Tag Archives: David Cronenberg

The Brood (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Wife creates dwarf murderers.

After suffering a mental breakdown Nola (Samantha Eggar) is sent away to a secluded clinic run by Dr. Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed) who uses unorthodox methods to heal his patients. Once she gets sent there strange murderers resembling dwarfs begin to terrorize her family members including her daughter Candice (Cindy Hinds) who they kidnap. Her husband Frank (Art Hindle) is convinced there’s some connection between these strange killers and the institute so he goes there to confront the Dr., but is ill prepared to the secret that awaits him.

Through the years this film has become a staple to director David Cronenberg’s work and is well filmed with shadowy lighting and fluid camerawork that help create an ongoing creepy feel as well as Howard Shore’s pounding score. The film’s ultimate moment though remains Eggar’s bizarre ‘birthing’ scene where she takes a blood drenched embryo and licks it, which apparently was something she improvised on-the-spot. It remains perversely disturbing even by today’s standards, but was cut from the release at the time and only now is intact with the Criterion Blu-ray in all its glory or gruesomeness depending on your point-of-view.

The story though isn’t as clever as the filmmakers think as I was able to figure it out almost immediately and having to watch a protagonist take 90-minutes to come to the same conclusion that took me only 10-minutes makes for a rather annoying and dull plotline. There’s also no explanation for why Nola is able to have the ability that she does. If it’s connect it to the experimental therapy she’s going through then fine, but others in that group should , or at least some of them, be able to do the same thing, but they’re not, so why is that?

There’s also a murder scene that comes in the middle of the movie that to me didn’t seem logical. It entails the dwarf murderers coming into the kindergarten class that Candice is attending and using toy hammers that they pick-up from a nearby table to bludgeon her teacher to death. Normally toy hammers are lightweight,  so no matter how hard or how long a person may swing it at their victim it’s highly unlikely that it would be able to crush their skull. I also thought all of the children who witnessed the crime would’ve run out of the room screaming instead of just one and having them then stand around the body quietly whimpering afterwards sounded forced and fake.

Reed’s dark and commanding presence always helps every movie that he is in although it’s a bit weird that he becomes the ultimate hero especially after the opening scene in which he is emotionally abusive. Eggar, whose eyes look strangely wider and more rounder here, has her acting meddle put to the test by portraying a person that I didn’t think she had the ability to do, but she proves quite qualified.

The young Hinds is surprisingly effective despite her extremely young age, but Hindle is transparent as the protagonist. I realize that he acts as a sort of buffer to the craziness, but he lacks an edge and unable to match the energy of his flamboyant co-stars.

Horror fans should find this thing adequate, but for me the story is too basic and predictable they’re needed to be some sort of secondary angle or side-story. Supposedly Cronenberg was inspired to write this after dealing with the custody battle he had with his own ex-wife, Margaret Hindson, who had worked with him on many of his earlier projects. According to him Eggar’s character reflected many of her same traits.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 25, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Cronenberg

Studio: Canadian Film Development Corporation

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection), Amazon Video

Rabid (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Graft patient craves blood.

Rose (Marilyn Chambers) becomes the victim of a horrible accident when the motorcycle she goes riding on with her boyfriend (Frank Moore) crashes and she gets pinned underneath the burning wreckage. Fortunately for her the accident occurs near a clinic that specializes in plastic surgery. The head surgeon (Howard Ryshpan) is able to perform an experimental procedure on her that helps graft her burned skin back to normal, but in the process creates a strange orifice in her armpit that sucks blood from everyone she attacks. Her victims then become possessed by a rare form of rabies that sends the city of Montreal into a panic as the authorities try to control the outbreak while also trying to figure out the cause.

This marked director David Cronenberg’s third feature film and from a low budget standpoint the results are impressive. I was especially amazed by some of the car stunts including having an out-of-control vehicle jump a guard rail and crash onto a highway below where a large semi then rams into it. His ability to somehow hire an entire fleet of squad cars is admirable too as most budget-challenged films will make do with just one police car when having authorities investigate the scene of a crime/accident even though in reality there are usually many especially if the crime or accident is severe like here.

