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The Brood

July 6, 2010

Putting a  post on David  Cronenberg  was never going to be an  easy  task. This is a movie maker who  means different things to  different  generations,   to  the “Twitter-Facebook” Gen X,  it  is  Eastern Promises and  A History of Violence,  it is another  thing  that  most  of  those  self  proclaimed  Cronenberg  “movie buffs” would  know nothing  about  Spider,  one of  his  more  under  rated  movies,   in the last  decade.  Or maybe  that  movie  was  too  “slow”  and  lacking  “entertainment”  values,  sorry  for  the rant, it  is  just  that  interacting  with  some of  these  “hyper  active”  movie buffs,   just  makes me  feel  mighty  pissed  off, with  their  “outlook”.  Anyway  that is a different  topic,  altogether, don’t  want to go there  now.   But  if  one  actually  takes  a  look at Cronenberg’s  career,  it  is  something  that   could   be  divided  into  various  phases,  the  early  body  horror  phase (  Brood,  Scanners, Videodrome, The Fly) to  his  more  psychological  horror  ones( The Dead Zone, Dead Ringers, Naked Lunch, eXistenz) to  his recent  gangster  dramas(  A History  of  Violence,  Eastern Promises).

While  Cronenberg is  quite  often  credited  for  introducing the  body horror genre,  into movies,  the  first  movie  that  actually  was a  precusor  of   this genre   was  a 1977  B-grade  sci fi horror  movie,  The  Incredible Melting Man,  directed  by  William Sachs.  The  movie  is  about  an  astronaut, exposed to radiation,  who begins to  find  his flesh peeling off,  and  now has  to  consume  other  people’s  flesh  to stay  alive.    Pretty much a  B Movie in all aspects,   nevertheless  it  did  lay  down the  basic  framework  for  most  movies  in this genre,  close ups of  mutilated  flesh,  graphic  depiction  of  gore  and  blood,   skin peeling off,  and a twisted  up  storyline.
It  was  however  two  diametrically  opposite  movies  in  1979,  that  would  eventually  give a major boost to  the  body horror  genre.   Ridley  Scott’s  Alien,    and   David   Cronenberg’s   The Brood,  the  former  of  course had  that  by  now  famous  scene,  of  the  alien  bursting  out  of  John  Hurt’s  chest, and has by now become a cult classic  in the sci fi-horror genre.  Again while both Alien and Brood  were offshoots of the body horror genre, they were  as  similiar  as  chalk and cheese.  Alien  was  more  claustrophobic,  punctuated  with  long silences  and pauses,  the  tagline “In Space  no one can hear  you scream” became  something  of a  metaphor  for the movie, where  silence  was  the biggest  fear.  People  trapped  far out in an old  decaying  spaceship,  stalked  by  an unknown entity,  and  adding to the fear, the endless  drone of  the  machines, it  was  maddening.
While  it is  tempting to  look at  The  Brood  as  a  gore fest,  body  horror   movie,  in  reality  it  is one of the more  cerebral  movies in the genre. And  which  is  the case  with  most  of  Cronenberg’s  movies,  beyond  the  obvious  dollops of  gore  and sex  that  populate  his  movies,  is a layer  of  deep  pyschological  subtext.   In  The  Brood,  the  pyschological  subtext  runs  in two  ways,  one   is  Nola  Carveth( Samantha  Eggar), the  pyschologically  disturbed lead  character  and  the  most  crucial, Dr.Hal Raglan( Oliver  Reed), the  pyschiatrist  treating her.   Ralgan  runs a  Soma free clinic,  where  he  has  perfected a  technique  called  Pyschoplasmics,  where  patients  express  their  inner  anger in the form of  physical  marks  on the  body( bruises, welts, boils).  In  effect  the  patient’s  inner  pain and  anger,  at a mental  level,  transforms  into their  own  physical pain.
The filmmaking process is a very personal one to me, I mean it really is a personal kind of communication. It’s not as though its a study of fear or any of that stuff.
