They Came From Within (1975)

*. This movie is also well known under the title Shivers. As with most movies with alternate titles, neither is any good. The original working title, Orgy of the Blood Parasites, was more accurate but made it sound too much like an exploitation film. Which it is, but still.
*. God the Starliner apartment building looks like a dump. Even things that were new – nay, “ultra-modern”! – in the 1970s seem tatty and old to our eyes. I mean, they even have that fake wood paneling in the elevators!
*. A specially designed parasite is blamed for all the trouble. I think the residents of the Starliner were just pissed off that even after having made it as young urban professionals, this is all they had to show for it: an ugly apartment block in the middle of nowhere with a crappy pool, a nine-hole golf course, a grungy laundry in the basement, and a security guard played by one of the SCTV cast (or is that Winston from Cabin Fever?). It would drive anyone into a homicidal fury, or rounds of alternative sex.
*. David Cronenberg’s name comes up on the credits as writer-director just as the slideshow presentation tells us of the in-house medical clinic at the Starliner. Coincidence? I think not.
*. J. G. Ballard’s High Rise was published in 1975. Coincidence? Yes. Cronenberg isn’t interested in the class-warfare angle of Ballard’s novel, and the movie was shot in 1974 anyway. But it’s an interesting connection.
*. Rochdale (a high-rise, student-run housing co-op in Toronto that became associated with free love, the counterculture, and lots of drugs and crime), was finally shut down in 1975. Coincidence? Well, Cronenberg’s previous movie (Crimes of the Future) had been partially set at Massey College, which was only a five minute walk away from Rochdale.
*. A director’s early work usually gives you a pretty good idea where they’re going. That’s certainly the case here, witness the trademark fascination with grotesque medical conditions leading to strange bodily eruptions, the merging of sex with horror, and the ambiguously dark ending. As for a guiding philosophy, you couldn’t do much better than Lynn Lowry’s description of her dream of the eroticization of disease and dying. That’s pretty much early Cronenberg in a nutshell.
*. How odd is it that Lynn Lowry is in both this movie and the movie it is most often compared to, George Romero’s viral-horror thriller The Crazies? Maybe not that odd. She fit the material.
*. Cronenberg is fascinated with blood stains. He likes to paint with them (finger painting, most often). Even his wounds are only blood stains a lot of the time. Nicer than looking at that hideous ’70s wallpaper anyway.
*. Related to the blood paintings are the rooms that get tossed. Cronenberg is also very fond of this. There is something of the delinquent about our Dave: graffiti and vandalism are serial indulgences. And he also likes to wreck cars.
*. Speaking of which, look at the crappy paint jobs on the yellow and blue cars that collide in the parking lot. True story: my one day working on a film set I painted a crash car. It was not a professional job. It came out looking like these cars. Basically what happens on extreme low-budget productions is you buy a wreck and just slap a coat of paint on it, no detailing, so that it looks kinda-sorta like a car that’s still roadworthy. As you can tell from this film, the results are rarely convincing. It looks like they may have even painted the windshield wipers on the yellow car, though I can’t tell for sure.
*. The under-the-skin bulging effects, which I assume were done by bladders, were actually quite cutting edge at the time, and are still pretty impressive. The parasites bubbling out of the one victim’s belly scooped Alien by several years.
*. I have to say, the turd in the bathtub scene really is disgusting. Turd or cock. Kim Newman says the parasites look like “phallic turds,” which splits the difference.
*. Wow. Susan Petrie fends off an unwanted advance from her husband by saying she needs to put her contacts in before they make love. And then when she escapes she goes . . . to put her contacts in. I wasn’t expecting that. Finally, the sight of the parasite crawling out of her husband’s mouth is enough to make her reconsider.
*. There are some signs of a sense of humour: the bloody vomit falling on the umbrella, the old lady who is “hungry for love,” the security guard who reads nurse novels. This is surprising given that Cronenberg rarely indulges in comic relief. He is not a funny guy (at least professionally).
*. I really like the way we move among different characters in the building. They are all more or less interesting, and work well together.
*. The sound is pretty bad throughout, but in the second half in particular it seems to get much worse. There are a number of scenes where you hear the characters’ dialogue over shots where they’re clearly not speaking. But that’s low budget filmmaking. Good sound recording and dubbing is a lot more expensive than most people realize.
*. I guess the parasites are reproducing like crazy, but this is never explained. Do they breed intestinally?
*. The parasite releases the id, turning people into creatures driven by a drive for sex and violence. But they are not zombies. Are they maniacs? How intelligent and purposeful are they? It’s hard to tell. Sometimes they seem like packs of mad animals, and at other times they are quite Machiavellian.
*. When it came out, Canadian cultural maven Robert Fulford wrote an infamous magazine article attacking it, titled “You should know how bad this movie is. After all, you paid for it.” Humbug. You – that is, the taxpayer – pay for almost every movie that gets made, and not just the ones that get direct public funding. Even big Hollywood productions receive massive tax breaks in most jurisdictions. You also pay for almost every book that gets published in Canada, and every magazine, and every song that gets released, and so on.

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