by Steve Habrat
Leave it to Canadian horror director David Cronenberg, the man called the “King of Venereal Horror”, to make a film about freakish asexual dwarfs who attack and kill people. Cronenberg, who is most known for the Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis mutation gross-out The Fly, is basically an auteur of highbrow exploitation and body horror that eventually made transition into simply highbrow territory. The Brood is one of those highbrow body horror exploitation forays. The Brood is critical and certainly unkind to psychology and experimental science in the vilest ways possible. Cronenberg could be considered the ringleader of body horror, as he is a big fan of placing awful deformities on his actors, usually sexually suggestive in some way, shape, or form, an addition that usually sets his work apart from the rest of the horror pack. For those who are familiar with Cronenberg, The Brood is a bloody doom and gloom flick with a dark ending and a dead serious gaze that never breaks into a smile to laugh at itself.
Dr. Hal Raglan (Played by Oliver Reed) is an experimental psychotherapist who has created a technique called “psychoplasmics” which manifests traumatic memories on a patient’s body in the form of physiological changes. The changes depend on how severe the memories are. Raglan’s star patient is Nola Carveth (Played by Samantha Eggar), who is currently going through a messy separation from her husband Frank Carveth (Played by Art Hindle). Frank and Nola are also tangled up in a messy custody battle over their young daughter Candice (Played by Cindy Hinds). As Raglan treats Nola, he begins to discover how severely disturbed she is and as treatment goes on, her inner anger and rage manifests in small, dwarfish creatures that attack and kill those close to her. As Frank launches his own investigation into the mysterious deaths surrounding him, he learns how the creatures are being created and he discovers that Candice’s life is in danger if the experimental treatment is not stopped.
Blending horror and science fiction, Cronenberg makes a slow building and icky creep-out that is not for the squeamish. Cronenberg has an eye for truly repugnant deformities, a talent I would have never thought I would be praising but Cronenberg does it better than anyone else. Even though The Brood is basically an exploitation film, it understands that there should be a brain in this grotesque creation. Though Cronenberg never outright suggests it, I’ve always found the architecture in his films, usually scientific institutions contrasting in a cold, natural settings to be a subtle commentary. The wooded setting usually engulfs these institutions, a subtle suggestion that perhaps a natural treatment is the answer to scientific gambles. I have noticed this in Scanners and Rabid but it seemed incredibly heavy-handed in The Brood. This choice also adds a surreal apocalyptic touch, always suggesting isolation and no true safe place to hide from the evil that has been unleashed. It’s this visual cue that separates The Brood from the rest of the exploitation horror pack. Cronenberg encourages us to work through our inner turmoil on our own without the help of an outside third party.
The Brood is not ashamed to feature expert acting from its leads. Everyone is convincing, a rarity in films of this sort and another reason why The Brood is much better than most films of this kind. The final showdown between Frank and Nola is hypnotic, a battle of words and pleas with just enough gore to satisfy those watching The Brood simply for that reason. You won’t be able to pull yourself away from the exchange and you’ll be frustrated when Cronenberg’s camera cuts to other scenes of action. The film also contains a restrained performance from Oliver Reed who never goes full baddie and adds a few layers of regret both in his scientific work and himself for what he has unleashed in Nola. Reed’s performance parallels the direction from Cronenberg himself who is never in a hurry to show us everything. I admire the way he makes the audience wait for the pay-off and, I admit, I never mind waiting for the freak show to emerge when I’m watching a Cronenberg film. He usually crams his frames full of gratifying acting from his leads and fascinating story lines.
The Brood features a wallop of a final shot that will majorly freak you out and that, my dear readers, is a promise from this horror buff. This is an otherworldly horror flick that won’t scare you right off the bat but rather have you thinking back to it long after you have seen it (I just love films like that if you can’t tell). I rank The Brood as one of Cronenberg’s finest cinematic efforts, sitting comfortably next to Rabid, Scanners, The Fly, and Eastern Promises. The film lacks a huge price tag, which I think adds to Cronenberg’s own temperance and actually aids the film in its rise to a crescendo of terror in the final frames. With a premise and monsters that could have been laughed off the screen in the first attack sequence, The Brood miraculously keeps its cool and shrouds itself in grotesque horror and perplexing mystery, revealing plot points at just the right time and meticulously planning its next move. To those on the prowl for a good horror film you have never seen, you can do much worse than The Brood.