The Brood (1979)
I’m glad to start off this week’s write-up with David Cronenberg’s The Brood because, man, I love this movie. I’ve seen it a couple times before and when it comes to directors who have a singular obsession like Cronenberg does with his body horror, metamorphosis ouvre, it’s something that really speaks to me… it speaks to the part of me that secretly loves to be scared and disgusted.
I’m glad, though, that his fears aren’t my fears. I don’t think I could survive if I had the fear that he seems to have with his body falling apart on him in horrifying ways. This is one of his earlier movies, right before he, despite all odds, hit the big time and allowed his dripping, drooling, disgusting creations to have much larger budgets and much larger audiences.
The Brood is about killer children, these asexual, physical manifestations of a woman’s psychological trauma. The killer children grow off of her like tumors and commit horrible acts of violence for her. Her name is Nola (Samantha Eggar) and she is undergoing an experimental form of therapy called “psychoplasmics”, which allows patients to come to terms with trauma in a way that had not been possible before.
Nola is severely disturbed through her current lot in life: Divorce, a child custody battle and the memories of abusive, alcoholic parents.
Through some classic sci-fi-horror mumbo-jumbo, it is explained that Nola has always been prone to these physiological changes, but now due to everything going on in her life, coupled with this radical new therapy, her spawn, or “brood” given the title of the movie, is lashing out on the world violently. And now it’s up to Dr. Raglan (Oliver Reed) to solve the mystery and put an end to the bloodshed.
What I love most about Cronenberg’s filmography, especially with a movie like The Brood, is that you have what is essentially a B-movie, or sometimes even a sub-B-movie, a genuine piece of exploitation, but Cronenberg always brings A-list craftsmanship. The score, courtesy of Howard Shore, who would end up winning something like three Oscars for his contribution to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, is amazing. And I love that something as icky as The Brood is still such a personal film to the director–he borrowed lots of elements, like the divorce and the custody battle, from his own life. That’s the way I feel about filmmaking: Even if you’re making a movie about asexual mutant dwarfs, you should treat it with the same personal, autobiographical obsessions that someone like Scorsese had when making a masterpiece like Raging Bull. Never half-ass anything!
TANGENTIAL – I was watching Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly and that movie ends with a shotgun to the mouth and an exploding head. And that movie was a phenomenal success at the box office. Like, in 1986, that and, I don’t know, Aliens were just movies you went and saw on a date or something. And sometimes, man, I feel like I was born in the wrong generation.
TRIGGER WARNING on this, just because of the nature of the filmmaker. There will be some discussion of sexual assault.
Let me first start off by saying “Fuck Roman Polanski.”
He’s a rapist and I won’t attempt to apologize for him or make any sort of argument about separating the art from the artist. Some people can, some people can’t. I’m not sure if I can with Roman Polanski.
Up above, I kind of gushed about David Cronenberg, someone who I just sort of get. I feel like I’m at odds with Roman Polanski. I always have been. He’s an artist whose work doesn’t speak to me. Macbeth is my favorite movie of his. I wasn’t really into Chinatown, figured I must’ve been broken when I saw it, or that I was wrong at least, so I watched it for a second time an abandoned ship halfway through. Rosemary’s Baby, to me… I get it. I get it but I don’t give a shit. And then there’s Repulsion…. it’s worth mentioning that these last three movies I mentioned all feature rape in some form. It’s almost as though he has a recurring, autobiographical theme throughout most of his work. Huh.
I sort of liked Repulsion. Or, let’s say I respected it. While watching it I recognized some other works it had influenced. I saw where it had influenced Darling, an okay little psychological horror-thriller, or Queen of Earth with Elisabeth Moss.
Repulsion stars Catherine Deneuve as Carol, a woman on a descent into the hell of madness. She lives with her sister Helen and is already exhibiting strange behavior, like being actively disgusted by human contact–particularly in the form of a toothbrush left in the bathroom by her sister’s lover and a kiss Carol gets from a man that leaves her nauseated. But when her sister leaves is when her madness is allowed to fully flourish.
Carol leaves a rabbit from the fridge, which was intended for dinner a couple nights back, outside where it rots over the course of the film. The decaying carcass of the rabbit seems to visually represent her descent into insanity. The more decayed the rabbit, the crazier she seems to be. At night, sometimes, she is visited by a man who may or may not be real (probably not) who sexually assaults her. As she struggles with her sanity, the apartment literally crumbles around her, the walls splitting into massive chasms and cracks.
I knew I was getting old when a couple years back I noticed how much I appreciated houses and apartments in movies now. And let me just say, Carol and her sister’s apartment is awesome. It’s really great. It’s a series of hallways, bedrooms seemingly miles away from each other and a massive kitchen.
Catherine Deneuve is a fantastic actress and, even though I’m sure people will disagree with me and say she put in a great performance, I don’t think she had enough to do. Her job was to look blankly, mouth ajar, and vaguely horrified for the majority of the film’s runtime. Or, she’d quietly whimper when someone asked her a question. The problem with Repulsion is that it’s a character drama that doesn’t really give a shit about its character. She exists solely to be raped, attempted to be raped and to go insane.
There are three scenes I think that don’t have Carol in them and they are bizarre, pointless scenes. One is Carol’s sister and her married lover complaining about her, another is a pair of scenes involving a man who has fallen in love with Carol, hanging out at a bar with two other dudes who are pigs. They say horrible things about women. This man runs to Carol’s apartment, threatens to bust the door down if she doesn’t answer, apologizes when he gets in, and is then beaten to death by Carol, who looks like she’s using a feather duster on an expensive painting, gingerly smashing his brains in.
So, if it were up to me, I’d say enjoy David Cronenberg’s disgusting masterpiece, replete with nomming on mutant baby placenta. And I’d say watch Repulsion to say that you have. Hell, I enjoyed most it, I enjoyed it about as much as a non-Polanski fan can enjoy an incredibly Polanski film. It has great camerawork, set design and cinematography. It’s really an attractive movie to look at. But, you know, it’s one of those movies about mental illness where you know the answer most of the time when you’re wondering what just happened can be answered with, “Is it all in her head?!”
Join me next week for a Wes Craven double feature: Deadly Friend followed by Swamp Thing.