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The Test of Time: The Brood (1979)

11.06.2017by: Jake Dee

We all have certain movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? Do they remain must see? So…the point of this column is to determine how a film holds up for a modern horror audience, to see if it stands the Test of Time.

DIRECTED BY DAVID CRONENBERG

STARRING: OLIVER REED, SAMANTHA EGGAR, ART HINDLE, CINDY HINDS

David Cronenberg is an undisputed horror heavyweight. The guy has carved such a niche with his disturbing brand of body horror that he’s not only a scion of the subgenre, he’s much like the late great George A. Romero to zombie films, the inarguable godfather. Yet, because he toiled away up in the Great White North, independently with little resources, Cronenberg’s earlier work tends to shows some serious wear and tear when viewed with fresh eyes in 2017. Not so much thematically, but technically. This is no real indictment on Cronenberg’s talent as a writer/director, it’s the simple truth of the low-budget filmmaking. When you make movies for less than $1 million in the 1970s, deterioration of some kind cannot be avoided.

With this in mind, as I was recording every cool horror movie Turner Classics was running in the lead up to Halloween, I wanted to revisit Cronenberg’s 1979 film THE BROOD to test this very theory. Made almost 40 years ago on a budget of $1.4 million Canadian dollars, with only one middling movie star in Oliver Reed, this quasi-killer-kids movie is one I always dug as a teenager. Question is, has it held up over the years? Does it still pack the same appeal as it did way back in the day? Or has the flick aged so terribly bad that it isn’t even worth a watch by today’s standards? Let’s find the f*ck out below when David Cronenberg’s THE BROOD goes up against The Test of Time!

THE STORY: Born out of the rocky divorce and ugly custody battle of his own wife, DC was impelled to write THE BROOD as a means of his own therapeutic release. Makes sense then that film centers on a radical psychotherapist, Dr. Hal Raglan (Reed), and his new brand of treatment called Psychoplasmics. As the film opens, we meet Frank Carveth (Art Hindle), a dutiful dad to daughter Candice (Cindy Hinds), who is terrified to learn the young girl suddenly shows bruises and scratches on her body. Frank thinks his estranged wife Nola (Samantha Eggar) is responsible, and could be directly related to her newfound therapy sessions with the aforementioned Dr. Raglan. In fact, Nola has been staying at the snowbound medical compound while the doctor continues to increase her treatment.

Not long after, Nola’s two parents are savagely bludgeoned to death, seemingly at the hands of a psychotically violent young child. Frank vows to keep Candice safe at all costs, which includes confronting his remotely located wife and her evil keeper. When he tries, he gets the run around from Dr. Raglan, until Frank slowly begins to uncover the mysterious nature of the medical compound and what kinds of odious experiments are being run. Not spoil with exactitude for those who’ve never seen the flick, but it turns out the sinister side effects of the Psychoplasmic treatment results in a harem of hooded homicidal homunculi with deformed facial features that go around committing brutal, low-tech gang-murder. Shite’s gnarly! It is then up to Frank to figure this all out before his own daughter becomes one of the initiated. Can he do so in time? That is more or less the dramatic crux of THE BROOD!

WHAT HOLDS-UP: While much of THE BROOD has unfortunately betrayed its age, two key aspects that still make the film pretty good are the well-shrouded mystery surrounding Psychoplasmics and the shockingly gory final ten-minute climax of the film. It takes awhile to fully appreciate both, much of the runtime in fact, but if they don’t outright atone for, they certainly even out what can only be construed as a senescent, slow-going first half. So let’s start with that narrative enigma, shall we…

For most of the film, Cronenberg does a brilliant job of disallowing you to connect the dots of the story. One on hand, a rash of deadly-dwarf killings is overtaking Toronto. On the other, Frank’s wife is being institutionally brainwashed while the people closest to her are dying grisly deaths. So what gives? How do they relate? This disconnect is part of DC’s masterful (mis)direction, as he never quite tips his hand as to how these two competing strands organically correlate. He keeps you guessing right up until the end, which is exactly the desired intent, and still plays just as well today as it must have when released in 1979. There are no shortcuts or easily foreseeable outcomes, which goes a long way in keeping the grand revelation of the ending intact. Conversely, the explication finally given is never so far-fetched that it’s rendered unbelievable either. The connective tissue between Nola and THE BROOD is given just the right amount of exposure to retain its undying shock value.

