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RUNNING TIME: 87 MINUTES. RATED R FOR NUDITY, EXPLICIT LANGUAGE, VIOLENCE AND GORE.

David Cronenberg’s first feature-length film (released in the U.S. under the title “They Came From Within”) was a low-budget shocker that encapsulated many of the themes that would preoccupy the filmmaker for the rest of his career, including the decay of the human body, disease, sexuality, medical advancements and the delicate veneer of societal mores that keep us from indulging our most animal instincts.

Set mostly inside a luxury condo that tends to every conceivable need of its residents, “Shivers” has a simple central concept: A man-made venereal disease, which takes the physical form of a revolting parasite, begins to spread among the residents of the building. The side effects range from cannibalism to incontrollable sexual urges. The contagion rate is alarmingly high.

Although the film’s set designs and costumes have dated badly, the rest of “Shivers” remains as unnerving and disturbing as it felt more than 45 years ago, with some sequences as upsetting as anything in Cronenberg’s later work. His trademark pessimism and lack of mercy as a storyteller are already in full bloom here, as well as his near-clinical fascination with the human body, both inside and out.

“When I started to write my first script [1975’s Shivers], I didn’t think I was going to write a horror film, but it just came out that way,” Cronenberg told The Miami Herald. “I put everything in it that I had at the time, including my comments on sexuality as I saw it, mutation, the claustrophobia of middle-class society, sexual liberation, a whole bunch of things. So there’s a lot of philosophy in that movie. I was after big game artistically.”

 

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