Sunday, September 20, 2020

SHIVERS (1975) (Vestron Video Collector's Series Blu-ray Review)

SHIVERS (1975)

Label: Lionsgate / Vestron Video Collector's Series 
Region Code: A
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 88 Minutes
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1)
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono Audio with Optional English Subtitles
Director: David Cronenberg
Cast: Paul Hampton, Joe Silver, Lynn Lowry, Cathy Graham, Fred Doederlein, Allan Kolman

In David Cronenberg's debut feature film we are brought into Starliner Towers, a high-rise luxury apartment situated on Starline Island, an idyllic community set apart from the stress of modern city living, it's a state-of-the-art place with all the creature-comforts, including a below ground swimming pool. However, the affluent residents of the Starliner are about to have their lives turned upside down by the strange experimentation of scientist Emil Hobbes (Fred Doederlein, Scanners), a mad doc who had begun to believe that humanity has lost touch with their sensual and instinctual selves. To that end he has developed a parasite which he has been incubating inside a patient named Annabelle Brown (Cathy Graham). The film opens with the doctor attacking and strangling Annabelle, slicing her open on the kitchen table and pouring acid into her guts, before killing himself by slicing open his own throat with a scalpel. It seems that the deranged doc discovered that his parasitic teen petri dish had been sleeping her way through the male population of the high-rise, infecting numerous men who are now exhibiting signs of an abnormal growth in their abdomen. The building's resident doctor Roger St. Luc (Paul Hampton, Waxwork II: Lost in Time ) diagnoses a few people in the apartment and comes to realize that some sort of parasite is infecting the residents of the Starliner, and after consulting with Hobbes former scientific partner Rollo Linsky (Joe Silver, Rabid), and he sets about attempting to thwart the parasitic plague before it can spread to the other inhabitants and beyond the Starliner.

Among the tenants we have Janine (Susan Petrie, Point of No Return) and her cheating husband Nicholas (Allan Kolman, Scanners II: The New Order), a sultry lesbian played by Barbara Steel (Nightmare Castle), and Roger's adoring nurse played by Lynn Lowry (The CraziesI Drink Your Blood). As the parasitic infection continues to spread the hosts are overcome with sexual urges which helps further the spread of the libidinous parasite. There's a great scene of Barbara Steele enjoying a warm bath with a glass of wine when a parasite emerges from the drain and crawls into her body in a very naughty way, and then another gruesome sight of a parasite leaping into Hobbe's face, burning him with an acidic secretion as he attempts to pull it off with a pair of pliers. There's some truly grotesque stuff happening throughout the film with loads of uncomfortable body-horror on-screen for the gore-hounds.

The design of the parasites is rudimentary but effective, they're just a few inches long and plenty icky-looking, like a flukeworm or a leech, created by make-up effects guy Joe Blasco (Rabid), they look a bit ropey at times they're still quite stomach churning. I do love the scene of someone vomiting a parasite from an upper story balcony which falls onto an elderly woman below, and another of the parasites crawling up the walker of another old lady as a man, burning her arm before her before someone flicks it onto the floor and smashes into into a greasy carpet stain with a walking aid. Maybe the coolest effect for me is when Steele's character is kissing another woman, as their swapping spit we see her throats bulge as the parasite is transferred from her into the other woman, it's a cool looking bladder effect. It's a Cronenberg film so we get plenty of strange sexual weirdness, including a moment of incest, even forty-five years later the twisted movie has not completely mellowed with age, it holds definitely holds up as a subversive slice of Cronenbergian body-horror. 

Paul Hampton and Joe Silver as the medical doctors attempting to curtail the spread of the parasites are strong for the most part, though Hampton comes off as cold and unaffected, at several points he flat-out rejects the advances of the lovely Lynn Lowry's, so I cannot be certain he is not some sort of unemotional android. On the female end of things Barbara Steele and Lynn Lowry provide some gorgeous eye candy, Lowry with her pixie-ish charms and wide-eyed Barbara Steele was still a stone-cold fox, both are a feast for the eyes.

Even from his first film film we get all the body-horror elements we have come to associate with Cronenberg, it still remains a seminal work of body-horror, it's a deftly executed film that moves fast with no fat. A still quite enthralling watch for me, and a solid bit of Cronenberg body-horror with some cerebral social commentary that can also be enjoyed just as a grindhouse flick with cool gore and strange sexual undercurrent if you don't wanna do too much thinking.

