David Cronenburg

4/6/12 – Shivers (Aka Parasite Murders) 1975

As part of the research project, I am required to write an essay about one or two films in particular with reference to contemporary theory. I thought it would be interesting to research the body horror genre in relation to phenomenology and sensuality.  I began to question why is the audience interested in watching horror films and why are these particular films popular or appealing? How does the modern horror genre connect with human senses such as vision, touch and sound?

The research will relate to David Cronenberg’s Shivers, 1975, which depicts monstrous parasites that begin to infect the human population with a highly contagious disease, which also generates sexual behaviour or promiscuity.

What is Phenomenology?

When I first began to research this particular subject, I began to question what is Phenomenology? How does this particular theory relate to contemporary cinema? According to the Reader’s Digest: Great Illustrated Dictionary, Phenomenology is an investigation into human experience. According to Vivian Sobchack contemporary cinema evokes a ‘sensory experience’, which also uses sight, touch, sound and movement.

Dr Hobbes and his relationship with Annabelle

Shivers suggests a sense of isolation and detachment within the beginning of the film, although the infected residents within the apartment building result in complete destruction and chaos . The character’s sexual and violent behaviour also encourages the audience to laugh and cringe at the same time. Towards the beginning of the film, Dr Hobbes inflicts his violent and aggressive behaviour upon Annabelle, who has been used for his highly dysfunctional experiment.

Beard explains that the quarrel between Annabelle and Dr Hobbes occurs before the audience is able to apprehend the narrative or the structure of the film. When I viewed this particular scene for the first time, I was very confused and unfamiliar with the structure of the narrative. The scuffling footsteps, the heavy breathing and the smashed plates immediately allows the viewer to realise that something violent or shocking is about to occur.

William Beard explains that Annabelle transferred the parasites or the disease through sexual encounters with other men. According to Beard, Dr Hobbes attempted to provide others with a closer connection to their own humanity or existence. Perhaps Dr. Hobbes intentions or experimentations are phenomenological and Beard also argues that the parasites expose “human animality”. (W.Beard, 2006 p.34)

Beard also argues that Annabelle Brown’s murder is a graphic scene, which combines sex, death and violence. One could argue that Annabelle’s murder uses graphic imagery, sound and movement in order to generate a sense of shock or bewilderment from the audience. There is no dialogue between Annabelle or Dr.Hobbes, which also leaves the viewer to wait in anticipation.

Bead also mentions that Hobbes opens Annabelle’s body with a scalpel, which causes the blood to trickle down the woman’s waist. Hobbes begins to pour acid into Annabelle’s body in order to kill the parasites before slitting his own throat.

From a personal perspective, the sounds or the noises intensify the scene and the sound of the scalpel slicing the flesh and the skin does cause me to cringe. The noise is quite sharp and I begin to imagine what it would feel like to have a scalpel cutting across my own body. Would a scalpel really make loud or sharp sounds when cutting into the body?

One could argue that the noise is more horrific or disturbing than the actual image. When Dr. Hobbes is opening Annabelle’s body with the scalpel, there is only a small amount of blood that is exposed to the viewer. Both characters are stripped down to their underwear and the kitchen table becomes an operating table for unusual experiments or violent behaviour. The visuals are also disturbing, although the sound also elevates a sense of shock and horror.

Hobbes also pours acid into Annabelle’s body although the sharp, unsettling sounds of the acid burning the internal organs, invites one to visualise the remains of Annabelle’s mutilated body. For a 70’s horror film, the visual effects manage to create a sense of discomfort through sexually explicit and violent representations.

Watching Shivers has also invited me to question why is there a desire or an interest for horror films? Why do we feel the need to watch sex and violence on a cinematic screen?

Sobchack, Vivian. The Address of the Eye: A Phenomenology of Film Experience.  New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1992.

Beard, William. The Artist as Monster: The Cinema of David Cronenberg.  Toronto University of Toronto Press Incorperated 2006. p.34 – 45

Digest, Readers. Readers Digest: Great Illustrated Dictionary.  Boston: Lexical Databases 1984.

Image Citations:





2 responses to “David Cronenburg

  • Creature with the Atom Brain

    Great Article, I was really getting into it. I wonder how you would answer the last question?

    • Black Calavera

      Thank you 🙂 I was just writing some thoughts and ideas for an essay. I suppose the viewer is attracted to subjects that repel or disgust us and most horror films are related to abjection, which also has a lot to do with the viewer’s response with the screen. Julia Kristeva writes an interesting essay on abjection in horror, “The powers of horror”. Mmmm I’m still trying to find out why the audience is attracted to images of death and sex, I shall do some more research and I’ll get back to you 🙂

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