Nola’s  husband   Frank ( Art  Hindle), fully  recognizes  the  implications of  the  experiments  being  carried  out  on  his wife,  refusing  to  let  his daughter Candice(Cindy  Hinds) see  her  mother.  The  Brood is one of  Cronenberg’s  most  personal  movie  to date,  dating  back  to  one of the more  painful  periods  in  his  life,  when  he  was  going through a painful  battle  for  the  custody  of  his  daughter,  after  a rather  messy  divorce.   As he  later  stated  in an interview,  Frank’s  possesive  character,  not  wanting his  daughter  to  meet  her  mother,  was  based  on  himself.   In effect  The Brood   could  be  taken  as  a  mix  of   various  genres,  the  dysfunctional  family,   the  murder  mystery  and  a strong  social  statement  on  the  dangers  of   new  pyschiatric  fads,  prevalent  during  the  time.  Or  in a more  simpler  manner,  what  Cronenberg  does in The Brood  is  to take a  standard   family  drama  and  set  it  against a backdrop  of  horror  and  sci fi. As  he  put  it,   it   was his  own  version  of  “Kramer vs Kramer”.
Now  that  generally has been  the  common thread  in most of  Cronenberg’s  works,  pick  up  an  ordinary  story,  and  then  set  it  amidst  a backdrop of  horror  and  fantasy.  Which  also  explains  The  Fly,  where he  takes  the  age old  theme  of a  person  suffering  from a  terminal sickness, and  adds a  more macabre  touch to it, with  the  hero  mutating  into  the  insect.   Cronenberg’s  horror  movies,  go beyond  mere  gore,  or  skin peeling off   or  macabre  special  effects,  they  actually  go  deep  into the  person’s   psychology,   or  as  they say  the “devil  in the inner person, manifesting  itself  in  the  outer  form”. Something he  establishes straight  away  in  the  movie’s  beginning  when  Raglan  is  interacting  with a  patient  Michael,  who had  been  abused  by  his  father  as a  kid.  Raglan  goes  into an interplay  with  Michael,  assuming  the role of  the  abusive  father,  and  bringing  out  Micheal’s  repressed  inner  anger and  guilt,  as  a physical  symptom,  in  this  case  the  welts  on  his body.
Nola  at  stages  in  the  movie  is  revealed to be some one  battling  her  own  inner  demons,  her parents  divorced,  product  of a broken  home,  alcoholic,  and  as  Cronenberg  hints   a  victim of  “abuse”.   Cronenberg  here  hinting  at  the  fact,  that  Nola’s  own  unhappy  background,  could  have  molded  her  neurotic  personality.   Raglan  like any other  misguided  scientist,  trying  to  cure  Nola’s   angst,  ends  up  creating  a  more  terrifying  problem. Where  his  earlier  patients  had   channeled  their  internal  anger  and pain, in the form of  physical  bruises  on the  body, Nola’s   inner  angst  channels  itself  to  something  more  sinister.  A  series  of  weird  looking  “little”  monsters, “The Brood”  of  the  series,  who  carry  out  Nola’s  plans  to wreck  vengeance  on those  whom she believed  hurt  her.  The first victims  are  obviously  her  estranged  parents,  and  both  the  murder  scenes  are  shot  in a chilling  fashion. Her mother,  is  beaten  to  death  with a potato masher, while  her  father  is  done  away  with a glass ball.  The  scenes  are graphic,  uneasy,  and  Cronenberg’s   use of  rapid  editing  shots, to drive home the horror, gives it an  even more dizzying  feel.
The  ending  of  The  Brood,  has  been rated  among  the  100  Scariest  Movie Moments ever,  and  while  it is  scary,  it does  become  repulsive  and shocking.  I  don’t  want to  give  out  the  ending directly,  but  when  you begin to understand  the  dynamics  behind  Nola  and Raglan’s  characters,  it  adds  an  extra chill to the entire  proceedings.  The  Brood  is  where  Cronenberg  perfected  most  of  his  techniques,  usage  of  body  horror,  adding the  psychological  dimension,  the  exploration of  the  inner  demons,  the  bizarre , outlandish  backdrop( though i must say  that  Videodrome, Naked Lunch,  Scanners, Existenz were even more  bizarre).  The  style of the movie is  reminiscent of  many  70′s  horror movies, down beat, dull looking, raw,  with  some  fabulous  shots of  the  misty Canadian  landscape.
If  you  are  a Cronenberg  fan,  go for this  movie,  it  is the one which  shows you  where  he  has come from.  Add to it excellent  performances  from  Samantha  Eggar  as  Nola,  Oliver  Reed  as  Raglan  and  Art  Hindle  as  Frank. Also a  special  mention of  Cindy  Hinds as  Candice, who does  a wonderful job  as the young  daughter. Throw  in the  mix  some   great  camera work  and an  eerie  score  by  Howard Shore,  you have a  horror  classic, that needs to be watched  and  re examined.

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