Audio/Video: Shivers (1975) arrives on U.S. Blu-ray uncut from Lionsgate as part of the Vestron Video Collector's Series line-up. We do not get any information about this being a new scan of the film so I am unsure if it is the same restoration approved by David Cronenberg that was previously issued by on Blu-ray by both Arrow Video and Via Vision Entertainment abroad, but it does look similiar in many respects with what looks to be additional clean-up and a slightly altered color-grading, but I am not one-hundred percent on that. Check out the Blu-ray comparison at the bottom of this review. The image is framed in 1.78:1 widescreen in 1080p HD and looks quite good, it's plenty grainy looking and unmolested by digital scrubbing, which is great. 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 to look at, with warm colors and skin tones looking accurate, if a tad cooler than the Via Vision and Arrow Blu-rays. The image generally looks a tad darker than the Via Vision Blu-ray, though sometimes the opposite is true, and black levels are solid with only a bit of tiny white speckling as far as print damage. Audio comes by way of English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono with optional English subtitles, it does the job fine without hiss or distortion, just a bit flat, and the library music scores sound good. 

Vestron give us a handful of new extras produced by Red Shirt Pictures beginning with a brand new audio commentary with director David Cronenberg, which is reason enough to buy this, or triple dip as I have owning both ej Arrow and Via Vision releases. The track is moderated by the always enthusiastic Chris Alexander (Necropolis: Legion). It's a well-rounded and deep diving track that delivers plenty of Cronenberg's memories making his debut feature film, with Cronenberg getting into what it was like making his first real film with a film crew, complimenting the cast and crew along the way, getting into how certain people were cast and what it was like to work with them, and of course Alexander gets into his own memories of seeing the film for the first time. There is also a second audio commentary with Co-Producer Don Carmody also moderated by Chris Alexander, which I have only just started and not given a proper listen to yet.

Cronenberg shows up again on the 12-min 'Mind Over Matter', stating off with his short films Stereo and Crimes Of The Future and wanting to make a feature film after that. Pitching the idea to Cinépix and demanding that he get to direct it, and when they didn't seem to have funding how he went to Hollywood and pitched it to Roger Corman's New World Pictures before ending up staying in Canada and making it with Cinépix. He also gets into the controversy started up by Saturday Night magazine who wrote a fairly scathing review of the film and condemned the Canadian government for co-financing it, which stalled the making of his film Rabid for a few years.

Also new is a 17-minute interview with Lynn Lowry who discusses how fantastic it was working with Cronenberg, shooting various scenes like the car accident and how she actually stabbed the director with a knife during a scene. She also gets into how the producers wanted her to do full nudity for a particular scene and how she disagreed with it and fought them over it, finally agreeing to do it topless, much to their chagrin.

Then into the 13-minute 'Outside and Within' with Special Make-Up Effects Creator Joe Blasco who talks of passing on working on both Easy Rider and Night Of The Living Dead before working on Shivers. He says that the script lead him to believe that it was some sort of porno flick but that when he heard that Barbara Steele was working on it he knew he had to do it, having been a huge fans of hers since childhood, ever since watching Mario Bava's Black Sunday at the matinee as a kid, but only if he was allowed to do her make-up. He also gets into creating the effects, going so far as to dig out one of the original parasites' and getting into how he made them move, as well as the creative way he shot the parasite emerging from the drain, and using condoms for the bulging-throats gag. 

The last of the newly produced extras is a ten-minute interview with Greg Dunning, the son of producer John Dunning who pays tribute to his father, detailing his career at Cinépix, seeing his father's films as a young kid, working with him on later films, and the inner-working of the troubled distributor. The disc is buttoned-up with an archival 22-minute interview with Cronenberg from '88, a nine-minute still gallery withan optional archival audio interview with Executive Producer John Dunning, theatrical trailers, TV spots and 2-minutes of radio spots. 

The single-disc release comes housed in a standard keepcase with a single-sided sleeve of artwork that looks to be a new illustration based on the original movie poster. This release also includes slipcover with the same artwork, which is also featured on the disc itself. Inside there's a digital redemption code for the film, which is a cool value-add.

Special Features:
- NEW Audio Commentary with Writer-Director David Cronenberg moderated by Chris Alexander
- NEW Audio Commentary with Co-Producer Don Carmody moderated by Chris Alexander
- NEW “Mind Over Matter” – An Interview with Writer-Director David Cronenberg (12 min)
- NEW “Good Night Nurse” – An Interview with Actress Lynn Lowry (17 min)
- NEW “Outside and Within” – An Interview with Special Make-Up Effects Creator Joe Blasco (13 min)
- NEW “Celebrating Cinépix” – An Interview with Greg Dunning (10 min)
- Archival 1998 David Cronenberg Interview (22 min)
- Still Gallery with Optional Archival Audio Interview with Executive Producer John Dunning (9 min)
- Theatrical Trailers (3 min) 
- TV Spot (1 min) 
- Radio Spots (2 min)

The Lionsgate Blu-ray of Cronenberg's Shivers (1975) it top-shelf, with an A/V presentation that in my opinion rivals the Arrow release and an exclusive batch of extras that is quite excellent. It is great to see the Lionsgate pushing forward with the Vestron Video Collector's Series after a prolonged dormancy, with a significantly  lower price point, but still dripping with extras, and even including a digital code for the film, highly recommended. 

Top: Via Vision Entertainment Blu-ray (2016) 
Bottom: Vestron Video Collector's Edition Blu-ray (2020)