In 1979, Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg was far from a household name. To his credit, he had the relatively well known body-horror features SHIVERS and RABID as well as two earlier – and much rougher – features, STEREO and CRIMES OF THE FUTURE. But, in 1979, Cronenberg would announce himself in a big way – with the drag racing drama FAST COMPANY released in the same year – thanks to the psychological, perverse, body horror of THE BROOD.
THE BROOD is a bit of a different beast from much of Cronenberg’s following – and more well known – features. The horror is as much insular and body driven as it is outward and decidedly more sinister. And it has the added distinction of being the only Cronenberg film to explicitly involve children (sort of) in its terror. Even if those children are toothless dwarves without bellybuttons.
The horror genre has used children as a means of terror to varying degrees for decades, including well prior to THE BROOD. On some occasions, the child in question is portrayed as being somehow possessed by an entity (or Satan) or is a ghost, such as in films like ROSEMARY’S BABY (1966), THE OMEN (1976), THE EXORCIST (1973) or THE INNOCENTS (1961); but, more often than not, these children are said to be monsters or otherwise incarnations of pure fucking evil, such as THE BAD SEED (1956), THE OTHER (1972), VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1960), ALICE SWEET ALICE (1976) or IT’S ALIVE (1974). And, in the case of THE BROOD, it’s sort of all of it.
Much like SCANNERS (1981) which directly follows it, THE BROOD is as much about the mind as it is the body. The “children” in question here are a sort of psychosis manifestation, blurring the lines between reality and fiction yet at the same time reinforcing the logic (or at least assumed logic) that everything we are dealing with is some sort of evil. As much as children were commonplace in horror cinema for years prior to THE BROOD, so were themes of psychic abilities. In only a few years prior to the release of Cronenberg’s film, we saw the releases of DON’T LOOK NOW (1973) – which also features horrific dwarf shenanigans – THE FURY (1978), MESSIAH OF EVIL (1973), CARRIE (1976) and PATRICK (1978). Cronenberg’s film works as a sort of inspired amalgamation of the two genre leanings, all to some extent involving the body and time – two things that we are incapable of changing (at least permanently).
THE BROOD is seldom mentioned alongside Cronenberg’s more visceral and, subsequently, more well known works but it – like RABID and SHIVERS before it – serves as an overstuffed primer of sorts as to where his career would go. It features the psychic elements of SCANNERS and THE DEAD ZONE, the dark humor of VIDEODROME, the outright body horror of THE FLY and DEAD RINGERS and the squishy excesses of NAKED LUNCH and EXISTENZ. Like the children in its narrative, THE BROOD is aggressive and determined in a way that defies its infancy. Plus, it’s really, really gross. Happy Mother’s Day!