When George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” came out in 1968, the zombie’s crumbling visage became the face of American horror movies. Having captured the morbid fascination of audiences worldwide, the film influenced countless variations and spinoffs for years to come. I can’t help but feel that David Cronenberg’s first feature film, “They Came From Within” aka “Shivers” (1975) is his own take on the zombie phenomenon. Because we are talking about the king of the Body Horror genre, these zombies possess a far more discriminating pallet than those stumbling across the screen in search of mere brains and guts. For the Cronenberg zombie tonight’s special shall consist of rape and defilement, followed by a dark examination of the human psyche for dessert.
Canadian patriots can proudly relish in this movie’s glorious 1970’s Montreal setting, as the events unfold inside the apartments on “Star-liner Island”, filmed on location at Nun’s Island. The occupants of a newly (or should I say, hilariously dated) constructed highrise are everyday Canucks like you and me, just looking for a nice place to live and relax and exchange passive-aggressive niceties. Unfortunately, ours is a people who also enjoy engaging in promiscuous sexy-times, causing a dangerous sexually-transmitted parasite to make its way through the floors of the building. Originating from the twisted mind of an insane yet oddly insightful scientist, this incredibly gross slug-thing makes its way from human to human via any exposed orifice (I’ll never take a bath again). Once attached inside, it produces rabid sexual urges which lead its host to commit the most depraved and unthinkable of acts.
“One Beautiful, Mindless Orgy”…
For a debut feature film, Cronenberg certainly made it clear to new audiences that he was a director who had no qualms about crossing lines. In a move reminiscent of Romero, Cronenberg ensures that this film is equal parts social commentary and violence, although the sexual nature of his subject matter guarantees a massive increase of shock and horror from anything ever done before. Not only does he include images of explicit racism, but marital rape, incest, homophobia, and yes, even paedophilia all get at least a few seconds of screen-time as this nightmare unfolds. If the movie was done by anyone else, I’d most likely write it off as yet another piece of gratuitous exploitation and move on with my life. But as with all his other films, Cronenberg has an innovative way eith metaphors which commands that all audiences take this material seriously.
Watching this movie may be like watching an X-rated parody of “Dawn of the Dead”, but sadly the themes surrounding the depths of human depravity are not as far-fetched as encountering the walking dead in an abandoned shopping mall. A broken narrative and sometimes eerily detached performances all contribute to the surrealistic sense that what occurs on screen relates more so to what may be happening behind hundreds of closed doors in any given apartment building, rather than to the hijinks of parasite that resembles a turd. “They Came From Within” is a frightening film simply because it so bluntly addresses our deepest and most self-destructive repressions and desires. Thankfully, typical zombie-movie cliches balance out the discomfort and make this movie watchable for both Cronenberg fans and zombie-lovers alike.
Overall Rating: 7/10