Starring: Paul Hampton, Joe Silver, Lynn Lowry, and Barbara Steele
Written by: David Cronenberg
Directed By: David Cronenberg
It’s always charming to see that old Vestron Video logo at the beginning of a home video product, but the snazzied-up version of it, which adorns the Vestron Video Collector’s Series still hits that nostalgic note. It’s been four years since Lionsgate Home Entertainment started this special Blu-ray + Digital series, and David Cronenberg’s first feature film, Shivers, is the latest addition.
Shivers is a downright gritty film. While it was clearly made on a limited budget, Cronenberg’s ability to make strong impressions comes through in a jolly balance of gratuitous nudity and unnerving imagery. In Cronenberg’s story, a doctor introduces customized parasites into people’s bodies, so the parasites can take over the functions of failing organs. The phallic-looking parasites, instead, turn their hosts into sex maniacs who are compelled to transmit parasites to others.
The video and audio presentations preserve the film in its grindhouse glory. While the discerning eye can spot strings pulling the creatures, and the audio mix sometimes muddies the dialog track, the preservation of these deficiencies helps the film maintain its low-budget, 70’s charm. Cronenberg remarks, on one of the new audio commentary tracks, that he wasn’t interested in getting all George Lucas on his baby and digitally changing anything, and he points out the strings with amusement.
Throughout the commentary track, Cronenberg discusses his process of making this feature with Cinépix, the Canadian equivalent of Roger Corman’s AIP and the forerunner of Lionsgate. Essentially, this boils down to him talking about how he fought to stay attached to his well-liked script, the casting process, finding the location, learning to direct actors and understand the jobs of his department heads, and gradually finding his footing while under the tutelage of his producers. Horror writer / editor / producer Chris Alexander shared the commentary track with Cronenberg as well as another new commentary track with the film’s co-producer Don Carmody, who fills in some gaps about production details and points out the cameos of his family members.
Among the additional features of the Blu-ray are one new interview with Cronenberg and one archival interview. Throughout these, as well as the commentary tracks, several anecdotes about the production are re-visited multiple times, so I guess it bears repeating that prominent Toronto author, journalist, broadcaster, and editor Robert Fulford panned the film. Evidently Fulford took exception to the fact that taxpayer money was channeled ‒ through the Canadian Film Development Corporation (CFDC) ‒ into making a film of such exploitative nature; Cronenberg points out that despite this fact, Shivers was the first film to ever return the investment of the CFDC, but Fulford’s bad press made it difficult for Cronenberg to work for several years afterwards.
Other features on the disc include an interview with Greg Dunning which is essentially a tribute to his father, John, who launched Cinépix with André Link; a still gallery, featuring an archival audio interview with John Dunning, who reveals that he strove to break Canadian film censorship; an interview with actress Lynn Lowry, who talks about this film and her career beyond the genre; an interview with special make-up effects artist Joe Blasco, who reveals that Barbara Steele’s involvement got him on board and talks about some of the film’s effects ‒ including a demonstration of how the strings operated the creature; and there are also theatrical trailers, TV spots, and radio spots.
Lionsgate’s Vestron Video presentation of Shivers delivers solid video and audio presentations of David Cronenberg’s first feature in all its low-budget glory. Despite its rough edges, the film still titillates and torments the senses, and the edition includes a satisfying collection of extra features. For the suggested retail price of $17.99, a horror fan certainly can’t go wrong with this purchase.