Jan 6, 2011

Shivers / Rabid: Double Feature

David Cronenberg is one of the most versatile and greatest auteurs currently still working/breathing. His record of great filmmaking is seamless, save for one hiccup, his second theatrical release, Rabid. Starring Marilyn Chambers, Rabid begins all so quickly. The film literally opens with a motorcycle being driven off the road, severely burning Rose with an explosion. Taken to the nearby cosmetic alteration clinic, a doctor with more than a few screws loose, ironically named Keloid, opts to submit her to a radical, untested procedure, grafting flesh over the burns with hopes to differentiate the flesh and regenerate tissue. At the time, Cronenberg's pseudo-scientific physical aberrations were a bit artistically repressed but already lacking in the plausibility category. The metaphysical horrors that occupy Rose include a puckering wound located in the host's armpit that emits a tendril fitted with a stinger used to drain the blood out of victims. The sexuality is present but restricted, as was the decision of the CFDC (Canadian Film Development Corporation) after Shivers horrified their noble tastes. The parasitic sexual frenzy within Shivers had disgusted financiers alike and it seemed no one at the time could understand Cronenberg's artistic vision. To capture the carnal demand for Rabid was both the casting of a porn-star and the lust-driven acts of violence committed on screen. Horrific phallocentrism in tow with the insect-like black widow pattern of the diseased Rose, the same blueprint was transfixed from Shivers to Rabid, the "companion" piece to Shivers.

Rabid is a film that can be blindly defended due to the illustrious techniques later employed by Cronenberg. One would be dedicated enough to claim he never made a "bad" film. If these ignorant fools could get their heads out of their asses and face Rabid with a keen eye for a sense of style, they'd discover that there isn't any to be found. Apart from being aesthetically dry or based upon an unbelievable horror premise that coos to "bad biology" (whose best bet for impact relies on the flaws of cellular science), Rabid simply isn't a good film by any standards. Sure, there are "zombies", violence, sexuality, and all of those later assets owed to the king of body-horror's throne, but Rabid is a film suffered by drought and ever-watchful eyes, which affect the script and execution. The Brood brought slick lighting and a sinking feeling of dread. Similar science in The Brood included the incubation of beasts in the mold of a child, what one perceives as the most harmless being of all - perfection and innocence incarnate. Rabid doesn't break any molds with its minimalism in terror, however, Rabid features systematic attacks of "the dead" which is the main facet lifted from Shivers. Instead of an infection as found in Rabid, parasites created by an ambitious doctor are the reason for duress in Shivers. Despite my hostile offensive taken against Rabid, at least it remains leaps and bounds better than similar Romero's post-Night of... diuretic concoction, The Crazies.

The lusts of men are the victims of Rabid, not Rose as a character. You'd consider that Rabid held in esteem the fate of Rose, carrier mother of the apocalypse. But you'd be wrong to believe so. Cronenberg makes no attempt to shove her into the doleful eyes of the audience. When one considers her plight and the urges she cannot control, a whim of empathy is planted. But once she begins to feed, yet again, all pity felt towards this slovenly beast is shed. Shivers, on the contrary, features a cast of characters with whom you can establish a connection to. After all, Shivers is an attack on the middle class and the sexuality confined. These are victims that could be you and I, with the temptation of anonymous sex and parasitic ecstasy. Within the sterile walls of the Starliner Towers, a mega-resort for the bourgeois, lives a terrifying abomination, a parasite designed for the benefits of mankind but might ultimately become its downfall. This plot fixture of Shivers provides immense horror and my highest form of adulation. Ringing with terror towards this strain of venereal disease, promiscuity and the disasters of polyamory, and the confined environment of the self-sufficient, Shivers is such a marvel of its time - a dateless entity that retains the same sociological impact of that when it was released. It's sister, Rabid, is a disgrace in comparison to the intellectual property of Shivers. Only in the final 3 minutes does Rabid supersede its past ill effect and present the only image that could be deemed as "haunting."

The genesis of Cronenberg's body-horror hit full force with Shivers, though. I can shower Shivers with as much praise as I can muster for its daunting schematic of sex and organic assimilation. Adolescent mistresses and a deranged incestuous tableaux await with Shivers. Something as brilliant as Shivers denounces the interpretations one might assess from the early title of The Parasite Murders. When you juxtapose both Shivers and Rabid, the results are of a notable degree of differentiating theories of sexuality. I fancy Cronenberg to be more Freudian than anything, further evidence includes his upcoming film, A Dangerous Method, based around Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud. Jung's philosophies were based with more of a spiritual bite whereas Freud was the materialistic of the two. Cronenberg's thesis of physicality aligns him up nicely with Freud's line of work. Fellow auteur, David Lynch, is admittedly more of a Carl Jung fellow, himself stating that his work isn't intellectual but rather stems from his subconscious. "You don't work with any kind of intellectual thing." Several scenes of aberrant sexuality are frequently at play in Shivers and further the suspense of consummation. Where Shivers had this slimy fear of coupling, Rabid was a one-note female power play in which Marilyn Chambers seduced and destroyed whomever she wanted. Only when she refrained from advancing on her (ex)boyfriend (morphogenetics will do that to you) was the slightest of control displayed for the succubus.

I can honor both films as ending on an excellent note - both desperate and dismal. However, Rabid's finale focused more on the fate of the titular character and the dwelling of mankind was to be done at your leisure. Shivers' affirms that even "old flesh . . . is erotic flesh" and those dwelling within the modern architecture deemed safe are at the mercy of science and eroticism. Both of these prove to be pivotal forces in Cronenberg's early career centered around obviously structured linear experimentalism. While my words and harsh demeanor towards Rabid may be misconstrued as "unfair" or that "I just didn't get it.", I'll have you know that if Rabid held 1/4th of the finesse used in the creation of Shivers, I'd be more keen to let the flat story speak for itself, and not the staleness. David Cronenberg created two films within two years that have been deemed companion pieces. I condemn the term "companion" with regards to both films, withal, both films create not an experience but that similar of a Venn diagram - two vastly different but recognizable instances of sexually-charged horror. On one hand, Rabid is a dynamically flawed film discoursing an allegory for the woman, a literal blood-sucker who flings with other men unbeknownst to the partner in search for a hunger within to be quenched. On the other hand is Shivers, the predecessor to Rabid, ultimately more refined and envisioned, which catapulted Cronenberg into a debut virtuoso. What Shivers does, Rabid doesn't. Not only does Shivers appear timeless, Shivers, to this day, is Cronenberg's best literal (and purest) work of horror.



Anonymous said...

Great reviews as usual!

jervaise brooke hamster said...

All i remember from Shivers is the daughter in the lift, what a little darlin` she was.

otis rampaging heterosexuality said...

Soiled Sinema reveiwing Shivers and Rabid in a double feature !!!, the internet really doesn`t get any better than this (except for all the pornography obviously).

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Actually lads i`ve just thought of something else that would be even better than Soiled Sinema reveiwing Shivers and Rabid in a double feature...thats right...you guessed it...Soiled Sinema reveiwing Poltergeist and Poltergeist II in a double feature !!!.

steve prefontaine said...

Do you remember the piece of dialogue in Shivers that alludes to what Jervaise Brooke Hamster is always talking about with regards to this being "THE TIME OF SEXUAL REPRESSION", i think Cronenberg prefers "the truth" over "lies and hypocrisy" just like "The Hamster".