(1975)4Brian J. DillardLike George Romero, on whose Night of the Living Dead this film so successfully riffs, David Cronenberg knew early on how to parlay low production values and genre conventions into artistic strengths. After turning out just two previous shorts, both of them experimental, the young Canadian writer/director released this smart, creepy feature in 1975. The typical arc of any sci-fi or creature feature is usually an initial shocker followed by slowly escalating suspense and climactic violence. They Came From Within follows that profile, but here, the horror isn't some threat from outer space or Transylvania, but the privileged characters' own postmodern isolation. At about the same time John Waters was churning out grotesquely amusing caricatures of the haute bourgeoisie, Cronenberg was attacking them here with tastefulness. The slowly paced, almost affectless early scenes depict the high-tech skyscraper as an urban environment divorced from all passion and nature, which makes the queasy special effects and sex-crazed chase sequences all the more delicious. Scream queen Barbara Steele and Canadian TV actress Susan Petrie were but the first in Cronenberg's long string of stellar leading ladies, but the spotlight here is on the ideas and the action, not the actors. Rarely has a horror film portrayed the ugliness of an era as subtly and unrelentingly as They Came From Within does in its clinical dissection of the empty, high-rise '70s.