Saturday, February 18, 2012

Sexual Parasites

Horror movies have mixed attitudes toward sex. The slasher subgenre is always showing teenagers having sex, then slaughtering those teenagers, leading the slasher movie Scream to articulate the horror movie rule, "You can never have sex." Whereas such movies suggest that the slasher disapproves of sex, other horror movie monsters seem to like sex--or at least iconic images of sex. Dracula is always biting women on the neck and sucking their blood, in a kind of metaphor for sex. However, my vote for the most peculiar horror movie take on sex is They Came from Within (aka Shivers, 1975), an early work by Canadian director David Cronenberg. What makes it so strange is that its deformed destructive being (DDB) is a parasite that causes people to want to have sex.

They Came from Within takes place at a high-rise apartment complex near Montreal. A mad scientist who believes humans have become too cerebral, out of touch with their bodies, devises a parasite that will make people crave sex. The wormlike parasite lives in people's bodies and spreads from person to person by kissing, blood, grates, drains, and other vectors. The parasites infest the building and soon people are running around sexually attacking each other, spreading more parasites, and generally creating chaos. A doctor who works in a clinic at the building tries to stop the madness, but is ultimately sucked in by it. A closing newscast suggests that the infected sex zombies are spreading out to the larger area of Montreal.

The movie occupies an interesting place in movie history. The shuffling mindlessness of the sex zombies owes a debt to Night of the Living Dead, but otherwise the film is starkly original, particularly in its portrayal of the parasites. The wriggling creatures, who can burst from chests and leap onto faces, are a probable inspiration for the alien in Alien.

What is most interesting about They Came from Within is its attitude toward sex. The premise seems bizarre: a mad scientist thinks people don't have enough desire for sex? Has he ever been in high school? Or college? People seem to have plenty of desire for sex. Yet in this movie, one can almost see what he means. The doctor, for example, has an attractive nurse girlfriend who strips in front of him without arousing any interest. Only when the sex-zombified girlfriend attacks him, and presumably infects him, does he have a chance of recovering his own libido. The movie appears to be siding with the mad scientist--regarding modern humans as undersexed, and requiring that they take a dose, however disgusting and horrible it may seem, of old-fashioned carnality.

George Ochoa
Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films


Jon T said...

Hi George,

I have reviewed Deformed and Destructive Beings for Starburst Magazine. Thumbs up!

All the best


George Ochoa said...


Your review is great. Thank you for the kind words. --George