Movie Discussion: David Cronenberg’s The Brood (1979)

  • Monthly Theme: Religious Cultsbrood
  • The Film: The Brood
  • Country of origin: Canada
  • Date of Canadian release: June 1, 1979
  • Date of U.S. release: May 25, 1979
  • Studio: Canadian Film Development Corporation (CFDC), et al.
  • Distributer: New World Pictures
  • Domestic Gross: ?
  • Budget: $1.4 million (estimated)
  • Director: David Cronenberg
  • Producers: Pierre David, et al.
  • Screenwriter: David Cronenberg
  • Adaptation? No
  • Cinematographer: Mark Irwin
  • Make-Up/FX: Dennis Pike, Allan Kotter, et al.
  • Music: Howard Shore
  • Part of a series? No.
  • Remakes? No.
  • Genre Icons in the cast? Yes. Horror legend Oliver Reed (The Devils, The Curse of the Werewolf, etc.). Horror actress Samantha Eggar (The Collector, Curtains, etc.).
  • Other notables?: No.
  • Awards?: Special Mention Jury Prize at the 1981 Sitges-Catalonian International Film Festival.
  • Tagline: “They’re waiting… For you!”
  • The Lowdown: This week we discuss one of Cronenberg’s early efforts – in fact, The Brood is often considered to be the director’s first “classic” film. The movie stars Art Hindle as Frank, a man going through a difficult separation from his estranged wife Nola (Samantha Eggar), who is living in therapeutic isolation at the Somafree Institute of Psychoplasmics. The Institute is run by the charismatic Dr. Raglan (Oliver Reed), who believes that psychic distress can be made manifest in the physical body. When Frank begins to fear that his young daughter Candy is being abused during her weekend visits with Nola at the Institute, he threatens to fight for sole custody. Suddenly a bizarre string of murders begins, and Frank realizes that there is a dark secret to Nola’s therapy at Somafree…

If you haven’t seen The Brood our discussion will include massive SPOILERS. 

Kristine: I love Nola. 

Sean: Did you live for Nola? 

Kristine: Yes, I loved her. Can we agree that Daddy is just a nothing in this movie? He is totally non-offensive, but totally unimportant and uninteresting. 

Sean: Well, saying “Daddy” could refer to like five different characters. There are lots of daddies in The Brood.

Kristine: True. I am referring to Frank, Nola’s ex-husband. He’s a big nothing, right? 

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Christmas with the Duggars

Sean: Oh totally. Cronenberg has a habit of casting total ciphers as his leading men – Stephen Lack in Scanners, James Spader in Crash, Robert Pattinson in Cosmopolis, Paul Hampton in Shivers, Ralph Fiennes in Spider… I actually always find the leading men in his movies to be total blanks, even when they excel at doing it – Peter Weller in Naked Lunch, James Woods in Videodrome, Christopher Walken in The Dead Zone. They all do what’s required of them, but they’re not very interesting performances. Cronenberg gets really icy, clinical, distant performances out of his actors. I feel like Jeff Goldblum, Jeremy Irons and Viggo Mortensen are the only leading men who truly bring something vital with them, who make that Cronenbergian blankness interesting. Actually Goldblum in The Fly is a bit of an aberration, because the role of Seth Brundle calls for excitability and enthusiasm, two qualities that are usually absent in Cronenberg’s protagonists. 

Kristine: Well, that whole idea of the “emotionless” male who is a kind of “blank” is very much a part of this movie’s thought process on gender, in which “real men” are icy and cerebral and women are volatile maniacs. In fact, The Brood is interesting to me because it’s all about the monstrous feminine and yet I don’t feel offended by it. It’s like, even though Nola and her brood are killed at the end, it still somehow feels like a victory for her and her truth. Does that make sense?

Sean: Well, it doesn’t make sense, but I have a similar reaction. I wouldn’t say there’s any sense of “victory” for Nola though…

Kristine: You know who I thought was great? 

Sean: Oliver Reed? 

Kristine: Not Reed, though I did think he chewed up the scenery and spit it out and I loved it. His first scene, the therapy session with Mike/Michelle, was out of control. I was going to say that I thought both Robert Silverman as Jan Hartog (the freak with the throat growths) and Gary McKeehan, who played Mike/Michelle (with his patchy ginger beard and daddy issues) were awesome. I really loved both of their performances. A lot. 

