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Film / Shivers (1975)

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Shivers (also known as The Parasite Murders, They Came from Within, and Frissons) is a 1975 Canadian horror film written and directed by David Cronenberg. His feature film debut, it embodies many of the Body Horror concepts he would continue to explore in future films with a wide spectrum of subtlety. It stars Fred Doederlin, Paul Hampton, and Lynn Lowry.

In Montreal, Dr. Emil Hobbes has spent his career developing parasites for use in organ transplants. Believing that humanity has become over-rational and has lost contact with its more primal urges, he creates an organism that acts as a combination of aphrodisiac and venereal disease. As a result, everyone with the parasite is consumed by uncontrollable sexual urges, causing the parasite to spread via the slightest sexual contact. When the parasite inevitably gets free, it soon infects a luxury apartment building.

This being a Cronenberg film, you know things are going to get gross in a hurry.

The film was a sort to predecessor to Alien, which Cronenberg believes was a bit too much inspired by it.

Not to be confused with the video game of the same name, or the children's horror series of the same name.

This film contains examples of:

  • And Then John Was a Zombie: Dr. St. Luc is infected by the end, though Cronenberg himself considers this to be a happy ending.
  • Apartment Complex of Horrors: The entire apartment complex succumb to a sexually transmitted parasite that causes the infected to become permanently aroused fiends who will attack anyone sexually, regardless of age or orientation.
  • Asshole Victim: Nicholas Tudor was already an adulterous jerk before he got possessed with the parasites, then continues to treat his wife Janine awfully afterwards. Nobody sheds a tear when Dr. St. Luc shoots him for murdering Dr. Linsky.
  • Body Horror: The parasites themselves.
  • Creator Cameo: Cronenberg appears briefly as an infectee.
  • Deadly Bath: A woman is quietly bathing when one of the parasites crawls in through the plughole. It then forces itself into her body through a very uncomfortable opening.
  • Dirty Old Man: Dr. Hobbes was basically just an old pervert who decided that the world needed to be turned into a mindless orgy. Thus the lust-spreading parasites were born.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • The film takes place in 1975, and refers to The '70s sex craze in North America. What makes it Harsher in Hindsight is that the AIDS epidemic followed in the The '80s, so the film is actually prescient. invoked
    • The climax is intended to resemble a baptism.
  • Downer Ending: The film ends with the parasites spreading beyond the apartment building and possibly going global.
  • Esoteric Happy Ending: Inverted. Considering everyone in Montreal are already dead-eyed zombies, some think the ending is a happy one. invoked
  • Fan Disservice: Only Cronenberg can make a lust plague completely unsexy. A memorable moment is the laundry woman, after being infected, reappears peering through her door, and moans at a delivery man, "I'm hungry.... I'm hungry.... I'm hungry... for love!"
  • Girl on Girl Is Hot: Subverted for Fan Disservice. Betts seducing her ladyfriend Janine should be enticing, since they're both young and attractive, but then an Orifice Invasion happens in the middle of it.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Hobbes' aphrodisiac parasites work a little too well. By the end the entire building is infected, and the plague is spreading to the city and beyond to turn the entire world into a mindless orgy.
  • Gory Deadly Overkill Title of Fatal Death: Several of the alternate titles come off like this.
  • Groin Attack: An extremely rare female variant, though it occurs off-screen; Betts is laying in the bathtub when a parasite enters through the drain and although nothing explicit is shown, the parasite is seen crawling between her legs. Later it cuts back to this same shot, now with Betts thrashing in the tub, her legs flailing about as the water turns red.
  • Hope Spot: At the end, after many close calls it seems like Dr. Saint Luc could still escape and warn the world about the parasites, but then he's cornered and mobbed by the sex zombies in the building's swimming pool.
  • Kubrick Stare: Nicholas gives a fairly good one, which prompts Mike to shoot him immediately. (The fact Nick's bathed in his friend's blood doesn't help.)
  • Les Yay: invoked "Let's kiss, let's kiss... Make love to me..."
  • Love Is in the Air: A variation with the love plague being the result of a parasite that makes people lose all inhibitions. With very few exceptions (such as the lesbian couple), this is not sexy at all. Imagine people suddenly making out with everyone else, whether the other person wants to or not, and regardless of things like attractiveness, age, or relatedness. Cronenberg manages to hint at pedophilia (a young brother and sister being "walked" like dogs on leashes as they bark) without actually depicting it.
