The Brood, 1979.
Directed by David Cronenberg.
Starring Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, Art Hindle and Henry Beckman.
A man tries to uncover an unconventional psychologist’s therapy techniques on his institutionalized wife, while a series of brutal attacks committed by a brood of mutant children coincides with the husband’s investigation.
Jonathan Romney wrote in 2007 how David Cronenberg’s “stories evoke worlds that are manifestly unlike ours”. From the crazed-creation of The Fly through to the close-up gore within A History of Violence, these are worlds that very few are privy to. The Brood is set within an alien-world in many respects, as snow-suited creatures plucked from the Venetian streets of Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now are now multiplied and in Toronto, Canada. Within this surreal context, The Brood highlights truths that we shy away from and forces us to see our fears through the hyper-real lens of a horror filmmaker. Now released on Blu-ray, The Brood is much more than a horror film as the danger is not just within the house – but is within us.
Child abuse is the spine of the story. Candice (Cindy Hinds), a child of a broken family as her Mother undergoes psychiatrict treatment, has been abused. Does this happen when she visits her Mother Nola (Samantha Eggar) at the Somafree Institute? An Institute that hides dark demons within the halls, operated and led by Dr Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed) and his little-known “psychoplasmics” form of Psychiatry. Or is the abuse from Candice’s grandmother (Nuala Fitzgerald)? Grandma abused Nola; this is clear. But she appears detached – not the attacker we are led to believe left burises and cuts on Canidice’s back. Her father, Frank Carveth (Art Hindle), is concerned. He doesn’t trust Dr Raglan and he is well-aware of the mental difficulties his wife has as he tries to gain custody of his daughter.
These foundations are laid and, in a moment of terror, a small child-shaped creature attacks Grandma – using kitchen utensils to ceaselessly hit and murder her. Candice waits in the other room and finds the body laid across the floor and covered in blood. As we see the horror outside the Institute, we also see within as Dr Raglan acts conversations with Nola – as she explains the abuse she suffered. She is angry at her Mum and abuse that was inflicted upon her; she is angry at her Dad for failing to intervene. The first murder is her mother and the second is her father. It is clear a connection between her anger and the homicidal creatures that kill is the centre of the story – we know that this connection is the key to her condition.
Cronenberg is critical of psychiatry throughout the film. The opening moments, almost a piece of theatre as it is, show Dr Raglan with a patient. Does he see the entire act of psycho-analysis as an act? A dangerous method to unleash hidden fears without taking responsibility – highlighting how we may be angry at our parents for our upbringing may be enlightening but it doesn’t change our own responsibilities.
Frank Carveth is equally suspicious when psychologists interview Candice following the trauma of her grandmother’s death – and the similarity between ‘The Brood’ and Candice is purposeful, establishing a clear connection between the anger and rage the Mother feels and how this seeps into her children. During the first murder, Cronenberg holds back from showing us the faces of ‘The Brood’ alerting us to suspect Candice’s involvement. As a child of Nola, she is a part of ‘The Brood’ – albeit a human and child of Frank’s unlike the midget-killers.
The low-budget exploitation genre that The Brood firmly resides within (alongside Rabid, Shivers and Scanners) is also a style of filmmaking that separated Cronenberg from the masses. The body horror shown as we see a growth on the neck of a ex-patient of Somafree and the external-womb birthing ‘the brood’ are grotesque, Bosch creations that, in the case of the latter, may have influenced the development of the Alien series as James Cameron chose to introduce a “Queen Bee” xenomorph in the first sequel Aliens.
But Cronenberg managed to also weave fascinating conflicts between nature and nuture. The Brood tackles the idea of self-control and self-preservation. As Nola reveals in Gollum-like intonation her sordid, abusive history we see the ramifications in literal form – her fantasies of revenge enacted by those bred by her. The piercing strings of Howard Shore’s debut score add tremendously to the atmosphere Cronenberg has created and the ambiguous motives behind the Somafree institute equally provide uneasy foundations within the world created. This is a world unlike our own – but it is a world that seems all too familiar. In the final moments, the future is set in stone for young Candice. It’s not her fault but she has seen too much of this world to leave unscarred. “We plant pumpkin seeds…” indeed.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★