Thursday, October 30, 2014

SHIVERS (1975) (Arrow Video Blu-ray Review)

SHIVERS (1975) 
Label: Arrow Video
Region Code: B
Rating: 18 Certificate 
Duration: 88 Minutes 
Audio: English PCM Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.78:1)
Director: David Cronenberg

Cast: Paul Hampton, Joe Silver, Lynn Lowry, Cathy Graham, Fred Doederlein, Allan Kolman

In director David Cronenberg's daring feature film debut we are brought to the Starliner Towers high-rise on Starline Island. It's an idyllic community set apart from the stress of city living. The wealthy residents affluent lives are about to be turned upside down by the experimentation of professor Emil Hobbes (Fred Doederlein) who feels theorizes that humanity has lost touch with their sensual selves. To that end he has developed a parasite that's spreads like a venereal disease from host to host. He incubates his parasites through a young woman named Annabelle Brown (Cathy Graham) whom he murders at the start of the film just before he slits his own throat. Apparently the doc feels his experiment has gotten out of control but it's too late - seems his human petri dish has been sleeping her way around the high-rise infecting others who are exhibiting an abnormal growth in their abdomen, as diagnosed by the building's clinic doctor Roger St. Luc (Paul Hampton) who attempts to thwart the parasites before they can spread to the other inhabitants of the building.

Among the tenant we have Janine (Susan Petrie) and her husband Nicholas (Allan Kolman, SE7EN), Barabare Steel as a sultry lesbian and Roger's super-sexy nurse played by Lynn Lowry (THE CRAZIES) among others. As the parasite spreads the infected are overcome with the insatiable urge to fornicate and spread the parasite further. we have a great scene of Barbara Steele in a bathtub as a parasite work crawls into her lady parts and another gruesome scene of the parasite leaping into a doctor's face, burning him with an acidic secretion he pulls them off his face with a pair of pliers before being bludgeoned to death by the host who them stuffs the parasites back into his mouth. 

The parasites are a few inches long and super-gross. Created by effects wizard Joe Blasco they are old school in-camera effects and awesome, loads of blood mixed in with a perverse sexuality throughout - total Cronenberg. 

Love the scene of one of the hosts vomiting a parasite from a balcony onto an elderly couple below and another of the parasites crawling up the walker of another older couple as the man flicks it off the walking aid and smashes it. 

Another scene features a lesbian kiss and we see the throat of the host bulge as the parasite is transferred from her to the other woman and we see her neck distend - just some great bits of body horror to enjoy here. On top of that we have moments of incest that are just twisted on top of numerous sexual assaults - this is still a subversive and twisted film. 

Paul Hampton and Joe Silver as the docs trying to curtail the spread of the parasites. Silver does a fine job but Hampton comes across cold which might be attributed to his character who at one point rejects Lynn Lowry's advances while she strip nude in front of him, that's just not human! Barbara Steele and Lynn Lowry provide some gorgeous eye candy and at forty years old Steele was still quite a fox. 

For a feature film debut this was quite a film and it contained all the embryonic elements we would come to associate with Cronenberg in later years. SHIVERS remains a seminal work of body-horror and it's vision of parasite driven sex crimes is pretty disturbing stuff. Personally I don;t think I could resist the charms of Barbara Steel or Lynn Lowry if I were thrust into the madness happening at the Starliner Towers. Speaking of Lowry, she had previously appeared in I DRINK YOUR BLOOD (1970) and George Romero's THE CRAZIES (1973) plus softcore goodies like SUGAR COOKIES (1971) and Radley Metzger's SCORE (1974)  I have only to say... WOW! A gorgeous woman and that final scene with her emerging from the pool is just so super seductive, I'd give up without a fight. 

The Blu-ray from Arrow Video presents the film with a brand new HD restoration approved by director David Cronenberg. It's been quite a while since I last watched the long out-of-print DVD but my impression is that this is quite a step up in terms of texture, fine detail, color saturation with more naturally rendered skin tones. There's no hiding this was a low-budget and the image does show some of the limitations of a cheap production but it's not too shabby. I think I can say without hesitation that this is the best the film has ever looked on home video. 

