The Forgotten Indie Drama That Inspired David Cronenberg

Canadian director David Cronenberg's films are often categorized as body horror, and with a filmography that includes movies like "Videodrome," "The Fly," and "Crash," it isn't an unfair classification. Many of his films focus on characters who physically and emotionally crumble in spectacular ways, such as mutating into giant regurgitating insects or developing new orifices on their abdomens. It's body horror at its most grotesque, and those images stick with you long after the film is over.

Knowing Cronenberg's frequent interest in body horror, it shouldn't be surprising that he was influenced by absurdist novels like Kafka's Metamorphosis, in which the protagonist transforms into a giant beetle. However, the indie movie he cites as having the strongest influence on him might surprise you.

In an interview with The Guardian, David Cronenberg revealed the little-known indie film, "Winter Kept Us Warm" piqued his interest in filmmaking.

Organic chemist turned filmmaker

Before Cronenberg developed an interest in filmmaking, he majored in organic chemistry during his first year at the University of Toronto. During his studies, he was able to dissect "fetal pigs and a few other things," where he was able to get a first-hand look at blood and guts. This experience, without a doubt, came in handy later when he made films exploring body horror, but Cronenberg doesn't classify his dissecting experiences that way:

"I never thought of the biology part of it as horrific anyway. I thought that was all incredibly exciting, even dissecting the fetal pig, which if you shot that scene in a movie, it might be rather gross for people. To feel that you were really beginning to understand the form of life, how life came to be and exists, that was exciting. That's not horror to me, that's pure ecstasy actually."

As interesting as he found the science, Cronenberg didn't gel with other students in the major, and, instead, found himself drawn to English and Philosophy majors. After a year of studying Organic Chemistry, he changed his major to English Literature, and started hanging out with student filmmakers.

'Winter Kept Us Warm'

A few of Cronenberg's new friends appeared in an independent film, "Winter Kept Us Warm," made by a fellow student, David Secter. For a young Cronenberg, watching people he knew make a movie was a eureka moment:

"It never occurred to me that you could make a movie. It was unlike someone growing up in LA where everybody's parents were in the business. In Toronto, no one's parents were in the movie business because there wasn't a movie business."

The indie sleep that sparked Cronenberg's interest in filmmaking focused on the blossoming romance between two University of Toronto students, a popular senior, Doug (John Labow), and shy freshmen Peter (Henry Tarvainen). Due to homophobic attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community at the time, Sector chose to show the two male characters as close friends, only hinting at the romantic feelings between them.

He veiled the truth so well that the romantic love between the characters often flew right over the heads of '60s audiences. Today, the feelings between the two characters are obvious when Doug lathers soap on Peter's back in the shower, and reacts with violent jealousy when Peter loses his virginity to a girl.

"Winter Kept Us Warm" has its problems. The acting is amateurish, the sound design is unintentionally comical at certain points, and the dialogue is often hard to hear, but it was a brave venture into the LGBTQ+ world in 1965. In addition to inspiring an award-winning filmmaker like David Cronenberg, the film was the first English Canadian movie to screen at the 1966 Cannes Film Festival and continues to be well received by modern audiences.