Cronenberg's Shivers, Finally Uncut From Arrow (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

So Arrow released the HD debut of David Cronenberg's horror debut Shivers in 2014, but whoops! They restored the censored R-rated cut originally released to American theaters. This is where we learned that Cronenberg doesn't actually watch the DVDs he officially signs off on. But, gotta give them full credit here, Arrow came through and repressed new editions with the unrated footage restored in full, equal quality. Now, as of April 2016, if you bought the original cut set, Arrow set up a replacement program, and if you order it now from their site, you get proper shrink-wrapped copies of the 2nd pressing.

Update 4/5/17: Added the original, 1998 US DVD from Image Entertainment.  It's interesting, because it's fullscreen and open matte.
If you order this from some place like Amazon and aren't sure which disc you've got, you can see right here along the edge of the discs (this is a combo pack, and the DVD has been corrected, too) where it says "2ND PRESSING." So we finally have this movie in a special edition, uncut and on blu-ray. Happy day for me, because Shivers is still one of my all-time favorite Cronenberg films.
This movie's like the perfect combination of low brow entertainment and high brow sci-fi/ horror, like he's found the perfect intellectual reasoning to excuse presenting us with exploitation fare by clinically exploring the basest elements of human nature. A futuristic high-rise has to have its own medical facility because it's on an isolated island. But unfortunately, one of their doctors has taken advantage of this situation to get away with some medical experimentation where he implants one of the building's tenants with a parasite that cures them of their sexual inhibitions. Unfortunately, it also turns them dangerously feral, and soon these parasites are spreading from person to person, turning everyone into a violent sex maniac.
It's like Night Of the Living Dead within ultramodern architecture, tackling all the taboo cult film issues Night somehow missed. You've got horror icon Barbara Steele, Lynn Lowry looking like a supermodel and Joe Silver, that great character actor who used to play in all of Cronenberg's old films. You've got some slimy effects work by Joe Blasco - the guy who used to have all those double page ads for his school in Fangoria - including chest bursters years before Alien duplicated them. And of course you've got the clever, subversive imagination of Cronenberg back when he was writing all his original scripts. Forty years later, this movie is one wild ride horror filmmakers today still can't match.
So, like I mentioned, Arrow's 2014/ 2016 Shivers special edition is a combo pack (a steelbook version is also available), so we'll be looking at both their blu-ray and DVD. I've also got the older 2001 UK DVD from Metrodome, which used to be the best edition of Shivers going - in terms of transfer (the old US DVD from Image was fullframe) and special features. So we can look at that one, too, and see how far we've come in both departments.
Image DVD first, Metrodome DVD second, Arrow DVD third, Arrow blu-ray fourth.
Well, alright, wow. Big differences. Image is fullscreen at about 1.30:1, and open matte, as it has all the same information on the sides, and considerably more on the top and bottom. And the aspect ratio's the same between Metrodome and Arrow: 1.78:1, but Arrow's managed to find a little more picture on all four sides. That's nice; but that's probably not what struck your eye first, is it? Arrow's new transfer sure is bright! The whites are really strong, effectively erasing some detail on the papers on Silver's desk in the first set of shots, and turning the whole sky off-white in the last set. Where did the blue sky go? It's there on the Image and Metrodome discs.

Well, Arrow's "ABOUT THE TRANSFER" section of their booklet isn't much help. It just says, "Shivers was restored by the Toronto International Film Festival. Restoration was completed at Technicolor with supervision by David Cronenberg, The restored film was delivered to Arrow Films by Lionsgate." Is it a 2k scan? What elements were used? Don't ask us, TIFF did it. Well, I'm guessing the answer lies in the source materials. It looks like they used a print rather than OCN, IP or any other earlier film source. That certainly explains why it would be so contrast-y, just like The Killing Fields blu we looked at recently. And the cigarette burns on the film (see the shot of Allan Kolman at his desk, above) certainly suggest it's a print.
Image DVD first, Metrodome DVD second, Arrow DVD third, Arrow blu-ray fourth.
All that said, this is still the best the film has ever looked. The UK DVD was anamorphic, widescreen and free of the typical interlacing issues we often come across here, but detail is still much clearer and more defined on the blu. Arrow's new DVD is already a clear step up, but it's still soft compared to the more refined blu with distinct grain. Image and Metrodome also look overly blu (surely the papers in the first set of shots are meant to be white not baby blue) and murky in comparison. But were the original film elements lost, or can we expect an even more satisfying restoration some day in the future?

Arrow also bumps up Image and Metrodome's Dolby 2.0 mono tracks to a lossless LPCM track, and they also add English HoH subtitles, where the DVDs had none.
But we've got to talk extras, because there's a big distinction there, too. The Image and Metrodome DVDs just have one key extra: an on-camera interview with David Cronenberg. He tells you all the key stories and basic info for the film, in a brisk but informative piece. But that's about all there is, besides a trailer; though technically Metrodome also has a photo gallery and bonus trailer for Cronenberg's second feature: Rabid.

Arrow comes with three major pieces. First up is an all new featurette directed by Calum Waddell, which cross cuts interviews of Barbara Steele, Lynn Lowry, Allan Kolman, Joe Blasco, and film critic Kier-La Janisse, who ties it all together. This is a great piece that's both fun and gets a lot of details and stories about this film that haven't been covered elsewhere. Then there's an even better featurette, which is more of a comprehensive making of piece that was clearly made for television. It's got some cheesy animated credits, but once you get past that, there's great interviews with Cronenberg (including clips from some vintage TV pieces), producers Ivan Reitman, John Dunning, Alfred Pariser, and Andre Link, cinematographer Robert Saad, plus Joe Blasco, Lynne Lowry, Allan Kolman, plus critics Peter Morris, Bart Testa and Jason Anderson. One or two anecdotes repeat, and some basic history of the film, but they're mostly distinct and work well together.

Arrow also has a video essay, like Criterion does, by critic Caelum Vatnsdal, which is okay. It makes me wish Arrow had licensed the Cronenberg interview from the older DVDs, since it's better hearing Cronenberg talk about a dream that inspired a scene in this film than this guy saying Cronenberg had a dream that made him feel ___. But it's still better to have it than not. And all the features together (the first two run about 45 minutes apiece) really do give this edition the feel of being a full special edition. Arrow also has the trailer, a stills gallery, reversible artwork (that's kind of a spoiler, if you think about it), a postcard for one of their other releases (I got The Long Good Friday) and a hefty 48-page booklet with notes by three critics and some words from Cronenberg himself, taken from the book Cronenberg On Cronenberg.
So okay, maybe it's not perfect. But this is a pretty great release of a film I can't believe hasn't had a special edition 'till now. And I'm super happy with it. I'm still hanging onto my Metrodome DVD, but just for the interview (if you have the Image disc; that would do just as well). Anytime I watch this film in future, it will be Arrow's blu-ray. And region-locked Americans will be happy to learn that, while this release was originally region B locked, the 2nd pressing discs are A/B. So everyone can finally enjoy this fairly definitive release of a great film that's been under-represented on disc 'till now.

1 comment:

  1. I love this movie, I have watched it more often than any other Cronenberg film. The fact the apartment building on Nun's Island still exists and can be lived in is dreamy! One day perhaps...