Let’s face it; we’ve all had some kind of childhood trauma. Whether it’s an ass-kickin’ for a bad report card, a dead pet, bullies, alcoholic parent(s), a perverted uncle, and list goes on and on in this sick and twisted thing we call life. Well, what if we could take all of those repressed emotions caused by life’s stressors and turn them into a group of minions that react to your capricious rage? Oh, and by the way, these minions start as little bumps on your skin and eventually develop into fetuses on the outside of your body. Welcome to the world of David Cronenberg and his 1979 sci-fi horror film, The Brood. This name should conjure up some classic macabre images, and if it doesn’t, just check his résumé: Shivers, Rabid, Scanners, Videodrome, The Dead Zone, The Fly (1986), and eXistenZ. And those are just his stabs at the horror genre. Cronenberg has always used his horror films to explore the human body and The Brood (his second film) is an early example of this.
The story revolves around the Carveth family. Frank (Art Hindle) and Nola (Samantha Eggar) are going through an ugly divorce that involves their 5-year old daughter Candice (Cindy Hinds). Nola is suffering from mental disturbances brought on by a chaotic childhood. She endured verbal and physical abuse from her mom and neglect from her dad; both alcoholics (forget about driving, friends shouldn’t let friends drink and parent). She’s receiving treatment from Dr. Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed) at the Somafree Institute. He’s a psychotherapist (isn’t there always a crazy doctor in these kind of films?) that specializes in a technique called “psychoplasmics” which lets his patients free themselves from pent-up emotions that cause physiological changes to their bodies.
After a slow build up, the creepiness begins. When Frank discovers suspicious marks on Candice, he confronts Dr. Raglan telling him that Nola’s visitation rights have ended. This prompts Dr. Raglan to intensify his “psychoplasmic” sessions which coincides with a series of murders committed by child-like mutants. I know there have been a lot of cheap scares using children or child-like creatures, but this is a David Cronenberg vision. Today’s viewing audience might look at these little creatures in snow suits as a gimmick, but in 1979 this must have been a chilling sight. Sure, we’ve all seen children in their snow suits frolicking during the winter months. What we haven’t seen is these same kids beating a woman to death with a kitchen mallet or smashing a man’s head with solid glass decorative balls. We find out later that this is how Nola enacts her rage against her parents. These murder scenes are quite brutal; these little cretins jump out of nowhere which adds some extra chills. Probably the most brutal of all the attacks happens when Nola learns of another woman that Frank invites to his house. The woman is actually Candice’s pre-school teacher, who Frank discusses the family situation with over dinner. Big mistake!
Nola reacts by sending some special little students to Candice’s school. They go to work on the teacher’s head with wooden hammers. After finishing off the teacher, they take Candice to the Somafree Institute where Nola awaits. This leads into the climactic ending where Frank has to face Nola, Dr. Raglan, and The Brood. When Frank arrives at the institute, he confronts Dr. Raglan who confesses that the “psychoplasmic” sessions allowed Nola to channel her rage caused by her abuse, into “children” that react to her emotions. Nola doesn’t know that her “children” have gone on murdering rampages because of this rage inside of her. Dr. Raglan devises a plan to put a stop to the madness: Frank has to face Nola and keep her calm while the doctor rescues Candice. The plan seems to be working; Dr. Raglan enters the lair to collect Candice, but treads lightly as he is surrounded by the “children” who only watch him. The intensity rises when Nola shockingly reveals how her brood comes to be. She lifts the blanket-like outfit displaying her torso that is covered with small fetuses! Yes, fetuses on the outside of her body with one ready to be birthed from an external womb. The sight of her body was bad enough, then she bites open the placenta and births a bloody mess; did I forget to mention she cleans the baby by licking the blood off! It’s a must see for any horror aficionado. Frank is horrified and once Nola recognizes his disgust she figures out his plan and her fury transfers to the children who attack Dr. Raglan, biting him from all angles. He manages to shoot a couple of them, but they are too much for him. Nola then threatens to kill Candice before she would give her back to Frank. The children then turn their ire towards Candice; she quickly locks herself into a closet. In a last ditch effort to save Candice from the brood who are now busting through the closet door, he chokes Nola who seems to welcome her death. When she dies, her brood dies along with her. The madness is over…until we see Frank driving Candice home. The camera slowly pans towards Candice’s arm which reveals two little bumps; the same kind of bumps that Nola had as a child; the same kind of bumps that eventually turn into The Brood.
This film filled some of my essential requirements for a great horror flick. #1: The creepiness factor. Sure, it was a slow build up, but when the frights begin they don’t stop. I also like that it doesn’t give up the goods so fast. It has you saying, “What the hell was that?” The evil just sneaks up on you before you really know what you’re dealing with. #2: The acting. Of course, you’re not usually going to get A-list actors to do horror films (e.g. The Shining) but bad acting can turn good to decent and decent to horrible. I’m not talking about a performance that so absurd that it’s comedic; there’s a place for that in an over-the-top movie. I’m talking about those actors that try to take themselves way too serious and don’t get me started on child actors! The actors in this film, although not well known, do a solid job. Even the young girl playing Candice doesn’t make you wish that Heather O’Rourke (Poltergeist) would have auditioned. And #3: The “what the…!” factor. The first time I watched the scene where Nola reveals her body with the growing fetus, which she then proceeds to bite open, and finally licks it clean…well that’s the definition of the, “what the…!” factor. Even though it’s taken me awhile to trust a kid in a snowsuit (although kids don’t play in the snow anymore, they watch kids playing in the snow on YouTube) I enjoy this film. It delves into some serious family issues and is just over-the-top enough to watch again and again. It starts out as a family drama, and then becomes a twisted version of Kramer vs. Kramer. The Brood births 4 external fetuses out of 5.