Twitter Plot Summary: A scientist unleashes a parasite on an apartment block that causes the infected to seek out sexual congress with non-infected people.
The smell of Canadian exploitation is all over this one, as we open with a sales pitch for new apartments being intercut with a Rolf Harris type, an older bearded gentleman assaulting what appears to be a female version of David Bowie dressed in a school uniform. Before you can shout “Operation Yewtree” he’s stripped his top off, removed most of her clothes and is cutting her open for reasons that will soon become apparent.
You see, the residents of that apartment block soon find themselves under assault from a parasitic invader, one that turns its hosts into sex-crazed maniacs. It was perhaps a little too early for it to be a direct reference to the HIV and AIDS epidemics that would dominate the 1980s, but in hindsight it does work very much on that level, playing into people’s fears about sexually transmitted diseases and the movement towards a more liberal, less repressed society. Or rather, that’s what the uptight types from that decade wanted to believe.
Ignoring the overtly 70s fashions for a moment (and if anything it’s worse here than in Rabid), there isn’t anything all that scary about being attacked by parasites that look a lot like turds. It’s almost as if South Park’s Mr Hankey has gone back in time to the 1970s in order to give everyone he meets a big “howdy ho” and a peck on the cheek. What is more unsettling is the idea behind it all, the transmission of the parasite and how it releases all inhibitions. Would it have been more chilling if it had made everyone perform interpretative dance rather than foul depraved sexual acts? Perhaps, but that’s probably not a film you’d be inclined to see.
More effective is the gradual increase in tension that leads to a genuinely unsettling finale that is on par with the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but with 100% more swimming pool and, sadly, 100% less Goldblum, Nimoy and Sutherland. This being the grim 1970s, there seems to be no end of dark films where things don’t necessarily work out for the better, and Shivers is a proud member of that club. In fact the whole film can be defined as the Body Snatchers template on a much smaller scale, but is no less effective because of it.
Our perspective on these events is coloured by the incredibly blonde Paul Hampton as Roger St. Luc, the one man who sees what is happening but is almost powerless to stop the infection spreading. He’s joined by his girlfriend Nurse Forsythe (Lynn Lowry), and they almost prove themselves to be an exception to the infection’s spread. What could have been interesting would be to explore people who are immune to the effects of the parasite, but this may have involved expanding the concept a little too far. As it is, it covers almost everything a horror fan may wish to experience – a sense of increasing dread, an unstoppable enemy and people being attacked by poo-shaped parasites. But thinking about it, maybe that last one isn’t specific to horror fans.