Killer mutant kindergartners are not exactly considered a staple of great cinema.
Yet with his 1979 horror film "The Brood," David Cronenberg manages to craft a serious, thought-provoking film around just such a plot devise.
Cronenberg has made a career out of exploring social problems through horrifying and often grotesque imagery. "The Brood" is one of the best early examples of this as the real life horrors of family life and the cyclical nature of child abuse are explored through a tale of biological mutation and murder.
Much of the film's plot revolves around the purely fictional science of "pscyhoplasmics," in which mental patients are taught to deal with their inner, emotional pain by manifesting it in the form of boils, rashes and other, grimmer physical distortions.
In the film's opening sequence, Dr. Raglan (Oliver Reed) treats a troubled patient by engaging in psychotherapeutic role-playing with him.
Taking on the role of the patient's domineering father, Raglan encourages him to express his conflicting emotions. The patient (Gary McKeehan) does just this, by spontaneously breaking out into blistering sores.
Samantha Eggar plays Nola, Dr. Raglan's star psychoplasmics patient. Kept in a state of isolation as she is treated for unspecified mental problems, Nola is permitted visits from her young daughter Candice (Cindy Hinds) on the weekends.
After Candice's father (Art Hindle) discovers what appear to be scratches and bite marks on his daughter's back, he vows to disallow any further contact between the mother and child.
This is the point at which the mutant kindergartners make their appearance, brutally attacking Candice's grandmother and eventually her grandfather.
These chilling scenes of violence are effectively woven with Dr. Ragland's therapy sessions. Taking on the role of Nola's mother, father and daughter, he prompts her to talk about her abusive childhood and urges her to express her rage.
The contrast between these scenes provides a prime example of the duality of horror in the film. The viewer is forced to experience the utterly fantastic frights of murderous mutants stalking the elderly as well as the dreadfully realistic horrors depicted in Nola's account of her abusive childhood.
As the relationship between the mutant children and Nola's psychoplasmic therapy becomes clearer, the danger intensifies, the gore level raises and Cronenberg's bizarre metaphor for the legacy of abuse in the modern family becomes especially potent.
Both Eggar and Reed bring a great deal of emotional intensity to their roles. As the disturbed Nola, Eggar vividly portrays both the heartbreaking weakness of the abused and cold vehemence of the abuser.
Reed's performance is especially noteworthy in that the role-playing scenes allow him to assume not only the role of the determined psychiatrist but also that of an abusive mother, an abused child and a father unwilling to acknowledge the domestic violence around him.
It is not every horror movie that serves up significant food for thought alongside its standard thrills and chills. Intelligent and imaginative, thought provoking and grotesque, "The Brood" manages to provide both dishes with gusto.
Brood mixes chills and thrills
Published: Thu Nov 13, 2003 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 05:36 p.m.