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Ginger snaps

Sean: Yeah they’re good. And the character of Hartog is so quintessentially Cronenbergian, with his paranoia and his body horror issues. His speechifying about the body is vintage Cronenberg: ““My second heart. Your first heart makes the blood circulate, but what about your lymphatic fluids? People have this whole other system they don’t even know about – the lymphatic system. It’s like the blood system, with its own style of veins and arteries but no heart. So you have to keep moving, you have to circulate.” This kind of conspiracy theorizing about basic biology is at the root of most of Cronenberg’s work, and at the heart of the The Brood, I would say. The “horror” in the horror movie is the awareness that we have no control over our bodies, that they can revolt on us, and that we are at the mercy of our bodies. I’d say that is one of Cronenberg’s primary themes and obsessions.

Kristine: Yes, those anemone-like growths on Hartog’s neck were revolting and unsettling. Hartog is great, all rolling on the floor in his cinnamon-colored track suit like a maniac. Both he and Mike/Michelle really “fleshed” the movie out for me (heh heh).

Sean: You dork. Well, where should we start our discussion?

 

Kristine: I was going to start by saying that having a brood to enact revenge and punishment on my enemies was one of my number-one fantasies from the age of 5 to, oh, age 35 or so. 

Sean: So you would love to be a Nola?

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Oh so THAT’S where I put the mutant dwarf!

Kristine: She’s the Queen Bee.

Sean: Even if you had to have a weird brood-sac growing out of your ladybiz? 

Kristine: C’mon. That was pretty cool, in the most horribly disgusting way. 

Sean: Did you think the broodlings were scary? 

Kristine: Yes yes yes yes yes. Especially at the beginning.

Sean: Did you scream? 

Kristine: Yes.

Sean: When? When they kill drunk Ruth Fisher

Kristine: Yes. When Nola’s mother enters the kitchen and the broodling is perched on top of her refrigerator, I screamed and screamed. Also when it was under the bed right before the attack on Nola’s father. The brood was very scary, especially when you only catch fleeting glimpses of them.

Sean: What about that insane murder of Miss Mayer in front of all the little darlings? 

Kristine: I thought the Miss Mayer killing was really well done. The tension between parental figures and children is at the heart of the movie, obviously, and that preschool murder scene was the most over-the-top expression of that tension. And it works on two levels – from the adult perspective, it confirms the uncanny-ness of children, the repressed anxiety that they might just be grunting little animals who could turn on you at any second; from the child perspective, if confirms that adults are actually vulnerable and not omnipotent, and could be easily destroyed. And let me add that those child extras gave good terror. They genuinely seem fucking traumatized for life.

Sean: Kristine: “WE PLANT PUMPKIN SEEDS.” That’s what’s printed, in deranged child-scrawl, on the piece of construction paper that Frank covers Miss Mayer’s death-mask with. That phrase, and the sinister inversion of fertility symbols that it expresses, is such a great instance of Cronenberg’s pitch-dark sense of humor.

Screen Shot 2013-05-12 at 11.43.00 AM
Leather knee-high boots won’t save you…

Kristine: Oh, man. I felt bad for the kiddies. 

Sean: “The bad kids are hurting Miss Mayer. They made her fall down!” 

Kristine: I didn’t care about Miss Mayer and her skinhead-girl haircut (short in back with long, wispy bangs and sideburns). She was a snore.

Sean: I loved her smothering the ringing phone under a pillow when Nola is harassing her. It’s such a great image of repression, which is another of the movie’s dominant interests/themes. Those angry voices from the beyond, our first instinct it just to smother them and tamp them down, to try to deny that they are real.

Kristine: I guess, but I just thought Miss Mayer was a dummy.

Sean: When she tells Frank, “As soon as Candy got me alone she made me play ‘Mother & Daughter’ with her. She obviously needs mothering and isn’t getting it.” I am fascinated by just the idea of “mothering” as some essential component of child development and what it means. Obviously this movie wonders if it’s biologically and psychologically perverse. But I have a hard time buying that Candy would awaken anyone’s nurturing instincts, male or female. As soon as she gets you alone, you realize she’s a creature and not a person.

Kristine: Gross. The idea of playing “Mother and Daughter” is quelle creepy and vaguely pedophilic. So my boyfriend watched the movie with me and when it was over he said, “Was [Cronenberg] going through a nasty divorce when he made this or what?” And then I Googled it and he was. I died. 

Sean: He was totally fighting a horrible custody battle during the conception of this movie. Cronenberg has said that filming the scene where Frank throttles Nola to death was “extremely satisfying.” But Candy is a dwarfmonster, right? She is more terrifying than the actual brood to me.

