Hands up, baby, hands up!
I've reviewed a few David Cronenberg movies before and the major constant in each movie is physical transformation. We've seen it in The Fly and Videodrome with scary results. Cronenberg's mental and psychological transformations are matched to the physical thanks to fantastically graphic special effects. His capability to combine the gruesome special effects and tense atmosphere make for fun and scary horror movies. Can the same be said for a movie by Cronenberg that I had never really heard of?
The Brood is a 1979 horror movie starring Art Hindle (Paradise Falls, Dallas) as Frank Carveth. Frank's estranged wife Nola (Samantha Eggar, Hercules, Metalocalypse) has been receiving treatment from psychotherapist Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed, Gladiator, Tommy). Raglan runs the Somafree Institute where he performs an experimental form of therapy called “psychoplasmics”. Frank allows his five-year old daughter Candice to visit her mother at the institute and is shocked to find her covered in bruises. Frank informs Raglan of her injuries and tells him that he will no longer bring Candice to see her mother. Wanting to protect Nola and her progress, Raglan intensifies her sessions hoping to quickly solve her issues. He learns that Nola was abused by her mother and neglected by her father, leading to her current fragile mental state. Frank considers legal action against Raglan and seeks out a former patient of the doctor who claims the treatment gave him cancer. While meeting with the former patient, Candice stays with Nola's mother, Juliana. A crashing noise is heard in the kitchen and when Juliana goes to check, she is viciously attacked and murdered by what appears to be a dwarf or child. The police inform Frank of the murder and explain that Candice has been traumatized by the incident. Nola's father Barton returns to attend Juliana's funeral and tries to visit Nola. Raglan turns him away and Barton plans to take revenge on Raglan. While Frank goes to check on Barton, Candice's teacher Ruth Mayer stays at home to watch her. She answers the phone, which has Nola on the other line. Believing that Ruth is Frank's new love interest, Nola becomes enraged. Frank finds Barton murdered by the same small child from before. He confronts the child who dies during the altercation. An autopsy reveals the child has strange deformities such as being asexual, color blind, toothless, and without a navel, suggesting it was burn unnaturally. Raglan quickly closes Somafree, discharging all of the patients in order to focus only on Nola. When Candice returns to school, two dwarf-children kill Ruth and kidnap Candice, bringing her to Somafree. Frank learns from a discharged patient that Nola was Raglan's “queen bee” and the children live in a shed on the Somafree compound. When he arrives, Haglan explains to Frank that the dwarf children come from Nola, an accident byproduct of her psychplasmic sessions. She is telepathically linked to them as her rage causes them to kill. Will Frank be able to save his daughter and stop Nola before it's too late?
"But I don't wanna go to bed!"
The Brood is probably one of Cronenberg's more straight-forward films, but that doesn't mean it's your average horror movie. The movie is laid-out with a good mystery, giving the audience slow drips of information. While the slow reveal makes for a good mystery, it does feel a little too slow at times. Things don't really pick up until the first murder which does take a little while to get to. Any good mystery forces the audience to question just exactly what is happening on who is to blame and The Brood accomplishes this very well. The misdirection with Dr. Raglan is a good plot twist as for most of the movie, I suspected he was the villain. The slow build also creates a sense of horror and dread as the dwarf killers are slowly revealed. They make unnatural sounds and grunts which make the scenes more frantic and terrifying. We don't see them right away and their unnatural natural makes everything quite strange. The movie has a great, creepy atmosphere thanks in part to the usage of string musical flourishes. It's not quite the music from “Psycho”, but it's very close.
Most of the movie is all a build to the big reveal at the end and it is quite a reveal. As I mentioned before, most of Cronenberg's work involves physical transformation horror. Only until the very end did we see this signature plot device involving Nola and it's very disturbing. Without giving too much away, the scene is both gruesome and graphic, which forced the film to be censored in certain places. It earned the film a spot on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments. The movie has some very good, if a bit graphic, scenes of violence with a large amount of blood. Most of the special effects and makeup are used on the dwaves and on Nola at the end. Both look very good as both are natural-looking, but distorted just enough to make the audience uncomfortable. The acting is good and believable and Cronenberg is able to create characters the audience cares about. Samantha Eggar is particularly good at portraying Nola's frantic insanity. The movie doesn't quite reach the exploitation genre, but it skirts the area with the scenes of what appear to be children murdering adults.
That smile could light up a room
The Brood is well-made, but there's just something about it that doesn't create that spark of greatness found in other Cronenberg movies. Maybe it's the straight-forward nature or the disconnected big reveal at the end that just didn't set my world on fire. The action and violence is good and the mystery is quite entertaining. There are some scary scenes, but I never felt overwhelmed with fear or suspense. The movie does contain the usual Cronenberg physical transformations, but they don't come until the end which was disappointing. The movie has it's good moments and is by no means bad, it just doesn't really reach the level of his future movies. It's a good introductory movie to David Cronenberg's work and worth a watch if you're new to him.