For the last four years, Alamo Drafthouse programmer Zack Carlson has hosted a late-night horror movie celebration called Terror Tuesday and if you are a lover of horror, both esoterically brilliantly and obscurely awful, this night was invented just for you. The Terror Tuesday Report will dissect the movie shown as well as provide a barometer for the audience's reaction; as many of these films demand to be seen with an audience, this proves a vital component to the evening.
This week's film: The Brood, directed by David Cronenberg, 1979
Frank is a normal guy with a beautiful daughter and a wife who...is completely bugnuts. She is checked into a mysterious psychiatric facility run by a controversial psychologist named Dr. Raglan. Once in Dr. Raglan's care, Nola is essentially quarantined in the facility and not even her husband nor her father are allowed to speak with her. She is still permitted visits from her daughter but each time little Candice comes back home, she is covered with strange bumps, scratches, and bruises. Fearing for his daughter's safety, Frank delves deep into Dr. Raglan's incredibly bizarre treatments and tries to ban his wife from seeing Candice. Simultaneously, a deformed child begins killing every remaining member of his wife's family and Frank must do everything in his power to see that his daughter is spared from the same psychological breakdown that grips her mother.
I love The Brood; one of the few Terror Tuesdays where I had previously seen the showcased film. I'll admit that David Cronenberg represents a canyon-like void in my horror knowledge, but over the last few months I have slowly but surely been rectifying that problem. The Brood is one of the very first Cronenberg horror films to which I ever treated my senses, but most recently I became the last pony to cross the finish line by seeing his epically brilliant The Fly. If someone were to see The Fly and, for whatever reason, not understand the concept of "body horror" that defines a majority of Cronenberg's career, a double feature with The Brood should solidify the concept.
The Brood is disturbing, but not in the way most films earn that dubious distinction. Sure, there are a few brief moments of slimy, goopy nastiness but those are reserved for the finale. There always seems to be a simple concept at the heart of a Cronenberg film that he explores with masterful depth and in The Brood, that concept is the dangerous manifestations of rage. The disturbing part of the film is the questions it raises about the physical alterations that can be caused by unchecked rage. The fact that the brood exist is just as frightening as seeing the graphic depictions of their creation. The vessel of rage in this film is a woman but before you paint Cronenberg as a chauvinist, bear in mind that Seth Brundle's transformation was far more torturous. Turns out David is very equal opportunity when it comes to doleing out the trauma.
The film experiences a thematic evolution that is altogether fascinating. It starts as a drama about a broken family before moving to a bizarre murder mystery, and finally culminating in a visceral horror film. Each transition in tone bears with it an exponential increase in tension. I love the journey on which Cronenberg sends his protagonist to decipher the clues that only brings him closer to the most horrific of conclusions. It reminded me of a couple of Clive Barker stories I read and I appreciated the methodical pacing and restraint of plot. Don't get me wrong, for the hard-core splatter fans the payoff is monumental and deliciously weird.
You have to love the design of the children composing the brood itself. They look like regular children until you get a close look at their wolverine-like faces. This is the film that champions regimented contraception. These kids are evil and a half! Even if you have a real fondness for children or babies, The Brood will have you pistol-whipping toddlers by day's end. The thing I liked most about the brood, apart from their scary nimbleness and proficiency with blunt objects, were the guttural, demonic shrieks they emitted as an expression of their master's rage. The scene with the toy hammers in the classroom will forever live in my memory as one of the most brutal, realistic, and unsettling murders in horrordom.
It pains me to say that The Brood may be the wrong type of film for Terror Tuesday. The silence in the room was deafening. I don't mean that as a knock against the movie, quite the contrary actually, but then the deliberate pacing and heavy subtext prompted a cacophony of whispers, inappropriate giggling, and even a few cell phones reared their distracting heads. This is something that the Alamo staff immediately takes care of, but it's rare that there be a problem in the first place. A majority of the regulars for Terror Tuesday are honest-to-God fans that not only "get" weightier films like this but revel in the chance to see them and pay them due respect. But the audience is not entirely comprised of these fans and, as much as I hate to sound elitist, unless we could ensure that it is, films like The Brood will not get the appropriate reception.