 

Screen Shot 2013-05-12 at 11.40.51 AM
Aryan idiot

Kristine: Oh my god, yes. She is the ugliest, creepiest little pug-child. I felt no warmth towards her whatsoever, which is why I thought the scene when she is walking hand-in-hand with two of the broodlings works so well. She IS them. She exhibited no empathy that I saw.

Sean: She is child-as-idiot, a catatonic lump of flesh with no neck. Actually, this movie has no insights at all into what children are, what makes them tick or what they’re all about. In fact, I think Cronenberg’s inability to understand children at all is part of what shapes and motivates the horror-movie elements. Candy, as the movie imagines her, is little more than a living doll, with no interiority or intelligence.

Kristine: I agree, which is why the snowsuit visual worked so well. They look like children, but they are… things. Animals, driven by id and instinct. God, kids are creepy. I’m glad Cronenberg knows this. 

Sean: What did your boyfriend think of the movie? 

Kristine: I’m not sure other than his comment about Cronenberg. Who would you rather have as your child – Candy or one of the brood? 

Sean: Um, the brood obviously. I could unleash them on anyone who displeased me.

Kristine: Obvs. I loved them all sleeping in bunk beds in the “work shed.” Total Snow White and the Seven Dwarves with Nola as Snow White. 

Screen Shot 2013-05-12 at 11.28.10 AM
Kamping with the Kardashians

Sean: Yes, that’s just right. I love that detail too. They’re creepy little doppelgangers of Candy, like something out of a monstrous fairy tale. So lets structure our talk a teensy bit and focus on Nola. If I had to boil the “horror” of the movie down to one line, it would be Frank’s lawyer saying, “The law believes in motherhood.” This movie wrestles with what motherhood is and is of the mind that it’s a perverse sham, which seems kind of radical to me. It’s too bad so many of the movie’s insights are packaged in weirdly misogynist tropes. But still, that skewering of “the Mother” as this archetypal, mythic role is a great example to me of exactly what the horror genre is about in its purest iterations: slaughtering the scared cows of its culture of origin. My boyfriend actually just watched Robert Zemeckis’ weird animated version of Beowulf on Netflix the other day, and I kept thinking of Grendel & Grendel’s mother during this movie. The whole idea of the mother-as-monster, and the horror of the procreative process, of the birth canal and the womb.

Kristine: Oh, yeah, totally. 

Sean: Is it unavoidable that the monster-mother construct is always a tad misogynistic? Because I love this movie, but also think it’s a work of pure misogyny (and that doesn’t discount it for me, if anything I think it’s a fascinating glimpse into the paranoid patriarchal imagination).

Kristine: I don’t think it has to be. I mean, my take is that how society views motherhood as the end-all and be-all is harmful for children, men and women alike. There is something truly monstrous in how our culture constructs motherhood, and the (very Stepford-wife-esque) smile plastered on the mug of any and all who talk about maternity and the mother/child bond. Our widespread refusal to talk about the dark side of motherhood is, obviously, fertile ground for the horror genre to explore. And also its something that pops up in the zeitgeist of media and news again and again – Susan Smith, Andrea Yates, etc. We are fascinated by “mothers who kill,” and Nola is a particular iteration of that character. Remember she says, ““I’d kill Candace before I’d let you take her away from me” to Frank. So Nola is the mother-figure whose “proper” maternal feelings (to nurture and protect the child) have become perverted. If she cannot mother the child, the child would be better off dead.

Screen Shot 2013-05-18 at 11.45.43 AM
Those hands look like the brood uses Dove Moisturizer

Sean: Right, right. And don’t you think that Nola’s attitude is shaped by her being in therapy? Nola’s a classic narcissist, and the movie believes that it’s Raglan’s therapy that drives Nola truly batshit crazy. That idea, that too much self-reflection or looking inward is perverse, seems very patriarchal to me. Especially if we rely on very old, sexist notions about gender – that women are analytical and like to “talk about things,” whereas men are “simpler” and don’t self-critique. Therapy as a whole is marked as feminine/queer in the movie, and the idea that the “feminine” pursuit of self-knowledge just turns people into monstrous narcissistic assholes seems… suspect to me. And of course, the movie imagines that therapy-fueled narcissism as a biological contagion – it perverts and mutates the body, that’s how unclean and gross it is. I wonder if partly all this is a reaction to the move towards self-help and self-actualization that characterized the 1970s. It is known as “The Me Decade” after all, and things like est and men going out into the woods to get in touch with their inner caveman and shit like that. But this movie IS a male revenge fantasy against monster-mother. And the “heroic” climax is an act of domestic abuse/wife-murder, and a shockingly intimate one. Chris Brown would love this movie. Plus remember when Frank says “[I] got taken in. [I] got involved with a woman who married [me] for [my] sanity, hoping it would rub off. Instead it started to work the other way.” Nola is not just a biological contagion, she’s a psychological contagion too, and she infected Frank. She’s the source of all that is ill and gross.

