The Brood (1979), or The Agony Of The Self

20 10 2009

Hey, everyone! Welcome back to another frightening edition of MOVIES I’M WATCHING CURRENTLY THAT FIT THE HALLOWEEN MOTIF WITH THEIR SCARY IMAGES AND THEMES! Today we revisit that master of surrealist science-fiction psychodrama, David Cronenberg. The Brood was his first success, and it was a measure of the style and psychological substance that was soon to follow. It was a dark, edgy film about the nature of parenthood, and its bizarre effects on the patients of a maverick psychotherapist. Often considered one of the most frightening movies ever made, it has a reputation that certainly precedes it. My experience with it was one to remember; I haven’t been so visually assaulted with terror since, well, my last Cronenberg review.

Dr. Hal Raglan is not your average shrink. He’s also somewhat of a mad scientist. He’s created a new form of therapy called “Psychoplasmics”, wherein he tells his patients to just let loose with their negative emotions. It’s effective, possibly too effective. It causes physical manifestations on the body of the patient, depending on the diagnosis. Sometimes it’s as minor as welts, sometimes it’s as bad as a tumor. In one particular case, a woman named Nola is having a very undesirable effect from the treatment. It’s undesirable because her “psychoplasmics” are completely out of control. This is obviously distressing to her daughter, Candice, and her husband, Frank, who really don’t know much about what is going on with her. And to make matters worse, a group of bizarre children have been assaulting their family since Nola started the treatment; they’re mysterious, deformed, and angry, and they have some connection with the treatment. Can Frank and daughter Candice cope with the change they see in Nola? Will they be able to survive the onslaught of the horrific, strange children? And will Frank be able to get any answers out of Dr. Raglan?

This is a movie that really gets in your head and stays there. The Brood is very methodical in its madness, but its methods are for you to figure out. There is very little here that speaks in obvious, “Let me explain it for you” dialog. You really have to attack this movie mentally, as it will try and attack you, for maximum movie pleasure. I always enjoy a movie that gets you participating, and The Brood will have you talking about its meaning, its themes, and its symbolism afterwards. From the first gripping scene to the last obfuscated minute, you will be pulled in by Cronenberg’s depth of style.

And he is such a consummate visual storyteller. Even if you don’t always know what the visions mean, you understand on a baser level what he’s trying to say. This concept of “psychoplasmics” really set up Cronenberg to be able to do the amazing things he can do with the special effects. The strange marks all over Dr. Halgar’s patients suggest what Cronenberg’s career would confirm; that he is a man with utterly devastating imagination. The children themselves have this air of disturbed psyche about them, and that is wildly apparent when they start going insane. The scene where one of the children attacks Candice’s grandmother is just spectacular; when he leaves the bloody hand-prints on the stair rails, you know that you’re in the hands of a good director.

Oliver Reed was fated to play the mysterious role of Dr. Halgar. He has such a villainous streak in him as an actor, and Dr. Halgar is a villainous fellow indeed, so it only fits. His lines are delivered like a letter from your worst enemy, with a sneer and a flippant disregard for anyone. Reed really was good at what he did. Art Hindle plays Concerned Father and Husband of the Year, Frank Carveth. I really liked this guy; he has an earnestness that goes a long way into making him superbly amiable. Even when he sees the mother of his child lick a foetus clean (!!!), there’s still a part of him that says, “But that’s my WIFE!” And kudos to Samantha Eggar, by the way, for pplaying the difficult role of Nola. She does a great job here, ans she’s got a hard character to play; I mean. she’s not exactly a bad guy. She’s just disturbed. It’s the “psychoplasmics” she employs that really messes everything up, and if that wasn’t in play, she’d just be another mother with mental issues. Admittedly, she might have more problems than most, as you begin to see about midway through the film, but I still feel kinda bad for her.

So this is another good Cronenberg movie. Possibly better than one of my favorites by him, Scanners. There’s a definite malevolent presence to this film that’s unique in Cronenberg’s oeuvre. It comes from a deep inner pain that he must have been feeling, because this movie screams in agony at times so loud one can hardly hear anything else. You’ll know what I mean when you see it, and you’ll look at the man in a while new way once you’ve seen this. Another good horror movie to spice up the Halloween season with. It’s scary as Hell, and has some subtext to boot; what more could you ask for? I give The Brood 8 1/2 bloody hand-prints out of 10!

Tomorrow we go out into the backwoods for I Spit On Your Grave! Until then!

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