The Brood (1979)

OCTOBER 7, 2015


Since I've been MIA at home for the past 2 weeks due to late work shifts, I don't think my wife was too pleased when I got out of work a bit earlier than expected and opted to go to a screening tonight. But at least I had irony in my corner, because the movie was The Brood, about a couple with far bigger problems than not getting to see each other all that much during the horror-heavy month of October - but that didn't stop me from wondering if she was mad enough at me to manifest little dwarf killers in raincoats that would kill me during the movie. And that would be tragic, because it's my favorite David Cronenberg film and I had never seen it on 35mm before - I'd have to politely ask the dwarfs to wait until the movie was done to cave my head in with a mallet.

There are many reasons why it stands above his others for me (though only a bit over The Fly, with Rabid coming in 3rd if you must know), such as the more sympathetic and relatable male hero than he usually offers (runner up is probably Dead Zone - and saying you identify with Christopher Walken just makes me uncomfortable) and the fact that it approaches killer kid movie territory. But as this was the first time I had been able to see the film again since I started Horror Movie A Day*, there were a lot of other things I appreciated that I didn't in the past. For starters, I never noticed that Oliver Reed is one of the few people in the movie who DOESN'T grab a drink at the drop of a hat - I delighted in his drunkenness over and over again on this site, so that was particularly amusing to me. The grandmother in particular was downing brandy (?) like water, but as far as I could tell, Reed's character never once indulged. Likewise, I hadn't seen Don't Look Now before, so now that little visual reference for the film's pint-sized killers wasn't lost on me.

I also now have a further appreciation for genre movies that don't stick to the usual cliches; watching hundreds of movies that adhered (some quite militantly) the usual tropes helps make The Brood's surprises all the more satisfying. Again with Reed (spoilers ahead), when we meet him he seems to be the usual shady doctor who will stop at nothing to finish his research, prove his theory, etc - but ultimately he proves to be a pretty good guy, once he learns that his methods have resulted in the death of an innocent young woman. Hell, he even goes above and beyond to help our hero (Art Hindle from Black Christmas), as he could have easily taken the "easier" job of talking to the wife but instead opts to go into certain danger to help Hindle rescue his daughter. That's the sort of thing that makes me love the movie - it's not opting for some mind-blowing twist, but merely having people act like human beings instead of caricatures.

And I love how it kind of starts in progress ("in media res" I guess is the term), with the wife already deep into her strange therapy, the kid already showing signs of abuse, etc. It's almost like they skipped the first reel and got into it, which is doubly sweet when you consider that Cronenberg dishes out information at a nearly perfect rate, constantly peeling back the layers of what's really going on without ever really spelling it out (well, Reed kind of does in his final confrontation with Hindle, but it's like a sum-up, not a long bout of exposition). It's all very natural - since the failed marriage, the therapy sessions, etc. have all been going on, there's no reason anyone should be explaining everything in detail, because it would be for the audience's sake, not the characters. Even when the police get involved after the grandmother's death, Cronenberg doesn't make us suffer through three straight minutes of Hindle explaining the situation to them, as we've already garnered that information ourselves. It's quite refreshing, and again, this is something that seeing about 2,000 not-great horror movies since my last viewing of The Brood really helped me appreciate.

Speaking of the cops, these guys are amazing. Seeing a movie with a crowd is always a good way to pick up on some rather silly things that might not have registered at home by yourself, such as the fact that the cops apparently didn't find the murderous little mutant in the house because they "weren't looking for anything that small". I mean, if it was the size of a rat, sure, but I don't care if you're looking for Andre the Giant in a house - how do you miss a 3 foot tall human(oid)? And the bloody handprints it leaves at the murder scene was another thing that didn't register last time, because there's this extended closeup of them (and now they're like as tall as me on the silver screen), and yet again, they were apparently looking for an adult (this one's in the IMDb goofs as a plot hole; I think it's more just sloppy policework but whatever). It could have even been another bit of evidence to prove they weren't human, like the no belly button thing, but Cronenberg just drops it. That said, I also appreciate that neither Hindle or the daughter are considered suspects despite being tied to several murders. We in the audience know they're not the culprits, so why waste time on such drivel?

Oh, and I love that Hindle shuts the TV off in the police station's break room. There are like 5 other cops in there watching, ya jerk.

Also, and I didn't need a post-HMAD refresher to appreciate this, the climax is so goddamn good. I mean, how many horror flicks have you seen where the tension comes from whether or not a guy can keep his wife from yelling at him? There's one amazing bit where she gets a bit perturbed, and they cut to Reed jerking his head to the side as if suddenly aware of impending danger, and it's like one of the best jump scares ever even though the actual antagonists aren't even on-screen. Seeing him make his way around their cabin, inter-cut with the increasingly heated conversation downstairs (if she gets too worked up, the little mutants will follow suit), is excruciatingly suspenseful, as is the unnerving bit where two of the kids approach the teacher in the classroom in front of all the other children.

I made a joke tweet on the way out of the theater that I wished the guy who made The Brood hadn't retired, a not too subtle (or even original) jab at Cronenberg's seeming lack of interest in making anything full blown horror again. But sitting in traffic on the drive home I thought about it more and realized it's probably for the best now, because it's been too long - any return he makes will likely be disappointing due to overly inflated expectations. He made a few masterpieces before switching gears, and it's not like he's making PG-13 rom-coms (though that would be preferable to Cosmopolis, Jesus Christ) - plus he's still far more active than his 70s/80s peers. I guess that's better than trying to recapture his glory days, but then again, there's no one like him and thus he shouldn't really be held to the same standards, right? And how bad could it be? Come on, man... just ONE more like your 70s movies and I'll stop bugging you.

What say you?

P.S. The film is being released on Criterion next week, which may translate into one of my very, very rare purchases from the overpriced company. I've linked it below; can one of you rich folks and/or Criterion snobs pick it up and let me know if it's actually worth twice the cost of every other Blu-ray that's available? Thanks.

*Technically this should be a "Non-Canon Review", but that was something I used to differentiate between those bonus reviews and the regular day's entry back when this was a daily updated site. Now that I'm "retired" it didn't make much sense to distinguish. Just be happy you're getting a new review, you bastards!


  1. A question, BC: have you read/heard of Cronenberg's last year's debut novel, "Consumed"? From what I gathered it's that comeback to body horror everyone is waiting for, except it's in a paper form. It's supposed to be very good. Like he wanted to make such a movie, but failed to get funds, so he turned the script into a book. Maybe you should grab it if you have the time?

  2. He did film a teaser for Consumed, so there's that. You can find it on YouTube.

    Also, Maps to the Stars wouldn't be classified as horror, but it is horrifying. It's a very strange movie, something that'll probably stay with you even after watching so many typical horror movies.


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