Kristine: Yeah, I’m okay with that. Nola IS presented as having a backstory. She is a victim, she isn’t just birthed as a monster. 

Sean: I disagree.

Kristine: Well hold on. I think part of the reason both of us view this movie as somehow a “victory” for Nola is because she/the evil/the power (whatever you want to call it) lives on, Frank and his RIMA [Rational Inquiring Masculine Authority] mucho macho violence is not able to kill it, right? What do you disagree about? [Editor’s Note: For the backstory on RIMA, see our discussion of Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy.]

Sean: I do not view the movie as a victory for Nola – I totally disagree with that statement. I also disagree that Nola is not constructed as inherently wicked by the movie.

Kristine: Is Nola just a vessel then? 

Screen Shot 2013-05-12 at 11.53.32 AM
Portrait of a woman with hangover

Sean: Julianna, Nola’s drunk mother, tells Candy that Nola’s body was showing manifestations of evil right from girlhood, remember? She shows Candy all those pictures of little Nola in the hospital and Candy like a freak is like “These are my favorite pictures in the whole world, of Mommy in the hospital, I just live for them” and Julianna tells Candy, “Some days [Nola] would wake up and she would be covered with big, ugly bumps. And the doctors were very worried because they could never find out what those bumps all over her skin really were.” So Nola is constructed by the movie as someone who was…born this way. It’s like, the female body as contagion/VD/plague. And the movie ends by zeroing in on two syphilitic bumps on little ugly Candy’s arm. So her body, by the virtue of its femaleness, is monstrous. Cronenberg is afraid of ladies, or at least sort of grossed out by them.

Kristine: But Nola is powerful… not just cursed. That means Candy is powerful, too.

Sean: Nola/Candy are “powerful,” I guess, but that seems like a disingenuous way to put it. Their “power” to grow ragemonsters out of their profane ladyflesh is limited and perverse and abject and terrifying. The movie, also, is about the impulse to deny/destroy that power.

Kristine: I don’t care, I loved it all. 

Sean: I love the movie, but criticize the message. Again, I feel like many classic horror movies provoke feelings of ambivalence or else they’re not actually doing their job. I’m conflicted about the movie’s ideas – I love how it targets the sacred cow of “motherhood,” but I’m also convinced its anti-feminist.

Kristine: Well, the movie can’t destroy ladypower.  So, there.

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The buddy system is even taught in mutant daycare

Sean: I think The Brood is a really fascinating case study of misogyny and it makes us queasy in all the right ways. I feel like it is also a misogyny test for the viewer – if you’re watching Frank throttle Nola and you’re going “Yeah! Kill that bitch!” then you need therapy stat and also I feel bad for your wife/girlfriend/lady love. She should run in the opposite direction immediately. If the ending makes you queasy, then its working.

Kristine: Did you feel empathy for Nola in the ending? Remember that she thinks Frank might actually mean it when he says he is ready to love and accept the real her… and then she shows him her external womb-sac and he is totally disgusted. I was like, I feel you girlfriend. That is classic straight boy behavior, being all, “I love you no matter what, I love the real you… oh wait, shit, you be crazy, bitch!” 

Sean: Oh yeah, totally. Also when she’s ranting to herself and going, “Nothing’s wrong except with me…. No, that’s Frank talking, Frank twisting my words. He won’t be patient, he won’t trust me, he won’t wait until I get well. He thinks that I’m turning into my mother, day by day, moment by moment. He thinks that I’m trying to make Candy into Baby Nola.” It’s she has internalized Frank’s voice and it is partly what’s driving her mad.  But again, the site of the abject is the motherly/feminine – Julianna is the one who abused/warped Nola. Nola still worships Barton, who she’s only upset with because he “let [Julianna] hurt me.”  When Nola talks about Barton, she says, echoing Mike/Michelle, “Oh God I love you… but you didn’t protect me.” Everyone is striving to be loved by a withholding daddy-figure in this movie (Candy, Nola, Mike/Michelle, Chris). And also, the mother is always presented as vaguely perverse. Remember when Frank tells the police, after her murder, that “Julianna had a long series of lovers – I never met any of them.” That weird and unnecessary emphasis on her promiscuity feels sexist to me.

