At the Somafree Institute Of Psychoplasmics, Dr. Hal Raglan is treating rage-filled psychosis by allowing his patients to “go all the way” and letting the anger to manifest itself physically. One of his patients is Nola Carveth, who has just been seperated from her husband Frank. When their young daughter Candice returns to Frank with bruises on her back, Frank suspects Nola of abusing her, but who are the strange deformed children who are obviously after anyone Nola doesn’t like?….
With films ranging from Dead Ringers to A History Of Violence, David Cronenberg has gained wide critical respect as a filmmaker, especially since he moved away from horror, but for my money his best films were made early on in his career. Films like Videodrome and Rabid were unashamably genre movies, partially exploitative but made with intelligence and care, and with a real sense of pushing the boundaries of what is ‘acceptable’ in commercial cinema. Although he has probably made better films, my personal favourite of his films is The Brood. Like many of the best horror movies, it takes something which is fact – stress and anger in humans can often result in physical manifestations from asthma to cance r- and runs with it. After being disappointed with the distribution of his previous movies, Cronenberg joined another company Mutual Films, who upon reading his script stumped up a rather larger budget than before, allowing for the hiring of a better cast. It was actually inspired by an unpleasant custody battle the director had been involved in, and you can really feel the anger and hatred, it pours out of every frame. Make no mistake, this is a really cruel and painful film, but I also find it incredibly compulsive and at times I think it’s quite brilliant.
The Brood moves quite slowly, with lots of long dialogue scenes, but it’s obvious Cronenberg was going for realism, so that when wierd and scary things do happen ,they seem almost believable. Take the scene where a drunken Henry, the estranged husband of Nola’s mother, who has just been murdered, is walking around his ex-wife’s house. The sequence takes ages but you really feel his pain and torment, and then when the horror strikes it’s doubly effective. The killings, which are really brutal, with hammers and paper weights used to shocking effect, have careful build ups worthy of De Palma and even Hitchcock, and play either on primal fears [what’s under the bed?] or subvert what is thought of as being safe, such as a horrific murder in a classroom. The aftermath of this scene is especially effective, as, except for one shot, the children’s whimpering is off screen, and perhaps that’s worse? The dwarfish killers are especially creepy with their mutated faces and snow suits, even if they remind me of the even scarier menace in Don’t Look Now.
Things slowly but surely build to an extremely suspenseful climax set in a barn filled with the killers, intercut with has one of the most unforgettable scenes in horror film history. I say unforgettable to those that have seen this film, but not enough people have! With really convincing special effects, Nola gives birth to a foetus which she than licks, and we are simultaneously repelled, fascinated and touched. This scene, as well as some of the violence elsewhere, was originally cut both in the US and in the UK. In Cronenberg’s words, “I had a long and loving close-up of Samantha licking the foetus. When the censors, those animals, cut it out, the result was that a lot of people thought she was eating her baby. That’s much worse than I was suggesting”. A typical example of censors completely missing the mark. One might hope The Brood finishes with a happy ending, but no, Cronenberg gives as a sense of nasty things starting anew, and while I’m tired of seeing that these days, in this depressed movie, it’s entirely right.
Cronenberg’s direction, as usual, is fairly unobtrusive, but helps create a real depressed poetry out of the snowy settings, mirroring his characters. One of my favourite shots has Candice hand in hand with two of the killers calnly walking down a snowy road – yes, there is some humour in this movie if you look hard enough! Art Hingle is an okay ‘hero’ but he’s outshone by Samantha Eggar as Nola. Now I’ve never rated Samantha Eggar much as an actress for the most part, but she’ s convincing in her intensity here, despite not having that much screen time. As for Oliver Reed as the misguided mad scientist Raglan, well, some of the time he’s quite multilayered in his performance, reminding of what a fine actor he could be , and some of the time he’ s clearly pissed – in one scene he’s really red faced and can’t even seem to walk straight. Howard Shore’s edgy, intense score channels both Prokofiev and Bernard Herrmann but really helps give the movie its unique feel. The Brood is probably too slow and serious for many of today’s horror fans [and is now being REMADE, the bastards!!]], but this is true cinematic horror at its best – it’s nasty, yet somehow relatable, and really gets under your skin.