Wednesday, 4 September 2013

SHIVERS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - #TIFF 2013 - Cinematheque Restoration - An Orgy of Canuck Carnage!!!

Surgical Shenanigans - Cronenberg Style, of course
Shivers (1975) Dir. David Cronenberg *****
TIFF 2013 - Cinematheque Restoration
Starring: Paul Hampton, Joe Silver, Barbara Steele, Lynn Lowry, Susan Petrie, Alan Migicovsky
Review By Greg Klymkiw
David Cronenberg is responsible for my teenage delinquency. I desperately wanted to see "Shivers" when it opened first-run. Alas, I couldn't gain entrance to the cinema because it was slapped with a Restricted Adult rating (the Manitoba equivalent to an X-rating). This peeved me to no end. The ads, featuring a gorgeous woman hanging upside down from a bathtub with a grimace of utter horror attached to her face tantalized me to no end. That the movie starred my favourite scream queen Barbara Steele was icing on the cake. I tried to get in, but was turned away by the cashier for not having the necessary I.D. So what's a red-blooded hoser movie geek to do? Well, I did what any North End wrong-side-of-the-tracks Ukrainian boy in Winnipeg would do - I painstakingly forged my own fake I.D. It worked so well, I not only gained entrance to "Shivers", but discovered that it successfully got me past Fat April, the door-lady who kept watch at the Kildonan Motor Hotel Beverage Room. Soon, I went into business. I began to forge fake I.D.s all the way through high school. My reputation for fine forgeries extended far and wide. Needless to say, my illicit activities proved to be most lucrative. For years I longed to relay this tidbit to Mr. Cronenberg. I finally got my chance at a small dinner party. I was introduced to him and I immediately launched into my tale of forgery, deception and entrepreneurial initiative - crediting him solely for my corruption. His response, however, was quite unexpected. Mr. Cronenberg looked at me blankly for a moment, turned around and walked away. Disappointing as this proved to be, I eventually chalked it up to the fact that perhaps his tummy was infested with an orgy of blood parasites.
Imagine you're a delivery boy strolling down the hallway of a brand new luxury high-rise. A grotesquely corpulent old woman with moles and hairs on her face (stained with cheap, smudged makeup and blood stains sustained during a parasite attack in the laundry room), pokes her head out of a doorway and moans at you lasciviously: "I'm hungry." She waits for the response you're too shocked to give. "I'm hungry!" she intones almost desperately. Again, you're too agog to say anything. Lunging violently at you, her teeth bared, she screams, "I'm hungry for love!"

The violation you suffer as she sates her unholy desires, will last only as long as it takes for you to succumb to the gooey, gelatinous blood parasite she deposits down your throat as she sucks face with you. Within minutes - perhaps even seconds - you'll be mounting the porky old sow and ramming your pulsating rod of manhood into her thatch of hair pie.

And it will be glorious!

Welcome to David Cronenberg's Shivers, his first commercial feature film that took the world by storm while inspiring incredulous Canuck pundits to demand government accountability as this film represented a very early investment from the federal agency that eventually became known as Telefilm Canada. Pundits and politicians be damned, however. Shivers was not only a huge hit, but it immediately established Cronenberg as a true talent to be reckoned with.

It's a great picture and still holds a place, after more helpings than I could ever possibly imagine, as my all time favourite David Cronenberg film. Other work might be more polished, but nothing Cronenberg ever did even begins to approach the mad, hilarious, repugnant and utterly horrifying experience he served up to audiences the same way one might offer up a soiled, steaming barf bag to a stewardess after a bout of air sickness.

The first time I ever saw the movie, I was thoroughly flabbergasted. Every few minutes, a story beat moved the picture ever-forward into territory of the most increasing, mounting and almost delectably foul kind.

The movie never once lets up - and even between scenes of carnage, Cronenberg served up some of the strangest and most downright creepy goings-on I'd ever seen and even now, it's still up there on the regurgitation meter.


Most importantly, the picture is not only a scare-fest, but it's replete with all manner of nasty, dark laughs. Not that the humour is ever tongue-in-cheek - all of it comes naturally out of the utterly unnatural situation. Pre-dating the AIDS crisis, Cronenberg links sex with death. It's a delightfully simple tale involving a selection of residents and employees of an ultra high rise complex on an island on the St. Lawrence in Montreal. A new form of parasitical venereal disease begins to spread like wildfire within this luxury community gated by its island borders. The disease turns its victims into homicidal sex maniacs.

I kid you not. Allow me to repeat that:


And what a frothy concoction Shivers truly is with all manner of viscous emissions - blood parasites being vomited from a balcony onto an old lady's clear plastic umbrella, parasites roiling and bubbling just under the surface of Alan Migicovsky's sexy, hairy belly, a lithe, nude body of a lassie formerly adorned in a school uniform who gets her midriff sliced open, the insides then drenched in acid and, of course a magnificent 70s cast of terrific actors (notably, the wonderful late Joe Silver as the deli-loving doctor and Alan Migicovsky as the ultra-creepy philandering hubby) PLUS a whole whack o' babes (from pretty Susan Petrie as the weepy wifey, Lynn Lowry as the drop-dead gorgeous nurse and the heart-stoppingly sexy British scream queen Barbara Steele who appeared in so many 60s horror classics).

Of course, anyone interested in seeing the beginnings of Cronenberg's career-long obsession with finding horror in the human body, it doesn't get better than this - plenty of fat for eggheads to nibble on here.

The best news is that the movie has been restored and probably hasn't looked as gorgeous since Cronenberg himself had to approve final colour timings on the very first prints run at the lab back in the 70s. Shivers got so much play throughout the 70s and early 80s that I don't recall ever seeing a 35mm film print that wasn't caked in dirt, scratches and splices.

Stunningly, Cronenberg manages, in one salient area, to match the great Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Hitch, of course, infused utter terror in the minds of millions who dared to take a shower. In Shivers, Cronenberg delivers one of the most horrendous bathtub violations ever committed to celluloid. Best of all, the sequence involves the horror goddess revered by every adolescent boy in the 70s - Barbara Steele. In Mario Bava's Black Sunday, Steele had a metallic mask of Satan with humungous spikes inside of it pounded brutally into her pretty face. As horrific as that was, it's kid stuff to what Steele endures in Shivers.

And to that - a toast! God bless you, Mr. Cronenberg, God bless you!!!

The restored print of "Shivers" (colour correction personally supervised by David Cronenberg) has its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF 2013) as a precursor to a major TIFF retrospective devoted to his work and the exciting new exhibition "Cronenberg: Evolution", both of which will unveil at TIFF Bell Lightbox later in the Fall Season. For tickets visit the TIFF website HERE.