Kristine: Agreed, but also I think it is important that we recognize that Cronenberg doesn’t present any of the male figures that heroically. Barton is a drunk, pathetic wimp who let Nola be abused. The men at the Somafree Institute are all screwed up six ways to Sunday. Even Frank is fairly powerless against the brood – sure, he saves Stale Candy, but he doesn’t save Julianna or Barton or Miss Mayer or even Dr. Raglan. And Raglan, the film’s major withholding daddy, is presented as very problematic. I mean, there is no strong, “good” character in this whole film. 

Sean: True.

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I’ll show you mine, you show me yours

Kristine: So, you say this movie is all about repression – isn’t it also all about the archetypes of matriarch and patriarch? 

Sean: Yes. Remember this exchange? 

Raglan-as-Candy: “You hurt me, Mommy.”

Nola: “No I didn’t, sweetie. You must have had a bad dream. Mommies don’t do that, mommies don’t hurt their own children.”

Raglan-as-Candy: “They never do?”

Nola: “They sometimes do. Sometimes. But then they’re bad mommies, they’re fucked up mommies!” 

What makes a “good mommy” or a “bad mommy,” a “good daddy” or a “bad daddy” is at the heart of the movie.

Kristine: Right. 

Sean: That’s where Raglan comes in. Do you agree that he’s a queer figure? 

Kristine: He is a situation and yes, I do agree with that. His otherness is very pronounced, which is how I read your use of “queer” in this context. 

Sean: Yes – but also Chris is his boytoy.

Kristine: I was going to mention his manservant. 

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A queen and a diva. But which is which?

Sean: He also crosses gender lines a lot, giving voice to ‘mommy’ and ‘daddy’ and a whole host of other gender roles. He is a “liberated” man, so perfectly 1970s, free to express all sides of the human psyche, male or female. Raglan also switches from being Candy to being Julianna seamlessly, repeating exactly what Nola said to “Candy” – “Mommies never hurt their own children.”

Kristine: Yes.

Sean: The movie starts off with a confrontation between the disappointed patriarch and the gender-confused manboy. Raglan’s opening monologue goes, “You’re not looking at me in the eyes – that’s weak. Only weak people do that. I guess you’re just a weak person. You must have got that from your mother. It probably would have been better for you had you been born a girl. Then we could have named you Michelle. You see, weakness is more acceptable in a girl, Michelle. Oh, I’m sorry. I mean ‘Mike.’ I keep forgetting.” That whole scene… Also the idea that girls are weaker lays out the movie’s thesis immediately, that any girl who taps into some kind of threatening strength must be throttled and left for dead.

Kristine: That opening scene was also fascinating in how it presented therapy as theatre… 

Sean: Yes. Is this movie’s attitude that therapy is total bullshit? Remember that Hartog yells, “Goddamit psychoplasmics is a ripoff! It’s a sideshow! I’ve seen it in action.” 

Kristine: I don’t know. I mean, I think it is certainly presented as dangerous, and therapists are depicted as power hungry freaks with a God complex. But none of the revelations unearthed through therapy are presented as false, right? I mean, Mike/Michelle really does have daddy issues, as does Nola. I think it’s more that the therapy is not helping these issues, only exploiting them. So, I wouldn’t say it is presented as total bs. Did you love the cover of Raglan’s book? 

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It take years of therapy to perfect the side-part

Sean: Loved. The Shape of Rage: An Introduction to Psychoplasmics by Dr. Hal Raglan.

Kristine: I was all, “anger is an energy,” copyright PiL

Sean: But this whole idea that repressed emotion becomes manifest in the body, becomes a real “cancer,” is so Cronenbergian and also, it seems to me, exactly the kind of thing a repressed, aloof man would fear. It’s like, people who are so repressed that they need therapy are “at risk” of their bodies revolting on them.

Kristine: I don’t know…

Sean: Remember that Hartog says, “Raglan encouraged my body to revolt against me. And it did. I have a small revolution on my hands, and I’m not putting it down very successfully.” 

Kristine: Right… 

Sean: And there’s that whole dichotomy of psychological vs. physiological damage caused by the therapist.

Kristine: I love the idea of the psychological turning physiological. So, if you repress and don’t let your anger out, you’ll be a-okay?

Sean: No. I think the idea is that if you repress things eventually you’ll need to find “release” and that’s when your body will turn on you.

