Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments:#78-The Brood (1979)

By Eric Polk-
Director David Cronenberg makes his first appearance on the countdown with this slice of psychological cinema, 1979's The Brood.

Unconventional psychotherapist Hal Raglan of the Somafree Institute has created a technique called "psychoplasmics," where patients' traumatic memories provoke physiological changes to their bodies according to the nature of their emotions. One of his patients is Nola Carveth, a severely disturbed woman who is legally embattled with her husband Frank for custody of their six year-old daughter Candice. When Frank discovers bruises and scratches on Candice following a visit with Nola, Frank accosts Raglan, and informs him of his intent to stop visitation rights. Eager to protect his patient, but fearful of the accusations, Raglan begins to intensify the sessions with Nola to resolve the issue quickly.

Frank leaves Candice with her grandmother Juliana, and the two spend the evening viewing old photographs; Juliana informs Candice that Nola was frequently hospitalized as a child, and often exhibited strange unexplained wheals on her skin that doctors were unable to diagnose. While returning to the kitchen, Juliana is attacked and bludgeoned to death by a small, dwarf-like child. Candice is traumatized, but otherwise unharmed. Juliana's estranged husband Barton returns for the funeral, and unsuccessfully attempts to contact Nola at Somafree, but Raglan turns him away. Frank takes his daughter's teacher Ruth Mayer home for dinner to discuss Candice, but Barton interrupts with a drunken phone call from Juliana's home, demanding that they both go to Somafree in force to see Nola; Frank leaves to console Barton, leaving Candice in Ruth's care. While he is away, Ruth accidentally answers a phone call from Nola, who, recognizing her voice, angrily warns her to stay away from her family.

Frank arrives to find Barton murdered by the same deformed dwarf-child, who dies attempting to kill him. The police autopsy reveals a multitude of bizarre anatomical anomalies: the creature is asexual, completely color-blind, naturally toothless, and devoid of a navel, indicating no known means of natural human birth. After the murder story reaches the newspapers, a concerned Raglan closes Somafree and purges his patients to municipal care. Frank is alerted by a former patient dying of psychoplasmic-induced lymphoma (presumably due to his self-hatred) of the closure, and enlists a disgruntled Somafree patient named Mike to find out the reasons why.

During the therapy sessions, Raglan discovers that Nola was physically and verbally abused by her self-pitying alcoholic mother, and neglected by her co-dependent alcoholic father, who refused to protect Nola out of shame and denial. Raglan reluctantly acknowledges that the murders coincide with the sessions relating to their respective topics (her mother first, her father second), and that now her anger seems directed at Ruth Mayer, whom she sees as a competitor. Raglan ventures out to a large shed on the property and is dismayed to discover a broken window. When Candice returns to school, two more dwarf children attack and kill Ruth in front of her class, and abscond with Candice on foot to Somafree. When Mike tells Frank that Nola is Raglan's prize subject and in charge of some "disturbed children" in a property workshed, Frank immediately ventures to Somafree. Frank angrily confronts Raglan, who tells him at gunpoint the truth about the dwarf children: they are the accidental product of Nola's psychoplasmic sessions; Nola's rage about her abuse was so strong that she parthenogenecially birthed a brood of children who psychically respond and act on the targets of her rage with Nola completely unaware of their actions. Realizing The Brood are too dangerous to keep anymore, Raglan plots to venture into The Brood's quarters and rescue Candice, provided that Frank can keep Nola calm to avoid provoking the children.

For a Cronenberg film, this film is slow to build. There is little of the way of gore and even more little in the way of the trippiness he established in movies like Rabid and Shivers. However, I can overlook these quips because the acting is great and the mother in this film is just so tormented, I do feel for her.

I consider this more of a message movie as opposed to a straight piece of horror. I see The Brood more as a backlash against the 70's I'm Ok-You're Ok movement, the 'therapy for every little problem' solution, etc. But, in true Cronenberg style, the money shot at the end of the movie is, in a word, AWESOME!!!!


John Baxter said...

The Brood still looks great and is scary as John Travlota in a mankini. Early Cronenberg is exceptional.

Anonymous said...

I want to bugger Cindy Hinds (in 1978 when the little darlin` was 5, not as the bird is now obviously).