Some artists develop their ideas over the course of decades; others arrive in the public arena fully formed. That’s the case with David Cronenberg, whose haunting, transgressive feature debut is a compendium of all that came to be considered Cronenbergian: bodily mutation, infection, aberrrant sexuality.
Like JG Ballard’s novel High Rise (published the same year), it sees civilisation breaking down in a modern apartment building. The cause: a revolting, slug-like parasite which eradicates inhibition, liberating unconscious drives to cause an epidemic of sexual assaults; imagine if George Romero’s zombies wanted to screw you rather than just eat you. Capable of being passed on by a kiss, leaping onto your face, or – in one shocking sequence – invading your bathtub, it looks like a cross between a penis and a turd.
Though technically somewhat crude – Cronenberg admits that he had no idea what he was doing to begin with – Shivers still packs a punch. As this controlled, bourgois environment descends into drooling polymorphous perversity, it’s not scenic or sexy. Featuring acres of flabby middle-aged flesh and glimpses of incest and paedophilia, it’s the sort of orgy that’d have you fishing your car keys out of the fruit bowl and running for the hills.
Ian Berriman twitter.com/ianberriman
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