Kristine: Then why is it happening to people who are in active therapy? I see why it is happening to dumb Candy…

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From the Sears Portrait Studio’s “kiddie porn” office

Sean: Well, it’s that Raglan is encouraging their rage to manifest physically. Remember when he screams “Show me your anger!” and that leads to Mike ripping off his robe – his body is covering in sores/lesions, the physical manifestation of his anger. Raglan says, “I see you, Michelle. I see everything.” And Mike/Michelle responds, “This is me, daddy. This is what you do to me inside.” Our internal wounds become external, our psychic wounds become physical wounds. So maybe it’s the idea of the wrong kind of therapy…

Kristine: Right. As an occasional sufferer of stress-related hives, I am Mike/Michelle.

Sean: I thought about your hives.

Kristine: Yep.

Sean: See, it all ready is happening. Raglan would love you, girl. I was also thinking about how right after the Mike/Michelle therapy “performance,” we follow Frank going up to see Candy – the “father/daughter” relationship on stage has become the real father/daughter relationship at the center of the movie. In fact all Candy says in that first scene is “Oh daddy… Daddy…”  (The [almost erotic] desire of the subject for a father is everywhere in this movie) The next scene is of Frank discovering the bruises and bite marks on Candy’s body – like Dr. Raglan “saw” Mike/Michelle for the first time on stage, Frank is “seeing” Candy for the first time here.

Kristine: So, what is more terrifying to Cronenberg – a brood of sexless dwarf killers, or a real, live woman with a vagina and a womb? I think the internal workings of ladyhood freak him out so hard that he has to make Nola gestate externally. He cannot handle an actual womb. 

Sean: Remember the “mutant vagina” in Dead Ringers

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Ellen Degeneres drank too much at the club

Kristine: Of course. “Do you remember”????  How could I ever forget? 

Sean: The newspaper headline “Police seek dwarf killers” made me LOL because it sounds like someone is killing off little people. It should read “dwarven killers” right? 

Kristine: I loved that, too. I thought it was a deliberate touch of lunacy to lighten the mood. 

Sean: Yes. As was: “Are you and my husband having your own private PTA meeting. Miss Mayer? You bitch! You’re killing my family, you bitch!”

Kristine: Hee hee. So, Raglan knows he is going to die when he goes into the work shed to save stupid Candy, right? Why do you think he makes that sacrifice, and do you think it was justice that he died essentially by his own hand? 

Sean: Well, I think he could pull it off. I think he wanted to be the hero. But I was mad that the movie kills off the two queers – Nola and Raglan – so that tapioca Frank can live another day. I guess Mike/Michelle lives on… Out there in the Canadian wilderness…

Kristine: You just reminded me of another one of my favorite moments – when Nola wakes up from her nap and Raglan asks her if she is still a-twitter about Miss Mayer (who has been brutally murdered by the brood while is Nola napping) and she is all, “No, for some reason, she doesn’t bother me anymore.” I loved how Nola was weirdly regal and otherworldly throughout the movie. She really was the “Queen Bee,” and yes, Raglan’s counterpart in queerness. Also, Mike/Michelle forevers.

Sean: Nola says, “I was having a wonderful dream – wonderful and painful at the same time.” 

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Is that a broodsac between your legs or are you just happy to see me?

Kristine: Rate this movie. 

Sean: That’s it?  We’re done?

Kristine: If you have more to say about the movie, then let’s hear it. 

Sean: Another piece of evidence that this movie hates mothers: when the one broodling dies and the police examine it, the detective’s theory is: “My guess is some crazywoman didn’t want anyone to know she had a deformed child. She had this kid locked up in an attic for years and never told anybody. It wouldn’t be the first time…” Like, all the evils in the world can be traced back to some crazy bitch of a mother.

Kristine: Or the pressures put upon mothers – that if a child is deformed or “not right,” it’s the mother’s fault. Or if a woman is not able to love a child, she is horrible. 

Sean: Here’s a serious question for you – Are mothers disgusting? Is motherhood a vile monstrosity? I mean, Nola licking the red jizz off her broodbaby is a pretty compelling statement about the grossness of the mother/baby bond.

Kristine: No. Aspects of motherhood are very weird and somewhat gross to me. I think the mother/child bond can be a very twisted thing. But, no, I don’t think motherhood is inherently monstrous. I don’t think it is inherently good and wonderful, either. It’s fucking nature, man, and nature is always about the dynamic between the vile and beautiful, the profound and the profane, right? There is no “good” or “bad” in nature and childbirth/rearing is as natural as it gets. 

