For some of us, SHIVERS and RABID are still the movies some think of when they think of “Cronenberg,” in the way ERASERHEAD is still the uber-Lynch movie. For others, it’s SCANNERS and VIDEODROME, the latter still the ultimate statement of his style. Except for the balance of his career Cronenberg hasn’t been a horror director, or even a “Cronenberg-like” director of body horror.
THE BROOD is where he stepped away from the gross, venereal horrors of SHIVERS and RABID, the beginning of his mainstream horror period, when he controlled his material in a way that made it acceptable to critics and more mainstream audiences. Significantly, he has said it was inspired by his painful divorce and custody fight for his daughter. Going into the movie with these facts in mind makes this less a horror movie and more like a more visceral, less genteel version of KRAMER VS. KRAMER.
Frank Carveth (Art Hindle) spends the movie trying to get his daughter away from his nutty wife who’s in therapy in Dr. Ragland’s (Oliver Reed) psycho-therapy band camp. Meanwhile, in a seemingly unrelated development, people connected to his wife are being murdered, starting with her abusive mother and neglectful dad. When Frank is attacked by a strange little person who might be related to the dwarf in DON’T LOOK NOW, he seems only mildly disturbed. Creepier than the sexless monster is the pathologist, who seems to think the discovery of a new form of human life is kind of funny.
Ultimately, Frank goes to Ragland’s place, and learns the murderous little people are the children of Frank’s wife, Nola, played by Samantha Eggar (looking really good until she starts licking a fetus). It turns out Ragland’s therapy involves directing one’s rage into the creation of actual creatures, these sexless blonde dwarfs that go out and kill those with whom Nola has anger issues.
THE BROOD is a mystery movie: What’s going on with Nola and Dr. Ragland? Why are people being killed? We learn all in the climax. Unlike his previous horror flicks, Cronenberg holds back his more grotesque material until the big reveal at the climax. No parasites passed through lesbian kisses this time, just some ugly blond kids and then we see Nola’s secret.
The movie works not because of gore but because of that story, fueled by Cronenberg’s life. The movie is deliberately paced, the work of someone who knows what he’s doing, when he can take his time because the material is strong enough.
This is the first of many films Howard Shore scored for Cronenberg. Although he began producing fine work with their next collaboration, SCANNERS, his work here is distracting, especially the PSYCHO-like music for the murder scenes. His learning curve was almost vertical, though, so who cares? My only technical beef is with the tools used to kill the cute teacher Hindle has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it flirtation with–those damned little toy hammers can’t even bang down a giant plastic screw, they certainly can’t brain a teacher.
THE BROOD is the simplest of Cronenberg’s movies, but in its quiet way it’s chilling. In the final moments we see what we were shown earlier, that an abusive parent can often create an abuser. That’s as scary as a bloodsucking armpit syringe, in its way.