The PCM Mono audio does an adequate job exporting the audio which is expectantly flat but not unpleasant. Optional English subtitles are provided. 

Also available as a Limited Edition Steelbook.
Unfortunately we have no new input from director David Cronenberg on the disc but we do get some decent value added extras produced by High Rising Productions beginning with Parasite Memories: The Making of Shivers – A brand new documentary featuring interviews with stars Barbara Steele, Allan Kolman and Lynn Lowry, special effects genius Joe Blasco and film critic Kier-La Janisse that runs about forty-three minutes. effects artists Joe Blasco recalling his time on the set and reading what he thought was a porno script is awesome - this guy has some great stories about creating the numerous gross effects and the influence on  Ridley Scott's ALIEN just a year later. 

The second making of featurette is a Canadian TV program called ON SCREEN and featuring interviews with Cronenberg and co-producer Don Carmody among others detailing the making of and release of the controversial film. My take away from this one is Cronenberg detailing how actress Susan Petri requested  that Cronenberg take her into the next room to slap her around so she could cry during her scenes, he also goes into Barbara Steele reprimanding him for slapping her around, not realizing she wanted him to do it. 

The video essay From Stereo to Video by Caelum Vatnsdal, author of They Came from Within: A History of Canadian Horror Cinema charts Cronenberg’s career from his experimental beginnings through to Videodrome. Packed with info this comes across more academic and was my least favorite of the features.

Extras are finished up with the theatrical trailer and a collector's booklet for the film with new writing on the film by Paul Corupe, creator of the Canuxploitation website, reprinted excerpts of Cronenberg on Cronenberg and more, illustrated with original archive stills and posters. The release is also available as a limited edition SteelBook with the same extras. 

There's been some negative buzz about this release from Arrow since it's release based on what appears to be 25 seconds of missing footage and the fact that this is advertised as a director-approved transfer. Arrow sort of pointed the finger at Cronenberg who in turn had stated he only approved of the color timing and did not actually view the restoration himself. I myself am not so well-versed that I can tell where the cuts were made but I can say that this is very fine upgrade of the film, whether it's complete or not I cannot say. As a sub licensed title from Lionsgate - a distributor who is notorious for not giving license of their films to other entities in the US at least - not sure what the chances are that an new uncut HD master would be struck and released in the future. 

- Limited edition Steelbook packaging
- New High Definition Digital Transfer supervised and approved by writer-director David Cronenberg
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation
- Original mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Parasite Memories: The Making of Shivers – A brand new documentary featuring interviews with stars Barbara Steele, Allan Kolman and Lynn Lowry, special effects genius Joe Blasco and film critic Kier-La Janisse (43 Minutes)
- On Screen! – An episode of the Canadian television programme which documents the release history of Shivers, featuring interviews with Cronenberg, co-producer Don Carmody, as well as other cast and crew (48 Minutes)
- From Stereo to Video – A specially-commissioned video essay by Caelum Vatnsdal, author of They Came from Within: A History of Canadian Horror Cinema, charting Cronenberg’s career from his experimental beginnings through to Videodrome, his first major studio picture (26 Minutes)
- Original Theatrical Trailer (1 Minute)
- Collector’s Booklet featuring new writing on the film by Paul Corupe, creator of the Canuxploitation website, reprinted excerpts of Cronenberg on Cronenberg and more, illustrated with original archive stills and posters

It was quite fun to re visit SHIVERS which has been quite hard to come by here in the US. It's Cronenberg's first feature film and while it's rough around the edges it has many of the directors touchstones in their embryonic form, this is a body-horror classic from start to finish with loads of squeamish fun and hordes of horny infected people just trying to fornicate for the sake of spreading the parasite. Missing seconds aside this is a top-notch release with a some quality extras. would love to see Cronenberg's follow-up film RABID with Marilyn Chambers get the deluxe HD treatment from Arrow Video. SHIVERS is not available on Blu-ray in the US and this region B release from Arrow is the only way to find it in HD.