Screen Shot 2013-05-12 at 11.32.56 AM
Toddler tantrum

Sean: Our culture sentimentalizes the mother/baby bond so so so so fucking much – maybe this movie is onto something when it suggests a dark side to that picture. Also, this movie imagines the child-as-enemy. Remember Julianna, the drunk grandmother, says, “I guess you know now what it feels like – being a parent. Being blamed for everything. Having the past distorted so that you don’t even recognize yourself anymore. Your child’s version of the past, that is. She’s working on it right now, believe me. Thirty seconds after you’re born you have a past, and sixty seconds after that you start to lie to yourself about it.” 

Kristine: Yes.

Sean: Children turn against you almost immediately. And there are always competing histories in a family. Remember when Barton tells Frank, “When I think about you and Nola and this sweet child having to go through the same heartaches we went through… it’s enough to make you cry.” Family history and dysfunction is cyclical, unavoidable.

Kristine: See, I see this movie as being weirdly sympathetic towards mothers.

Sean: How so? 

Kristine: What you just said. Julianna’s speech. And how Nola doesn’t mean to birth a murderous brood – she just is doing what her body is meant to do. Now, that itself is a troublesome concept, that women’s bodies are meant to birth murderous broods, but still.

Sean: Right…  Do you think families always have different versions of the past that can never all be reconciled? 

Kristine: Yes, I definitely believe that about families. Don’t you?  Mike/Michelle’s father might be a swell, stand up guy who totally loves his son. We don’t know. 

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Piggyback with a pignose

Sean: Yes – but this movie seems to suggest that the “wronged children” are right, no? And that the progenitors are always the blame? 

Kristine: Hmmmmmm, I dunno. I like my nature theory. That it’s not good or bad, it just is what it is. And “what it is” is pretty harsh and fucked up.

Sean: Do you think repression is always bad? Remember what the police shrink says to Frank, “You must encourage [Candy] to remember. … [she] could have a very serious breakdown if she doesn’t come to terms with what she’s experienced. These things tend to express themselves in one way or another. I’ve seen five-year-olds, like your daughter, with ulcers as bad as any middle-aged businessman.” 

Kristine: No. I think acting on every emotion is not sustainable or appropriate. 

Sean: But do we always have to “come to terms with what [we’ve] experienced”?

Kristine: Nope. I think there are a lot of people who live happy lives (genuinely happy lives) who have repressed a lot of shit.

Sean: Such an Old World and WASPy answer. I disagree. You are Don Draper right now, sitting at Peggy’s bedside and saying, “This never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened.”

Kristine: I don’t think I repress enough. I think my boyfriend would agree I need to repress more.

Sean: I think this movie suggests that your hives are about something you have repressed. Ulcers, hives, allergies, back pain, tumors… Maybe they’re all just the body’s way of manifesting an unquiet mind. I do think the body carries its history with it, and that the psychic is manifest in the body.

Kristine: What do you think it is more important – living an “authentic” life or a happy one? Or is one impossible without the other? 

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Hold a head of ginger-pelt, give a dog a bone

Sean: Um…. I think it is important to be authentic and that that leads to happiness.

Kristine: Have you ever had an intense emotional reaction in massage therapy or yoga? 

Sean: Yes. I cried during a Bikram class. And I would vomit and cry during weight training all the time. Training the body means releasing everything, all the toxins, all the psychic shit that’s all stored up.

Kristine: Weakness is more acceptable in a girl, Shauna. Oh, I’m sorry. I mean ‘Sean.’

Sean: Wow.

Kristine: Kidding. I actually agree. 

Sean: Do you think your hives are psychosomatic? Or a physical response to stimuli? 

Kristine: Both. I have been plagued with skin problems since very early infancy, as has my mother. And we are both nervous people. 

Sean: Did watching Wolf Creek cause hives? 

Kristine: I am one of those regressive gene types who is allergic to everything – air, grass, dirt. Oh. And guess what I am allergic to? You are going to die. Potatoes. 

Sean: Hahahahaha! 

Kristine: Truth.

Sean: HAHAHAAHAAHAHAAHAHAAHAHAAAHAHAHAHAAHAHAAHAHHAA

HAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHHAHAA 

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Arms in a hole

Kristine: It’s not that funny.

Sean: “I hate you because I love you. It makes me feel guilty inside.” – Kristine to a potato

Kristine: This movie is pretty great, I have to admit.  It made up for… you know what

Sean: Which Oliver Reed joint was better? This or The Devils?

