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SHIVERS (DEVIL’S ADVOCATES) ****
Written by Luke Aspell.  RRP: £9.99 108pp

Out now from Auteur Publishing.

 

It’s been a good year for parasites and terrifying viruses, so perhaps now’s the time to revisit the 1975 David Cronenberg shocker SHIVERS. Then, after the re-watch, Luke Aspell’s thought provoking new entry in the DEVIL’S ADVOCATES series is the perfect tome to help you wrap your head around the perverted weirdness that you’ve just squirmed your way through.

 

The other DEVIL’S ADVOCATES books that I’ve read have been concisely structured like reference textbooks, with chapters devoted to each individual aspect of the making of the film and its release. However, the chapters in this one are broken up by the acts of the film, and Aspell takes us chronologically through a close textual reading of the movie. It’s very in-depth with painstaking attention paid to the soundtrack, framing of shots and the technical equipment and effects used in certain scenes (there’s particular notice given to the use of tripods and also Cronenberg’s implementation of step-printed slow motion in a key moment) with screen shots occasionally included for additional reference. Aspell does also provide lots of information about the production, and its subsequent reception, but these are all mixed in with his close textual readings rather than clearly split in to their own sections. Therefore it overall reads more like a, admittedly very good, academic dissertation and so is less user friendly than I would have ideally liked and not easy to just dip in to for reference.

 

Aspell gives plenty of consideration to SHIVERS’ relationship to the horror genre such as how it’s considered almost ‘an honorary zombie film’ even though the typical zombie behaviour from the infected is minimal. He goes on to explain that Cronenberg ‘knew he was inventing a new kind of horror’ by breaking away from the traditional Gothic aesthetics of the Roger Corman Poe adaptations that were previously mainly associated with this genre.  However, he also explores how Cronenberg actually still utilised this classic horror iconography by casting Barbara Steele to act as ‘the film’s link to all the elements that Cronenberg’s version of the horror film ostensibly excludes: curses, vampirism, witchcraft and the inexplicable’.  There’s also some in depth discussion and comparison of Lynn Lowry’s (Nurse Forsythe) previous horror roles in George A. Romero’s THE CRAZIES and David Durston’s I DRINK YOUR BLOOD which similarly were also ‘both productions with large casts in which she plays a quiet woman infected by a mind altering illness’.

 

Aspell also examines what SHIVERS influenced, citing ALIEN as owing a fundamental debt technically and conceptually to it, and suggesting that the blackly comic ‘baroque chaos’ towards the end of the film ‘anticipates the coming of the splatter film’.

 

There’s also some interesting discussion of the film’s darkly comic tone which ‘suspends us between horror and the giggles’ and Aspell highlights one particular, ‘Carry On’-esque, scene of flirting with a nurse that eventually twists in to something much more unnerving than Sid James could muster.

 

Aspell engages intellectually with how the film relates to specific social theories and discusses how ‘the political circumstances of Cronenberg’s own formation’ influenced the film with a brief detour in to Canadian politics. Interestingly he dissects Cronenberg’s identity as a filmmaker and the importance, or moreover the pronounced lack of importance, to him specifically being a Canadian filmmaker.

In a particularly passionate section Aspell unpicks the harsh reactions from contemporary critics who saw SHIVERS as ‘both an un-Canadian aberration and a misuse of public funds’. He takes particular issue with Robin Wood’s scathing assessment of the film and over a couple of pages discusses and refutes Wood’s views.

 

Overall, due to a more academic approach this is not as easily accessible as some of the other books in the DEVIL’S ADVOCATES series, but Aspell is an intelligent and persuasive author who rigorously examines every facet of this movie. This isn’t a book for those with only a slight interest in Cronenberg, but it will be richly rewarding for long time fans and particularly those with a special fondness for SHIVERS. Surely any book that contains the sentence ‘its appearance suggests a sapient stool which has decided to swim salmon-like against Nick’s digestive current to emerge from the mouth’ deserves at least a quick look.

 

Reviewed by John Upton.

 

 

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FrightFest is the registered trade mark of London FrightFest Limited.
 © 2000 - 2018