David Cronenberg’s first feature-length horror film may now look a little crude, but the obsessions that would colour his later works are already apparent.
Made in Cronenberg’s native Canada, the story is centred around a vaguely futuristic isolated and self-contained high-rise apartment complex (Starliner Towers) in Montreal where a sex-starved parasite – invented by mad scientist Dr Hobbs as a substitute for faulty human organs – is implanted in a girl’s stomach and gradually works its way through the occupants of the building, transforming them into sex-obsessed zombies.
It’s a blatant and all-out metaphor for syphilis, the hot venereal disease of the time.
Paul Hampton – looking like a young Burt Bacharach – is the nominal “hero” (meaning he’s the only one in the cast who doesn’t take his clothes off or have sex). There are no big names in the cast, although horror aficionados will be pleased to see the presence of Hammer stalwart Barbara Steele. 70s porno refugee Lynn Lowry plays a nurse who pays dearly for having reckless sex.
The film is not particularly well made, has no production values to speak of, and is not exactly subtle, but Cronenberg delights in some stomach-churning imagery and the stark, chilling design would later be revisited in films such as The Fly (1986) and Dead Ringers (1988).
Titled The Parasite Murders in Canada and released in some markets as They Came From Within.
Roger St Luc