When you hear the best zombie films of all time discussed, David Cronenberg’s Shivers is rarely mentioned. This is an injustice, as the film deserves to stand alongside the greats. Perhaps it’s because the mindless hordes of Shivers aren’t technically zombies, but people overcome by a virulent parasite that amplifies sexual urges to the detriment of everything else. They’re less a grey, ghoulish horde than a writhing, moaning throng of unbridled desire; they hunger not for brains, but unending gratification.
It’s not hard to see the film as a commentary on societal fears of promiscuity, years before the advent of HIV/AIDS. But this isn’t a “message” film with a director presenting his perceptions of a hedonistic society or the spread of veneral diseases, but a B-movie thriller. The subtext, tapping into the darker impulses of human sexuality, remains subtext.
The film’s small budget works in its favour in some ways: the action is restricted to an isolated apartment complex, which helps the film maintain a claustrophobic tone. The acting is a disappointment, though, with plenty of clunky line-readings and an underwhelming protagonist. Shivers is very much a Cronenberg film: obsessed with body horror, it’s gory, pessimistic, well-composed and highly recommended.