David Cronenberg’s First Feature Film


I watch movies so people will show me the things that make me flinch, question myself, curse the heavens, and want to enroll in primal scream therapy. I don’t think I read for the same reasons.

But movies, I feel, can be particularly cathartic because they pivot on sight, our most dominant sense. If you show me something on the screen, I’ll respond quicker and more viscerally than if you just tell me about it or write it down.

If there’s a car accident I’m going to look. If there’s a fight, I’m going to stop and watch. And yes, if dire enough, I will intervene. The thing about movies though is that you can’t intervene.

I guess I watch movies so my paranoia is less paralyzing, my body fears less harrowing and my fear of death less devastating. It’s a fine line though with me. There are some gruesome, sadistic things that I don’t need to see and I feel serve no purpose when put on film, like many of the installments in the  whole torture-porn genre.

(One thing which makes movies like Hostel and Saw so revolting and uninteresting is that in torture the victim can’t fight back. He or she is immobilized and we, the viewers, are just waiting for the inevitable violation/evisceration. The logic is more masturbatory. At least in zombie movies you have a fighting chance against the legions of the undead. There is more conflict, less jerking off.)

Sometimes a filmmaker is so ahead of the game on what makes us squirm that his visuals, albeit disturbing and blood-soaked, seem constantly relevant and interesting.  On that note, if you’re anything like me and enjoy a strong dose of psycho-sexual violence, body horror, bizarre perversion and the disintegration of the border between the mind and the body in your movies, then David Cronenberg is probably your favorite filmmaker.

And just the other night I saw his first full-length feature, Shivers. It was pretty damn amazing. And yeah it was about a venereal parasite that turns people into sex zombies. A mad scientist? Unsuspecting apartment dwellers exposed to biological evil? An experimental parasite let loose on an innocent young woman? That same parasite functioning as both aphrodisiac and STD? It has all that and MORE.

If the movie was just blood, torture and gore (which a lot of it is) then I would ask of it, what’s the point? But Shivers capitalizes on our obsessions with sex and sexual freedom, not to mention our collective hopes that medical science can turn all of us into perpetually youthful, immortal sexual Olympians. It is a very timely subject. Especially in San Francisco.

The original trailer for Shivers, (first released as “They Came From Within”) is a real hoot.

It is today’s Thursday afternoon film recommendation.

But by all means, do check out his other masterpieces in the “visceral horror” genre that is entirely his own. If you need to be enticed, I can provide a one-sentence “highlight” for each one of my favorites:

The Brood: murderous, hare-lipped dwarfs in sky-blue ski jackets who throw hammers.

Videodrome: James Woods has a vagina in his chest and Debbie Harry shows up.

Naked Lunch: cockroach typewriters, alien semen factories, getting high off bug spray, etc., etc.

Dead Ringers: Jeremy Irons plays identical twin gynecologists, one good, one evil, both obsessed with mutant female genitalia.

Rabid: former porn star Marilyn Chambers has something in her armpit, something evil.

Crash: James Spader can’t stop violating open wounds after car accidents, among other things.

Go rent them all.

Michael Berger is a barely-published writer and book-seller living in San Francisco. He is one of the founding Corsairs of the Iron Garters Bike Club and is currently pursuing a degree in applied pataphysics. He sometimes eats oatmeal for dinner. More from this author →