Speaking of shock and awe, anyone who’s seen THE BROOD knows how grotesquely unsettling some of the stark imagery is in the final ten minutes or so. Yup, I’m talking about Nola straight up licking the blood from a grue-soaked newborn (an idea that actress Samantha Eggars came up with), one she herself delivered. Or how about those gorily arresting fetal sacks she lustily chews through (made from stuffed condoms, ironically) a moment before? Shite’s as nastily eye-averting as possible, and frankly still remains so. It’s here that filmmaking outside the studio system worked in DC’s favor, as it’s likely no major in Hollywood would dare touch a sequence so cravenly depraved. Even the explication of the mutated baby - with its toothless, color blind, naval free, asexual qualities of a prenatal creature is too damn disturbing for the mainstream.

In fact, the entire final of the film is among the undeniable strengths of the film, chiefly in the way Dr. Raglan is accosted by the deleteriously deformed dwarf-gang and its rudimentary forms of violence. They scratch, claw, climb, chew, dig, nail and gouge the sick doctor all the way to a grisly demise, one we actually root for given how lecherously immoral Raglan proves to be. When they try to do similar to Candice on the other hand, the opposite rooting interest is taken. Furthermore, the final shot of the film, which implicates Candice as being infected or somehow inculcated with said violent deformities, is one that also holds up quite well in terms of how the film is to be interpreted. DC leaves us with a though-stirring cliff-hanger, the kind that never gets old. If only the first two reels of the film were as durable as the last!

WHAT BLOWS NOW: I was quite surprised to see how ineffective the first hour or so of THE BROOD is by today’s measuring stick. Not only are there deathly slow pacing problems, or some dubious acting work from Art Hindle and little Cindy Hinds, the movie is far too saddled with expository setups and boring medical jargon to really engross the viewer in a way we’ve come to expect in a Cronenberg flick. Nothing of note really happens for quite awhile into the film, and when it does, the two stints of violence exacted on Nola’s mom and dad aren’t all that inspired. First, we get an upward angled image of a young child’s hands in a staircase, which is an obvious and shameful crib-job from THE OMEN, released three years prior. This almost made up for by the look of young Candice, who three years later, would be in turn aped by Spielberg and Hooper in POLTERGEIST. That is, Carol Anne looks identical to Candice, and no I don’t think it’s at all a coincidence.

Now back to those first two violent eruptions. They simply don’t sell today. One with a meat mallet, the other with a snow-globe paperweight (or something akin), too many awkward swipes-and-misses take place that ring totally phony, particularly when each strike is equipped with a terribly inconsistent sound effect. It sounds like bad TV punching FX were haphazardly laid over vicious bouts blunt force trauma. The result is laughable. Utterly unbelievable. Definitely substandard Cronenberg!

THE VERDICT: Truthfully, much of THE BROOD does not hold up today, but because of its extremely durable finale and scarifying imagery therein, it almost doesn’t matter. What the movie achieves in the final quarter-hour is good enough, still good enough, to atone or at least break even with the poorly aged preceding runtime. While the movie certainly suffers from lack of resources and limited budget, THE BROOD still functions as not only a progenitive killer-kids movie, but looking back, it’s clearly a key cog in the machinations of what would become Cronenberg’s cinematic body-horror M.O. All told, THE BROOD and its mercilessly maniacal ending have allowed it to barely, just barely withstand The Test of Time!

GET THE BROOD ON DVD HERE

GET THE BROOD ON BLU-RAY HERE

Extra Tidbit: Joe Dante cut the American theatrical trailer (above) for THE BROOD.
Source: AITH

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