The Brood (1979) - David Cronenberg's The Brood is a pretty remarkable film, the horror Cronenberg focuses on is a visceral physical horror not necessarily based in the supernatural. ( Could argue never based on the supernatural) Certainly it is fantastical but based in the body not the soul or ghost or the such. In this case the idea that anger can "give birth" in physical form. In normal therapy the idea is to work through past feelings and abuses through talking and exercises so that they can be accepted and negativity of the experiences can be dispelled. Create a situation that takes power away from those experiences so that they will not have subconscious affect on the patient's life. Or to recognized the effect and learn to control it. Understanding and accepting your past while expressing the feeling that stay with you allows you to work past the hurts and move on. Cronenberg takes a different approach, what if the expression of the feeling of anger and anguish were to take physical form? What if strong emotions manifested in the body? What if the therapy brought those hurts into the world as phyical entities? This film explores that idea in a very unique way.
Frank Carveth (Art Hindle) is estranged from his wife Nola (Samantha Eggar) while she undergoes a very unconventional therapy using a technique called psycho-plasmics. An instance shows man breaking out in boils as he works through the role playing with head of the facility Dr. Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed). He shows physical signs of the unresolved issues he had with his Father. This releasing of pent up emotions and feeling through physiological changes to her body makes Nola the prize patient. This new form of therapy for Nola was spurred because of abuse issues she had as a child and the fact that she can't express the anger so openly bother her husband. Frank does not approve of the therapy as it seems to unconventional but she has taken this path without him. When he picks up his daughter Candice (Cindy Hinds) after a visit with her Mother he notices bruises and bite marks on her. Frank is enraged that the staff would allow Nola to harm his little girl and all the denials she expresses only creates tensions between the couple and between Frank and Raglan who is supervising her treatment. Not permitted to see his wife in the stage of therapy she is in he threatens to end all visits until she talks to him.
What we learn as we go between scenes of people getting killed who just happen to connected to Nola, and scenes of Nola working through issues in session, is that some how her feeling about the people being killed are connected to their deaths. Cronenberg does a nice job slowly connecting the audience, to the killings and the therapy that the woman is going through. The murders, done by strange creatures that look like mutant kids. Are well executed horror scenes, with a similarity in size and how they dress to Candice. We know that she is not involved and more to the point is traumatized by the killings. While Noal works through not only the abuse issues she suffered as a child at the hands of her Mother, but also feelings of abandonment and anger at a Father who did not stop the abuse. Cronenberg does well to run a parallel with Frank being the father who can not stop the traumatic abuse suffered by his daughter Candice at her Mother's hand.
There are subplots about Frank trying to find out what exactly the secret therapy is that Raglan practices. Unfortunately the only people he can talk to are somewhat crazy sounding former patients. If he was to try to get the courts involved on their words he would probably not get far. Another subplot is that of the Candices's school teacher Ruth Mayer (Susan Hogan) that takes such a wonderfully evil turn. She is the adult noticing the change in her student, and comes to talk to Frank about her at his house. She baby sits for Frank one night when there is a personal crisis he has to deal with. Nola calls while she is there and becomes really angry when she hears a woman's voice answer the phone. She thinks Mayer is moving in on her husband while she is in treatment. She swears and threatens the innocent teacher before being hung up on. Since the theme of the film is that the mutant creatures seem to go after the people Nola is angry with it is no surprise that the little mutant devils target the teacher. It's the scene that is so shocking and has to be seen to be believed. It is a well set up kill scene.
In the end even though through most of the movie Dr. Raglan seems adversarial with Frank he helps him deal with Nola in the climax. The mutant kids have taken Candice and Frank needs to get her back. We learn the secret of the therapy in one of the most sickly creepy scenes in film. The relish that Eggar has in the big reveal scene has got to be seen to be appreciated fully. Cronenberg with his wonderful sense of how to visually shock gives us a scene that is just awe inspiring. This film probably falls into the category of woman as monster and may be viewed as somewhat less than feminist in its ideas. Motherhood and birth are the most shocking horror in this film. Frank as the protagonist is somewhat helpless against the female expression of pent up anguish.
Like Nola's father who did not protect Nola from an abusive Mother Frank is not capable of protecting her from her pain thus leading to the therapy the film centers around. Beyond that he is not able to protect Candice from Nola's madness thus repeating the cycle. The visuals in the last third of the movie are worth the viewing. I want to tell you every detail but can't make myself ruin it for you. Sure most horror fans have seen The Brood and are right with me on this one. Cronenberg is a master and if you haven't and want to see gore in a non-gory way while heightening the tension of the climatic scenes then this is the film for you. This classic is most definitely recommended to all readers of this blog.