All this business with Dominic Cummings has got me thinking about David Cronenberg’s Shivers.
Movies about viruses were spreading in the early ’70s (George A. Romero’s The Crazies and Robert Wise’s The Andromeda Strain grew out of fears surrounding biochemical warfare) but Cronenberg’s invention was of a more sexual and psychological nature, exploring the headspace of the person infected. Imagine your body was taken over by a virus that made it do unspeakable things that you were powerless to stop; Cronenberg puts you in that passenger seat.
Though it may not penetrate these ideas as deeply as some of Cronenberg’s later work, Shivers is more or less ground zero for body horror. It sees a luxury apartment block ravaged by a sexually transmitted, phallic and turd-like parasite, unconcerned with the residents’ affluence or age. Ironically the picture (which was financed by a taxpayer-funded Canadian film body) proved so controversial that Cronenberg was kicked out of his own apartment for breaching a “morality clause” in the lease.
Produced by Ivan Reitman (whose weirdest work was still to come in the form of Junior), Shivers remains brilliantly repulsive and features horror icon Barbara Steele, a bathtub scene to rival A Nightmare on Elm Street and one of the all-time great genre climaxes. Sterile yet unsafe, the film is terrifying because a virus is terrifying. Morality? Society? Forget about it. You’re in a David Cronenberg movie. You. Right now. Even in 1975, Cronenberg understood that a virus does not discriminate; a fact that has yet to worm its way into Dominic Cummings’ festering skull.