In a new high-rise commercial complex which is being sold to potential buyers as a Utopian place to live, a middle-aged scientist chases schoolgirl Annabelle (Cathy Graham) around his apartment. Finally knocking her out, he sedates her and strips her naked. He then cuts open the unconscious Annabelle�s stomach with a scalpel and pours acid into the gaping wound. Upon completing this task, the old man slashes his own throat.

On-complex doctor Roger (Paul Hampton) is assigned the duty of finding out what went on here, whilst the owners of the building try their best to shelter the incident from their new residents.

Elsewhere in the high-rise block, then, people get on with their daily business as usual. Nicholas (Allan Kolman) is a suited businessman who refuses to discuss the growth in his stomach with his concerned wife Janine (Susan Petrie). She in turn confides in friendly neighbour, singleton Betts (Barbara Steele). The doorman (Wally Martin) to the complex watches the comings and goings of these and the various old dears who also populate this new housing program, with equal amounts of playful disdain and camp bewilderment.

Unbeknownst to all, Roger is unearthing some disturbing details about the facts surrounding Annabelle�s death. With the help of elderly medic Rollo (Joe Silver) and pretty young receptionist Nurse Forsythe (Lynn Lowry), he unravels a tale of experiments that were designed to create parasites capable of acting as organ transplants � but have developed into tumorous creatures which turn their hosts into sex-crazed zombie-like mutants.

Another day at the office, then, for 70s-era David Cronenberg. Here, the Godfather of �body horror� cinema offers a fresh take on zombie cinema with a tale that owes just as much to J G Ballard�s subversive "High Rise" novel as it does NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. The emphasis from the start is on claustrophobia and paranoia, all delivered with that cold clinical style associated with early Cronenberg works.

SHIVERS is so cold at times, in fact, that it�s extremely difficult to warm to. None of the characters are interesting, let alone likeable, and the visual style is almost deliberately flat and ugly. It�s up to Cronenberg�s keen sense of pace and Joe Blasco�s inventive low-budget FX work to lure jaded viewers in. Fortunately, both are competent enough to do just that.

Obviously, having people like Steele and Lowry in your cast doesn�t hurt. The male cast in contrast are dull as dishwater: Kolman deserves a slap from the off; Hampton might just be the least engaging �hero� in history.

While SHIVERS may not be prime Cronenberg due to the above shortcomings, it�s still entertaining in a tawdry, trashy way and builds to a downbeat swimming pool-set finale which has become justifiable renowned.

Arrow Films Video are releasing SHIVERS in a special edition blu-ray and DVD 2-disc dual format package. We were sent the region 2-encoded DVD for review purposes.

The film is presented in an anamorphic 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The framing seems natural and doesn�t compromise the look of any scenes � even the opening titles � despite controversy in previous years over what the correct ratio should be. It�s widely perceived that the original aspect is 1.37:1 but this version here, likely to be the intended theatrical �cropped� presentation, looks fine.

It�s worth noting that the film was restored by the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and was supervised by Cronenberg himself. Picture quality is by far the best film has ever looked on home video. Colours stand out the most, possessing an instantly noticeable upgrade over previous incarnations. Detail is heightened in close-up shots, while everything generally looks brighter and clearer than before. There is a healthy amount of grain prevalent throughout and the picture is often inherently soft � this is a low-budget Canadian indie flick from 1975, after all � but I�d wager you�ll be hard pushed to ever find SHIVERS looking better than it does here.

A major caveat is the fact that the restoration is missing 20 seconds of gory footage. A trim here, a trim there - most significantly to the opening schoolgirl murder and the later kitchen fight scene between Nicholas and Rollo. Whether these cuts stem from Canadian censorship or a decision supported by Cronenberg to remove footage of inferior stock is not yet sure. All we can say is the BBFC never requested cuts, and Arrow seem as surprised as anyone that the product handed to them by TIFF is incomplete. Although you think they'd have maybe given the film the once-over and identified such issues prior to release...

English 2.0 mono audio is clean and as clear as it can be. The sound on this film has never been great, again probably because of the lo-fi manner in which it was shot, but its well-balanced enough here � it simply lacks the dynamism of later films. Optional English subtitles are well-written and easy to read throughout.

An animated main menu page leads into a static scene selection menu affording access to the film via the usual 12 chapters.

A good selection of bonus features begin with "Parasite Memories", a fantastic 42-minute look back at the making of the movie with contributions from Steele, Lowry, Blasco and Kolman. Blasco wryly admits to only accepting the job upon learning of Steele�s involvement in the film. All concerned recall their director as a polite, committed figure. Interspersed with pertinent clips, critic Keir-La Janisse is also on board to contextualise the film�s themes.

"On Screen!" is an archive episode of a Canadian TV show which promoted the release of SHIVERS back in the 70s. Over the course of 47 enjoyable minutes, it offers some old interview footage with the likes of Cronenberg and co-producer Don Carmody.

"From Stereo to Video" is a 26-minute trawl through the director�s early works, up to and including VIDEODROME. Canadian horror historian Caelum Vatnsdal is our host through this intriguing, slightly academic proposition.

The film�s original 87-second theatrical trailer is always good fun to behold; a generous promotional gallery proffers stills and poster art aplenty.

Finally, a glossy full-colour 48-page collectors� booklet rounds out this excellent set. As well as notes on the transfer and full film credits, we get some very interesting essays. "Everything is Sexual" looks at the well-documented physicality of Cronenberg�s early works and is penned intelligently by Canuxploitation website creator Paul Corupe. "Showing the Unshowable" is a sterling excerpt from Faber & Faber�s book �Cronenberg on Cronenberg� in which the director discusses the body horrors of SHIVERS in his own words. An archive review by Canadian critic Robert Fulford amusingly dismisses the film � after having witnessed a private screening under the title THE PARASITE MURDERS � as "an atrocity". Stephen Chesley�s article on the film and its director originally appeared in the October 1975 issue of �Cinema Canada� magazine and is also reprinted here. Notes on the transfer complete this lovely companion piece, which is adorned throughout with frequently gory stills.

This dual-format release is available in two versions: a regular keepcase edition boasting reversible artwork (so you don�t have to tolerate Nat Marsh�s ghastly new cover illustration), and a limited edition Steelbook packaging release.

A great set of extras, a truly fine transfer ... but those cuts are impossible to ignore. Remember: TIFF restored the film under the personal supervision of Cronenberg. It's therefore highly unlikely that any subsequent release in another territory will carry anything but the exact same restoration, complete with identical cuts.

Recommended, but only if you can live with the compromises.

Available in both regular keepcase and limited Steelbook packaging.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Arrow Video
Region B
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review