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The Spider Dream That Sparked David Cronenberg’s Career in Body Horror

David Cronenberg’s Shivers was originally going to be called Orgy of the Blood Parasites before becoming The Parasite Murders and ultimately Shivers, the name most people know it by (it’s also known as They Came From Within). It concerns a sexual parasite that takes over an apartment building, and is largely considered a cult classic and the movie that launched the director’s career of body horror movies.

While Shivers‘ parasites are more of the slug variety, the concept interestingly began to brew in Cronenberg’s brain when he had a spider-related dream*. In one interview collected in the book Cronenberg on Cronenberg (Edited by Chris Rodley), Cronenberg recalls:

Shivers did start with a dream I had about a spider that emerged from a woman’s mouth at night while she slept. The dream was very casual. It wasn’t a horrific dream at all. It was just ‘Oh yeah, the spider that lives in her mouth’. It seemed that the creature just lived there, inside her. It would come out at night, go round the house and go back into her mouth. Back into her body. During the day she knew nothing about it. Afterwards, on reflection, I thought, ‘My God, that image is really giving a physical presnece to the idea that things go on within us which are strange and disturbing.’ Also, it seemed the spider in some way gave her life when she was awake. Embodying that in an insect or creature was really the unique thing about the dream. That was really the crystal at the centre of what became Shivers.

The very purpose was to show the unshowable, to speak the unspeakable. I was creating certain things that there was no way of suggesting because it was not common currency of the imagination. It had to be shown or else not done. I like to say, during the course of the film, ‘I’m going to show you something that you’re not able to believe, because it’ll be so outrageous or ridiculous or bizarre. But I’m going to make it real for you. I’m going to show you this is for real.’

He talks about it here as well (less than a minute in):

Cronenberg says in the above video:

It was basically an image that I had, and I can’t remember if I actually dreamed it or I read it somewhere, but it was two people lying in a bed at night, and the man wakes up, looks over to the woman, and sees her mouth open and out of that mouth comes a spider and walks out of her mouth. And that image was really the crystal around which the rest of the film – Shivers – formed…I couldn’t actually do a spider because it’s really hard to make those legs move, especially on a low budget, so it became a parasite.”

The director would go on to helm a picture called Spider many years later, though that tells a very different story altogether.

Another fun fact Cronenberg noted in the interview used in Cronenberg on Cronenberg is that he was sleeping in an apartment that doubled as the special effects workroom for Shivers. He kept leeches in the refrigerator for use in the film, and would feed them raw meat before they were discovered to be frozen solid after someone from the crew turned the fridge up to cool their beer.

*Or maybe he just read about it somewhere (based on his account in the video interview).

Tip of the hat to The THE WMMVRRVRRMM BLOG for linking to the above video.

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