to see all sorts of genre film in the company's screening room as a kid, details of his father's memoir, working in the accounting department on some of his father's films, how he made a fortune of off 1969's Valerie but instead of investing it in the stock market instead used those funds to make more movies. He also covers Andre Link's involvement in the company and the relationship that he shared with his father, how the company was in a perpetual state of crisis, issues that they ran into with censorship and boundary pushing content, how Shivers was received financially and critically and the company's relationship with Cronenberg, his father's tendency to use women as protagonists in their pictures (even Ilsa!), his father's passing while working on a sequel to My Bloody Valentine and the foundation that was created in his honor after he died. It's a very interesting and touching piece well worth watching.

    The disc also includes a twenty-one-minute archival interview with Cronenberg from 1988, who speaks about the film production scene in Canada during his early years in the industry, making his first feature film for Cinépix, which he describes as the New World of Canada, the difficulties that he had in getting Shivers made and how green he was as a director on this project, using Shivers as film school and learning from the Cinépix producers, how he learned to work with actors and his thought on the cast used in the film, the effects work and its importance to the success of the film, dealing with a vomiting Joe Silver during the shoot, scouting locations and more.

    The disc also includes a nine-minute still gallery/slideshow that comes with an optional archival audio interview with executive producer John Dunning that was conducted by Chris Alexander in 2011. He talks about how he became involved in film after making a documentary at the University Of Montreal, getting into the French language film market which was mostly controlled by the CBC at the time, dealing with censorship issues throughout his career and dealing with priests and Jesuits who had ties to this, finding success in dealing in sexploitation pictures from Europe, learning to cash in on an international fan-base, the success of the first Ilsa movie and more. The still gallery itself is great, it includes all sorts of behind the scenes pictures and promotional and home video art from around the world.

    Finishing up the extra on the disc are two theatrical trailers for the film (a fullframe trailer as Shivers and a widescreen trailer as They Came From Within), a TV spot using the They Came From Within title, two-minutes' worth of radio spots, menus and chapter selection.

    As far as the packaging goes, Vestron includes a very cool metallic-looking slipcover and, inside the standard-sized Blu-ray keepcase, an insert card with a code that can be redeemed for a digital copy of the movie.

    Shivers – The Final Word:

    Shivers remains a high point in seventies horror, a wildly creative and effectively unsettling genre film with a great cast and some unforgettable set pieces. Lionsgate/Vestron Video has done a great job bringing this picture to Blu-ray with a very nice presentation and on a disc stacked with high quality extra features. Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Shivers Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Andrew Monroe's Avatar
      Andrew Monroe -
      My favorite Cronenberg film by a long shot. Still packs one hell of a punch...genuinely disturbing and stays with you long after it ends. I hope to pick this up tomorrow.
    1. Gary Banks's Avatar
      Gary Banks -
      I remember just being stunned by this it at the Drive-In when it first ran down here in my college days. Ranks right up there with Videodrome for being ahead of its time.