Before he really implanted himself into the pantheon of horror greatness with Scanners, Canadian writer/director David Cronenberg made somewhat of a splash (pun sorta intended) into cinema infamy with a couple of his earlier films. His propensity to use blatant sexuality and to explore the monsters that lie within us rather than some outer menace wasn’t really accepted at the time, and not often viewed by the 1970s mainstream as exactly…er…savory. If you haven’t seen them yet, Fellow Fans, you owe it to yourself to check out Shivers (a.k.a. They Came From Within, 1975) and Rabid (1977), some of his earliest and most controversial films.
I’m sure I’ll get to those sooner or later; for now, though, I’m talking about 1979s The Brood, a dandy little entry into Cronenberg’s portfolio that, while not as out there as some of his films, still stood out as visually disturbing and conceptually ahead of its time.
Staying away from spoilers, I can tell you that this is not an overly-complicated film, but it is one that you’ll have to put some level of thought into; it more or less spoon feeds the concepts, but not in a childish or pedestrian way. Essentially it involves Frank, a man whose wife Nola is sequestered away at a resort-type psychiatric retreat (I guess today we’d call it a rehab center), where she’s undergoing some aggressive and experimental new-age therapy. He notices that after a weekend visit, their six-year-old daughter is horribly bruised and lacerated, and the fun begins. We cut from this poor sap (played adequately by Art Hindle, whom many of you may remember running afoul of some ninjas in the Chuck Norris film The Octagon; he was the one with possibly the most impressive ’80s mane of hair ever) trying to figure out how to bring a lawsuit against Dr. Raglan (portrayed by the impeccable Oliver Reed), the honcho of this circus, back and forth to the really (REALLY) bizarre therapy sessions between Nola and the good doctor. The crux of this treatment, it seems, is that the doctor takes on the role of people in the lives of his patients, and they say to him what they’ve never been able to say to the people he represents. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Wait till you see it…one of my favorite moments is when Raglan is trying to find out, through therapy, why Nola would have hurt her child:
Dr. Raglan (assuming the role of Nola’s daughter): Mommies don’t do that, do they?
Dr. Raglan: Do they?
Nola: ….only the bad ones….the FUCKED UP ONES!!!
Suffice to say, you get the impression early on that things waaaay beyond therapeutic treatment are wrong with Nola…and when many of the people that Raglan emulates in her therapy sessions start meeting untimely (and rather gruesome) deaths…well, let’s just say you’ll never look at snowsuits the same way. We get some hints as to why Nola has snakes in her head, but there are no real concrete details to speak of; it’s more or less left to you the viewer to fill in the blanks, and in my opinion it makes the movie that much more effective. You do a bit of psychoanalysis yourself, and perhaps find something of Nola’s vibe in your own head…then again, maybe not. I get into the films, y’see =P
The film is not overtly gory nor terribly sexually explicit (Cronenberg was beginning to slowly crank down the intensity of that by ’79), but there are some images here that’ll stay with you, and there’s a goodly bit of the red stuff flowing in some scenes. The film is shot very well, and some of the edgier scenes still creep the hell outta me, even after repeated viewings over the years. For me, the real power of this one is the concept that, even 35 years later, seems as terrifying (maybe more so) as zombies, masked serial killers, incurable alien diseases or rabid clown-monkeys:
The real horror explored here is what is held within the mind; how the rage and negative energy a person carries around with them is a monster, in and of itself…just looking for a way out.
Is there a monster in you?
Worth the watch, friends!
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