Horror was undergoing a serious development beginning in 1968. Into the seventies many boundaries were being crossed and new areas of fear were opened. David Cronenberg is known for his body horror. Being the squeamish sort, I don’t always seek out his films, but I’d been curious about The Brood for several years. A holiday weekend afforded the opportunity to see it and, in a strange way I’m glad I did. The story concerns a psychiatrist who helps his patients embody their neuroses physically in order to deal with them. The patients manifest in their bodies their deep-seated rage, generally from childhood parental issues. Those of us who grew up in broken families may seem to wear them on our sleeves, but I suspect most people have issues that were unresolved from that complex parent-child relationship.
The interesting thing here is that there is really no antagonist in the film. Dr. Hal Raglan isn’t evil, but he does have secrets. He tries to help his patients, but one of them, Nola Carveth, has major, well, issues. Abused by her mother, she enters Dr. Raglan’s institute while her husband cares for their five-year old daughter. Nola’s rage, however, bears a brood of small, gargoyle-like children who, when she focuses her anger on one person, attack and kill them. Her parents, their daughter’s school teacher, and even Dr. Raglan receive her rage, all murdered by these children born purely from herself. This strange kind of parthenogenesis makes for a distinct form of body horror.
It’s pretty clear that there is a critique of therapy going on here, but also a kind of therapy is being offered. I’ve had people ask me if I watch horror as therapy and I freely admit that I do. The movies I watch are often self-care, or even a spiritual practice. Many people suggest that horror portrays a negative view of life. Others of us tend to think of it as more metaphorical. And besides, the message is often an upholding of conservative social values. This particular film is difficult to interpret in that regard. It was written after Cronenberg had gone through a divorce and that makes sense of the central conflict of the movie. Parenting is as difficult as it is life-changing. While The Brood may not give solid parenting advice, it may offer a way of understanding ourselves. If a film does that, it can’t, in my opinion, be all bad.