  • Madness Mantra:
    Betts: Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me, make love to me, make love to me, make love to me, kiss me, kiss me...
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate:
    • Dr. Hobbes establishes the template for doctor-types in Cronenberg movies. Creating a bunch of lust parasites to turn all of humanity into mindless sex zombies?
    • Averted by Dr. St. Luc in the same film however, since he's a regular general practitioner without any of the mad science who's simply drawn into this whole mess, as well as Hobbes' ex-colleague who had no knowledge of the bizarre stuff he was doing under his nose.
  • Murder-Suicide: When Hobbes sees the results of his lust parasites, he kills his mistress (Patient Zero) and then himself.
  • Not Using the "Z" Word: The infectees are essentially sex zombies, though not undead, since they can be killed normally. They're also clearly capable of speech and complex activities like changing clothes and driving cars.
  • Not What It Looks Like: A meta-example intended for the audience: in the opening of the film, an old man is violently attacking a young college age woman in a schoolgirl outfit, and after he knocks her out, he duct tapes her mouth and puts her on a table. He then rips off her shirt, exposing her breasts. He strips down to his boxers, then cuts her open, and puts acid inside her before slitting his own throat. It's Dr. Hobbes desperately trying to kill the parasite inside her, and preventing it from getting him as a new host. They're both nearly naked so the parasite will be visible on either body.
  • One-Word Title
  • Orifice Invasion: The lust-spreading parasites enter through a person's throat, with someone who's already been infected kissing another person to spread the parasite. Or in one case, through a woman's vagina while she's taking a bath.
  • Parasite Zombie: The Lust Parasites drive their victims to mindless sexual behavior in order to spread itself further.
  • Patient Zero: Hobbes first infects his mistress with the lust parasites. She then spreads them to everyone else in the building.
  • Parental Incest: Dr. St. Luc encounters a bearded man and a young blonde woman in his apartment. He introduces her as his daughter, and starts making out with her.
    Have you met my daughter, Erica? She's a very beautiful girl. Come here, Erica. I just know you'll like my daughter, Erica.
  • The Plague: The parasites spread quickly throughout an apartment building.
  • Psychosexual Horror: The movie is about a colony of Puppeteer Parasites being spread through sexual contact. They were inverted by a perverted old Mad Scientist who wanted to turn the entire world into "one beautiful, writhing, orgy". The infected rapidly lose any and all inhibitions, and we do mean any and all, including rape, incest, and pedophilia.
  • Puppeteer Parasite: Guess.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Dr. Linsky admits to Dr. St. Luc that his late colleague Dr. Hobbes, despite being a lousy scientist, had a knack for getting grants to fund his projects. In particular, he managed to convince the Organization of American Donor Surgeons to help him finance the development of a new symbiotic organism that would put them out of business.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Dr. St. Luc's infection in the pool is treated like a perverse Baptism.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: Dr. Hobbes, after he apparently realized the madness of his work, kills Patient Zero, burns her body with acid, and then slits his own throat in an attempt to stop the parasites from spreading. He was already too late since there were other infected residents at that point, and his suicide accomplishes nothing.
  • The '70s: Very much a period piece now due to the fashions, the look of the furniture, the hairstyle, everything about this movie screams '70s.
  • Step Three: Profit: The parasites are ostensibly to be a part of surgery-free medical treatment, but according to the Mad Scientist's notes, they are "a combination of aphrodisiac and venereal disease that will hopefully turn the world into one beautiful, mindless orgy". Somehow this will save the human race. Obviously, it wouldn't, for a plethora of reasons.note  Hobbes was just a loon.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Professor Hobbes continued a relationship with Annabelle Brown after he got caught fondling her breasts at a girl's school when she was twelve. After she turned eighteen, he used her as a guinea pig for the parasites.
  • The World's Expert (on Getting Killed): Dr. Linsky knows how volatile the parasites can be from being Hobbes' former partner and having access to his research papers. However, even he underestimates them, getting attacked by the parasites when they latch onto his face. He is then graphically beaten to death by the man they were controlling before Linsky can remove them.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Mike gives a short but brutal punch to Nurse Forsythe when she attacks him with a parasite.

Alternative Title(s): Shivers