1975; written and directed by David Cronenberg; 83 mins
Sex zombies! What a calling card! Well… it’s either a calculated calling card, designed to shock and appall the uninitiated and please the in-crowd or just a horror flick with brains made by someone unselfconsciously operating way, way beyond the bounds of good taste. Either way, it was grubby thinktrash of the highest order!
Right from the beginning we are introduced to the plush island apartment block in which we’ll be staying for the duration: a desirable, brutalist 70s edifice (making you wonder if Cronenberg was already a fan of J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise), to which the middle classes flock. However, all is not well as some of the residents are starting to act… well, somewhere between odd and insane! As one young couple are shown round the place, the action jumps back and forth between that and an old man capturing and brutally murdering a teenage girl. Elsewhere, residents are complaining of painful bulges in their abdomens and one gentleman seems to be experiencing catatonic seizures and severe fits. What emerges – so to speak – are a clutch of parasites which invade human bodies and turn them into screaming, sex-crazed freaks!
In Scanners, everyone remembers the exploding head but this film never has any one scene that fans constantly reference. I think the reason for that is that this film is just wall-to-wall filth of the kind we so rarely see nowadays. The excess of violence is in there but with the sex element alongside it, this is an entire film, the subversiveness of which, is meshed inseparably with it’s story. The ideas behind Cronenberg’s early works are so clear and palpable and his storytelling and direction so entertaining that it easily gets over any FX flaws or clear budget constraints that plague so many 60s and 70s films.
For a few years now, that ridiculously po-faced argument about movie violence has been gaining traction in the direction of “violence is bad” (fuck me! Who knew? Oh yeah! Some poor people don’t…)! So, whilst a bunch of intellectuals spell everything out for the great unwashed (says the critic), it’s nice to watch a film which has violence that is both entertaining and gives you pause for thought. What price our desires? How much do we want a conventionally desirable life and will it ‘save’ us from the evils of society anyway? Will it be ‘perfect’ when we get there? No, because we’re there.
At the same time that this subtext is working it’s way into you, there are parasites jumping on old ladies, orgies in offices and people vomiting blood! Just like a good old horror film! I don’t know if people want horror films to be nice and cosy* so that they can maintain a sense of smug equilibrium or if they genuinely think that violent films are the sole reason for all the violence in the world. Perhaps Cronenberg should’ve written in a white journalist to spell out how awful all the goings-on were. “Y’know, I learned something today…”
*Check out this fantastic article by Jessica Kiang which was inspired by that fatuous crap!