Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #467
Also known as Chromosoma 3
Number of Views: One
Release Date: 13 March 1980 (UK)
Sub-Genre: Body Horror
Country of Origin: Canada
Budget: CAD 1,400,000
Running Time: 92 minutes
Director: David Cronenberg
Producer: Claude Héroux
Screenplay: David Cronenberg
Special Effects: Allan Cotter
Cinematography: Mark Irwin
Score: Howard Shore
Editing: Alan Collins
Studios: Canadian Film Development Corporation (CFDC), Elgin International Films Ltd., Mutual Productions Ltd.
Distributors: New World Pictures, Embassy Home Entertainment, MGM Home Entertainment
Stars: Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, Art Hindle, Nuala Fitzgerald, Henry Beckman, Susan Hogan, Cindy Hinds, Gary McKeehan, Michael Magee, Robert A. Silverman, Joseph Shaw, Larry Solway, Reiner Schwarz
Suggested Audio Candy
Howard Shore “Soundtrack Suite”
To my knowledge, David Cronenberg has simply never made a bad movie. Since his full-length debut Stereo in 1969, the King of Venereal Horror’s many works have hit the target with a degree of consistently that few filmmakers could ever dream to achieve. There are numerous reasons for this in my opinion. Reinvention is key and he continues to challenge himself over forty years on with projects which take him in fresh directions. With nearly forty motion pictures now under his belt and no sign of him developing dementia any time soon, he’ just as relevant now as he has ever been.
If you look at other greats like Argento and Carpenter, it is plain to see that something has been lacking from a certain point in their careers. For Dario, the death of his father and end to a number of key collaborations signaled his downturn in creativity while John became disillusioned by studio meddling and grew tired of being muzzled as each picture became increasingly more soulless. The Canadian, on the other hand, has weathered every storm and remains every bit the force in cinema that he once was, arguably more so.
During the seventies, he had a fixation with body horror, before honing in more on technological terror for the eighties. Three films during this period tackled a similar theme and appeared at two-year intervals. Shivers in 1975, was followed up by Rabid in 1977, and The Brood tail-ended the trinity in 1979. Even here, within this isolated trio, his escalating rate of maturity is staggering. While Shivers represents Cronenberg at his most unhinged and playful, Rabid reins in the madness, albeit only slightly, and The Brood features by far the most measured narrative structure. That isn’t to say that it isn’t demented, oh contraire, this is very much of the same barking heritage as its forerunners. However, here he places far more emphasis on plot and this proves both a blessing and a curse to anyone viewing it four decades on.
On one hand, this is a great deal more accessible than either of his previous body horror efforts, as there’s a far greater sense of cohesion and purpose to proceedings. On the other, it is less primed for revisitation as we forced to undertake a lengthy slog before getting to the meat and potatoes, if we’re that way inclined. You could never accuse The Brood of being dull as it guides you at its own pace with sound reasoning and punctuates the quietude with a number of violent interactions. But it certainly isn’t for everyone. He penned the screenplay after undertaking an exhausting divorce and bitter child-custody battle with his then wife. Indeed, Samantha Eggar’s character, Nola Carveth, was written to include many of her characteristics, making this undoubtedly one of his most personal works.
It centers round Frank Carveth (Art Hindle), a man whose wife is receiving treatment from an unconventional psychotherapist in private clinic, Somafree, leaving him to raise their adorable daughter Candice (Cindy Hinds) by himself while she undergoes an innovative new course of treatment, courtesy of Dr. Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed). His methods are decidedly theatrical but also proving rather effective as he attempts to breach his patients’ psychological fortresses in a manner which is anything but bog standard. When Candice returns from visit to her mother sporting all manner of bruising and welts, he instantly intervenes although Raglan provides significant resistance as he believes it will compromise what he is setting out to achieve.
Meanwhile, a number of brutal attacks are playing out, with both Nola’s parents being the primary targets of a group of deformed dwarf-children with no intention of adhering to their bedtime curfews. The further Frank digs, the more it appears as though the murders are in some way connected to Raglan’s largely untested psychoplasmics. Things grow even more disheartening after a police autopsy of one of the mutants which reveals it to be asexual, toothless, color-blind, and lacking any discernible navel, suggesting that natural birth was never actually part of the deal. To rub salt in Frank’s slug, Candice is absconded during the very public snuffing out of her school teacher before a classroom of horrified ankle biters. You just had to snoop, didn’t you Frank?
There is a link between the victims of these unsolicited attacks and Nola’s troubled childhood and targets are those who she may perceive as having wronged her and we get the impression that, aside from attempting to be the model father, Frank’s hands may well be dirty too. There’s a bitter undercurrent that suggests things were toxic before she entered Raglan’s care and, while his part played in this turn of events remains anonymous, it’s clear that he isn’t perfect and likely escalated her psychological downfall. Hindle is on-point as he blunders from one precarious situation to the next, Eggar bewitches in every scene she is in, and Reed is exquisitely cast as her stubborn gatekeeper. Casting the correct leads has never been an issue for Cronenberg and here his decisions are more than justified.
Cronenberg plays a patient game until the closing act and here he lets his tiny tykes well and truly off the leash. “Queen bee” Nola reveals her outer womb making reconciliation an unlikely proposition for the estranged couple, sweet little Candice is dogged by pint-sized hell fiends, and suddenly the bat-shit crazy conclusion to Shivers isn’t a million miles away. However, The Brood is a far more thoughtful film, and that could be both a good or bad thing dependent on your vantage. Complemented capably by Howard Shore’s suspenseful score, it marks Cronenberg’s graduation from simple body horror to something far more evolved and acts a logical stepping stone to the next wing of his arsenal, Scanners, Videodrome, The Dead Zone, and The Fly. While, far from his finest work, it’s still a lot better than most lesser minds could conjure up on a creative flush day.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Compared to the likes of both Shivers and Rabid, debauchery is far less frequent here but a staple of Cronenberg’s work has been his ability to shock us when we’re least expecting and the mutated midgets sure know how to do that. As for sexual content, Eggar looks decidedly less attractive when grasping her ovary, but I would still hit it with the lights out. Come to think of it, maybe a low-wattage bedside lamp wouldn’t be out of the question.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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