I also loved the way he captures the gray/bleak Canadian landscape, which helps supplement the film’s dark and moody tone as well as the bits of dark humor that gets implemented into the story that made me wish the whole thing had been approached as a black comedy from the start.

The horror though isn’t all that much and genuine scares are light including the scenes showing rabid people attacking others, which becomes both clichéd and redundant. The orifice itself looks like an asshole and similar to the giant one that Cronenberg created many years later for his equally provocative film Naked Lunch.

Unfortunately porn star Chambers doesn’t have the presence or talent for mainstream film work. She broke into the business years earlier with a bit part in the Barbra Streisand movie The Owl and the Pussycat, but to her surprise other film offers didn’t follow, which eventually forced her into the X-rated business, which included starring in the cult classic Behind the Green Door, but she always held out hope to one day breaking back into mainstream movies and finally got it here, but it never propelled her further.

Part of the issue is her voice which is abnormally high-pitched and at times sounds like that of a very young child’s. In certain scenes it’s worse than others, but I found listening to her speak to be disconcerting and distracting although she does still look great naked.

The somber, downbeat ending is unusual for a horror film and it might’ve had more impact had the main character been given more depth. The viewer though learns little about her and she fails to have a distinctive personality, which limits the film’s ability to be anything more than just a curio.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 8, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Cronenberg

Studio: Cinepix Film Properties

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Scanners (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: His head will explode.

Scanners are people with strange psychic powers that can not only read other people’s minds, but also kill them and even move objects with their brainwaves. A corrupt group of scanners lead by Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside) threatens world domination. Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan) who works for a company that is trying to stop these dangerous people finds a scanner named Cameron (Stephan Lack) that Darryl’s groups is seeking, but has not yet located. Ruth trains Cameron on how to hone in his scanning powers and then track down Darryl’s group and destroy it.

Director David Cronenberg is still in my estimation one of the premiere cult/horror directors around. It is one thing to make a great horror movie when you have a big budget and state of the art special effects, but it is another to make an effective movie when you have little to work with and yet Cronenberg has continually shown that a creative imagination can triumph over all else. He has also shown a refreshingly daring vision throughout his career and seems to have no hesitation in tackling taboo subjects.

This film proves no exception. The story is quite creative and there are continually new and surprising twists thrown in. The special effects are excellent and imaginative. I loved the protruding, blood spurting veins coming out of the arms and heads of Cameron and Darryl during their intense scanner showdown at the end. The melting telephone receiver isn’t bad and off course the exploding head is memorable and deserves its place in the annals of gross cinema history.

With that said I still felt the film could have done a better job at setting up the story. It starts right away with a lot of action before anything is explained and makes things confusing. Some sort of prolog in this case would have been appropriate. Everything also seems rushed. This is a great plot with interesting scenarios and I as a viewer wanted a little more time to soak it all in, but wasn’t given any. The sets and backdrops are redundantly dark and grimy and lack visual design. Overall the film has a seriously dated look and although there are way too many films being remade these days and some that are not necessary this is one movie were I would advocate it especially if done with a high budget and a competent director.

Stephan Lack makes for incredibly weak leading man. He is better known in the art world as a renowned painter and his film career was quite brief. After watching his performance here it is not hard to see why. He has very much of a ‘deer-in-headlights’ look and a voice tone that shown no infliction, or emotion. His lack of charisma or stature seriously weakens the film’s overall effect and why he was chosen for the part is a mystery.

Jennifer O’Neill is gorgeous as Kim a female scanner who works with Cameron in his quest to find Darryl. The woman, who was a former model, has a face that is so beautiful it is mesmerizing no matter what angle she is shown at or emotion that she is conveying. My only complaint is the small streak of gray that was put into her hair, which I found unnecessary especially since she was portraying someone who was Cameron’s same age, which was the early 30’s.

On the villainous side Ironside certainly has the chiseled threatening features of a bad guy. However, I actually thought that Canadian character actor Lawrence Dane who plays one of Darryl’s spies was actually more effective.

The artwork done by the Benjamin Pierce character (Robert A. Silverman) visualizing giant heads and the thoughts inside people’s heads was really cool and avant-garde.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Cronenberg

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD