This is a work in progress, as yet unfinished.
Image source: TORONTOIST
The first time I saw a David Cronenberg movie was when I was at Art College. I joined the Cinema Club, which was having a Cronenberg season, and over the course of the next few weeks I witnessed some early works of 'The Master of Body Horror!' [Personally, I think those types of labels cheapen his work to the level of 'schlock-horror - exploitation.']
Shivers, Rabid, then The Brood, I was shocked and mesmerised in equal measure. Who was this guy? Who could come up with such sickening, shocking, yet utterly amazing ideas? I was hooked and I had to find out more.
What interested me most about these films was the idea of the body turning on itself, of would-be cures gone wrong. Scientific experiments becoming rogue, uncontrolable infections. The monster within us, becoming externalised and literally, manifesting itself. Cronenberg had a totally unique and original way of representing this.
Remember this was pre-Aids, and the stage we are at now, where everyone knows someone who has had cancer, or has had it themselves. It's not easy subject matter, and no-one could be blamed for turning away or refusing to sit through films which show the graphic nature of disease, or some parasitic monstrosity which controls or changes our body.
As Cronenberg developed, his next films had much improved production values, which lent them a far better chance of being seen. Scanners, Videodrome, The Fly, Dead Ringers, Naked Lunch, eXistenZ- the body-horror-transformation continued to evolve. Taken at face value you could easily miss how cerebral and clever Cronenberg is. Much of his work focuses on flesh, parasites, medical affliction, the horror of mutation, and the seemingly well intentioned scientist, whose botched or failed attemps at a cure, end in disaster. In an interview with Spliced Wire, about eXistenZ, Cronenberg said "I see technology as being an extension of the human body...it's inevitable that it should come home to roost".
Cronenberg has included some coolly strange character names in his films. Rabid had Dr Dan Keloid, Scanners had Daryll Revok, Videodrome had Max Renn, Barry Convex, and Professor Brian O'Blivion! To this day, he remains one of only a handful of directors who can be described as an auteur. His latest films have moved slightly towards mainstream, but Cronenberg remains true to himself, very non-Hollywood, and I hope he always will. If you've never seen an early Cronenberg film, I'd recommend you do. Try Shivers or Rabid, The Brood and Videodrome, watch each of them in sequence and you'll see a unique talent developing.
Shivers [AKA They Came From Within, AKA The Parasite Murders] (1975) was Cronenbergs first full length feature. At times it's both laughable and disgusting. Yet, strangely, I found it utterly watchable and it has much in common with the Zombie genre. Don't expect great effects or production, and the 'acting'......well you get the picture! However, none of that matters, as it doesn't lessen the film as a whole.
In a nutshell, it's about a doctors failed attempts to aid organ transplant, through genetic engineering, resulting in a parasitic creature which escapes and finds a host in an apartment complex. Unfortunately the parasites look like turds, which kind of makes them all the more grotesque, in a hilarious way! Gradually more residents are infected, until most have become rampant sex-zombies, whose only purpose is to pass on the parasite through sexual contact! Haha, I know how this sounds, but the film has a dark-side, and really is a satire on how modern society has created isolation amongst certain groups. How our selfish, over-indulgent lifestyle cuts us off from our neighbour and society in general.
According to Variety, "A remake of Shivers, is due to start filming this year: The project was unveiled at the Toronto International Film Festival, with the producers noting that Cronenberg’s film received a special screening at this year’s festival. Producers plan to start shooting in February. The remake of “Shivers” will be directed by Danish filmmaker Rie Rasmussen from a screenplay written by Ian Driscoll."
Rabid [AKA Rage] (1977) had a similar idea, but this time, a young woman named Rose (Porn Star Marylin Chambers), the victim of a motorbike accident, undergoes a radical skin graft procedure which leaves her alive, but with a phallic appendage which pops out of an opening in her arm pit. Needless to say, this phallis has an insatiable appetite.....for blood.
This time, the vampiric-rabies-like derangement is not confined to an apartment complex, but spreads throughout The Keloid Institute, then gradually to Montreal. Rose ends up being attacked by one of her 'victims'. In the last scene she is dumped in a garbage truck by a hazmat team. There's far more enthralling imagery in Rabid, very graphic, sometimes bizarre and often stomach-churning. Almost documentary-like, you can see Cronenberg's talent taking shape. There are definite parallels between Rabid and Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later.
The Brood (1979) is one of Cronenbergs best films. There's a lot of rage shown by each of the main characters, with much shouting as the fight over a child develops into something far uglier. The actors give very good performances, especially Samantha Eggar. It deals with 'The Shape of Rage'. Dr Hal Raglan, (Oliver Reed), runs the Somafree Institute, where he treats mentally disturbed patients, with a technique called Psychoplasmics- this frees patients of their pent-up psychological trauma, by causing strange and grotesque manifestations on their bodies.
The story focuses on one patient, Nola (Samantha Eggar), and her estranged husband, Frank (Art Hindle) who is trying to gain custody of their young daughter, Candice. One day, Candice returns from having visited her mother, with bites and scratches on her body. There are strange, small beings lurking around, who kill Candice's Grandmother, then her Grandfather. These childlike creatures are linked to the Somafree Institute.
There is a gradual build up of tension as the story unfolds. Cronenberg restrains the creatures to glimpses, and flashes of them in red outfits. But they are made genuinely menacing by the sound of their howls and shreiks. In sessions between the doctor and Nola we only ever see her in close up, or with part of her body concealed. The reason for this becomes clear by the end of the story. These creatures are Nola's children, her anger made flesh. When Frank finally goes to the institute to confront her, he discovers this.
In this controversial scene, (removed from some cuts, much to Cronenberg's annoyance, as it makes it look as if Nola has bitten her foetus!) she uncovers her abdomen to reveal a horrific womb-like sac. She bites into it, and reveals a mutant foetus, which she then proceeds to lick clean. This last scene is both shocking and disturbing, all the more so because of the restrained gore up to this point. Frank, the husband is horrified and as an audience member I was too! Even now, I find The Brood still has that same power. Cronenberg really is the Father of Psychoplasmics!
Alien May 25th, 1979
More about Alien (movie)
When the crew of the space-tug Nostromo answers a distress call from a desolate planet, they discover a deadly alien life form that breeds with a human host. And so the horror begins - a horror which will end the lives of six crewmembers and alter the life of the seventh forever. Sigourney Weaver stars as Lieutenant Ellen Ripley in one of the most suspenseful and powerful science fiction films of all time.
Directed by Ridley Scott, Alien's release date is May 25th, 1979.
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