Kristine: This.

Sean: Do you feel any love for Oliver Reed? Is he, as your dad has claimed, the “Keith Moon of actors”? 

Kristine: He is.

 

Ratings Roundup

The Girl’s Rating: Batshit insanity AND Problematic, but fun as hell

The Freak’s Rating:  Masterpiece!

Lollipop kidz
Lollipop kidz

19 thoughts on “Movie Discussion: David Cronenberg’s The Brood (1979)

  1. The whole sequence, from the mutant kids ‘playing’ on the swings at school, killing the teacher then walking hand in hand with Candy, along the road, is amazing. It sounds like you guys watched the uncut version, if you saw Nora licking the fluid off the newborn. From memory, the murders are more graphic as well.
    So glad you both rated this one, it’s top ten of all time, for me.
    Sean, have you seen ‘Rabid’? Would love to see it covered here, and read Kristines reaction – any chance?

    1. Awesome. So glad you love this movie, Lincoln… We probably won’t be getting to any more Cronenberg for a bit, and I think Videodrome and Scanners are must-sees before Rabid, though I do dig that grimy little movie. It depends how long Kristine wants to keep watching movies! :)
      Also, next month is going to be Ozploitation month – any particular movies you think Kristine should see? I’m thinking Razorback, Patrick, Mad Max, Picnic at Hanging Rock and something else. Would love your to hear your thoughts….

  2. ‘Snowtown’ and ‘The Boys’, though neither are really horror. Both are based on the events leading up to and surrounding two of our most infamous crimes. Both are pretty disturbing, and very well made.
    On a lighter note, ‘Houseboat Horror’ is probably the worst slasher film ever made – and that’s saying something! Check it out on Youtube, you won’t need to watch much to get the idea!
    ‘Cut’ is another slasher, don’t remember much about it though.
    ‘Dead Calm’ which I didn’t like much, mainly because of another terrible performance by Nicole Kidman.
    ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ is superb.

    1. Thanks! Never heard of or seen “The Boys” – will check it out. Been watching a bunch of ’70s/’80s Aussie stuff to prep for next month: “Fair Game,” “Dark Age,” etc. So far the best new discovery I’ve made is “Wake in Fright” – totally amazing (and with Donald Pleasance!)

        1. Sean, ME TOO! And in all these years of friendship we have NEVER discussed it… I can’t even believe this! Dogs in Space, Suburbia (Penelope Spheeris’ NOT the 90s-Linklater-whatever), Heathers, and Lost Angels were my fave movies and I was constantly renting them from the Errols video store by our house. They might have been the only movies the rented, in fact.
          I am truly curious what a Australian thinks about it…hint, hint.

          1. Ok Kristine, I’ve put together a list of all the teen movies I watched again and again and again as a kid. Please feel free to add titles to this and make it more comprehensive:

            Suburbia, Lost Angels (from your list) + Dogs in Space, Heathers, Pump Up the Volume, River’s Edge, Sid and Nancy, The Outsiders, Some Kind of Wonderful, Less Than Zero, Repo Man, Liquid Sky, Time Bandits, Red Dawn, A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon, The Lost Boys, Gleaming the Cube, Say Anything…, Drugstore Cowboy, Edward Scissorhands, The Goonies, The Breakfast Club, Desperately Seeking Susan, The Legend of Billie Jean, Valley Girl, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Polyester, anything by Monty Python (but especially Holy Grail)

  3. Probably no connection, but the broodlings in monochrome hoodies remind me of “Don’t Look Now” (1973), the psychological horror-thriller where Donald Sutherland keeps seeing glimpses of a red-hooded child that he interprets as a phantom of his drowned daughter…
    Love your blog!

  4. Just saw Kramer vs Kramer (also 1979) would probably make a good double feature with this one.
    I know the intent of Kramer is to show a father reestablishing his relationship with his son, but they could have done it without throwing the mother under the bus.
    So, is Kramer any less fair than Brood? I’ll have to re-watch Brood soon to re-evaluate.

    1. Thanks for the recs! Don’t Look Now is DEF on the docket for the near future – a classic. Snowtown is so terribly uncomfortable to watch. Maybe someday but… so many movies, so little time…. For a ‘true crime’ line-up I feel like Zodiac, Memories of Murder, The Manson Family (2003), In Cold Blood, Badlands, The Hitch-Hiker, and The Boston Strangler (’68) all would take precedence over Snowtown but… maybe I need to revisit it?