Friday, March 1, 2013

Underrated Horror Gems--"The Brood"

     “The Brood” is one strange movie.  The story is fairly simple.  Frank and Nola Carveth’s marriage is just about over, due to Nola’s mental and emotional problems.  She’s staying at the Somafree Institute, where she and the other patients are undergoing a new type of treatment called “psychoplasmics” from a Dr. Raglan.  It involves intense bouts of role playing, and fully expressing one’s feelings.  Complicating the situation is that Nola and Frank have a five-year-old daughter, Candice (Candy), and are having bitter disagreements about custody and visitations.  Meanwhile people close to the Carveths are viciously murdered by mysterious assailants.  As Frank investigates further, he realizes that the psychoplasmics, and its effects, are even more bizarre and dangerous than he initially thought.
     (SPOILERS AHEAD)  The killers in “The Brood” aren’t your typical monsters—they turn out to be born of conscious, and subconscious rage.  In some ways the secret is similar to that in “Forbidden Planet,” only in a smaller, less traditional science fiction format.  Nola’s rage literally becomes personified (or weird, humanoidified, anyway), as her anger results in child-sized creatures which carry out her violent, even homicidal urges.
     It all adds up to a very effective horror story.  In other hands, the tiny killers might have come across as being silly, but director David Cronenberg handles them well.  The first two murders are quite tense, and even more jarring because the creatures are so odd and confusing.  Cronenberg also breaks the usual don’t-show-children-in-peril taboo in movies, as Candy narrowly escapes being killed herself.  And the murder of Candy’s teacher, right in front of her class, is particularly disturbing.  The gore is fairly restrained, until the end, when boy, is it a showstopper!  We get to see exactly how Nola “births” her anger kids, via a kind of external amniotic sac on her belly.
     Granted, the overall idea is absurd, but the movie makes it seem somewhat plausible.  We all know how certain emotions and mental instabilities can affect our health and bodies, and this story just pushes that further.  We see other patients with lesser degrees of Nola’s affliction, most notably Michael, who produces multiple boil-like growths due to his grief and frustration.  And the thought of a small army of dangerous minions doing one’s bidding for you does hold some morbid appeal, in a way.  (To take the idea still further, wouldn’t it have been strange if Nola also produced “happiness creatures,” who went around, say, hugging folks that she liked?  Not a very scary idea, admittedly.)
     Finally, the ending is incredibly bleak.  I found myself thinking the rare thought, “Please let the husband strangle his wife to death, and quickly.”  Also, you have to feel for poor Candice.  She’s been attacked by evil little monsters, witnessed several brutal murders by the same, and her mother was killed by her father (justifiably, but still).  That kid’s probably going to need a lifetime of therapy.  And given that the last scene shows suspicious skin bumps forming on her, it had better not be psychoplasmics.  Put some skin cream on them and give her regular mental health treatment!
     (END SPOILERS)  I’m a big Cronenberg fan, and this is my favorite of his 1970’s, low budget “body horror” fare.  “Shivers” (1975) and “Rabid” (1977) were decent, too, but not quite as good as “The Brood.”  Cronenberg, of course, while still mainly working in Canada, has become much better known since then.  His breakthrough was probably 1986’s “The Fly,” one of the very few remakes to better the original, in my opinion. (“Cape Fear” (1991) and the 1982 version of “The Thing” being two others on this short list.)  Some of my other favorites of his are “Scanners” (1980), “Videodrome” (1983), “The Dead Zone” (1983) (a rare good Stephen King adaptation), and “A History of Violence” (2005).  His two most recent movies were 2011’s “A Dangerous Method” and 2012’s “Cosmopolis.”
     As for the actors, the best known by far was the portrayer of Dr. Raglan, Oliver Reed.  He’s probably best known for “The Curse of the Werewolf” (1961), “Oliver!” (1968), “Gladiator” (2000) and being a huge drinker even by late 20th century British actor standards.  Art Hindle, who played Frank Carveth, was in two of my other favorites, “Black Christmas” (1974) and “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1978) (Hey, there’s another very good remake).  One of the nasty creatures was played by little person Felix Silla, who played a child gorilla in “Planet of the Apes” (1968), “Twiki” in the TV show “Buck Rogers” (1979-1981), and an Ewok in “Return of the Jedi” (1983), among other roles. 

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