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Friday, January 22, 2021

‘The Brood’: Screenwriter Cory Goodman Revisits the Cronenberg Remake That Never Was [Phantom Limbs]

phantom limb /ˈfan(t)əm’lim/ n. an often painful sensation of the presence of a limb that has been amputated.

Welcome to Phantom Limbs, a recurring feature which will take a look at intended yet unproduced horror sequels and remakes – extensions to genre films we love, appendages to horror franchises that we adore – that were sadly lopped off before making it beyond the planning stages. Here, we will be chatting with the creators of these unmade extremities to gain their unique insight into these follow-ups that never were, with the discussions standing as hopefully illuminating but undoubtedly painful reminders of what might have been.

With this installment, we’ll be exploring the unproduced remake of David Cronenberg’s classic horror film The Brood. Written by Cory Goodman (Priest, The Last Witch Hunter) and to have potentially been directed by Martyrs filmmaker Pascal Laugier, The Brood remake would have seen Cronenberg’s rather personal tale of a messy divorce and messier body horror updated for a new generation, and was aimed to have been released during the horror remake boom of the mid-aughts. Mr. Goodman was kind enough to chat with Bloody Disgusting about this project’s inception, what its story would have entailed, and why it ultimately went unmade.

“It’s one of my favorite memories working in this rough business,” Mr. Goodman recalls of the project. “I had recently signed with a management company, Industry Entertainment. I believe at that point, I’d written an episode for them for Masters of Horror, which they were producing. It didn’t get produced. It was deemed too expensive, unfortunately, but it was a blast to write. It was a joy to me.

“So I went into their office, just for a meeting. They had sort of surprised me. They said, ‘There’s a piece of paper on this chair … and if you flip it over, there’s a title on it of a property whose rights are available. If you’re interested, we can attach you to it and take it out around town.’ I had no idea what it was, but when I flipped it over and saw ‘The Brood’, my head actually felt like it exploded. It was such a feeling of excitement, just from seeing that title. Then, of course, I got into … ‘Wait, wait a second. It’s Cronenberg, you love this movie. Why would you remake it?’ I had to ask myself those questions.

“But the fact that it was The Brood on that page was this moment of kismet for me, which made me feel like I was with the right guys. Because even though I’d never discussed The Brood with them, this was a movie that had been deep, deep in my heart for a very long time. It was a very important movie to me. So, out of any title that could just be thrown onto that piece of paper, the fact that it was The Brood was very special to me.”

Samantha Eggar as Nola in ‘The Brood’ (1979)

Once Mr. Goodman took a look at that piece of paper and decided that he did want to work on the project, he notes that he didn’t jump into writing the screenplay straight away. “Before it was a script, it actually had to become a pitch that I had to take around town. So I turned it into what was probably about a twenty minute pitch, then I did the little show, where you go from studio to studio and place to place and you hope that someone finds it interesting and will pay you to turn this pitch into a script. And that’s exactly what happened.

“I ended up selling the pitch to a company called Spyglass [known by that point for such genre fare as The Sixth Sense, The Ruins and The Happening]. They bought the pitch, and the rights. I was starting to gear up to write it, but before I ever sat down to start, there was a hiccup. It turns out that … they hadn’t quite closed the rights properly. It was a little complicated, but I do believe it was something that involved Cronenberg’s original producer on it. Suddenly, he was saying there was something amiss with how the process went. So even though it had sold, I had to put the whole project to bed for a few months. Luckily they got it worked out, and once they did I just dived right in.”

Once the screenplay was completed and turned in, Mr. Goodman was met with a surprising response. “When I went in to meet with Spyglass after delivering the first draft, their reaction wasn’t great. They seemed to think that, rather than it being a horror movie, it should be more of a paranoid thriller, and that we’d need to scale back the horror elements. Which I found…interesting? But not necessarily correct. That was the process throughout the writing of it – this push/pull of ‘What is the story? What is the beating heart of it?’ There was a constant give and take on that front, I would say. But after being on the project for … I want to say it was maybe about a year and a half? I’m not sure how many drafts I wrote, but I want to say three.”

So what exactly was Mr. Goodman’s take on the story? Opening on Halloween Night, this version of The Brood introduces us to a happy family unit: Husband and father Tuck Fischer, his pregnant wife Nola, and their five-year-old daughter Ruby. In a shocking sequence, the trio are involved in a horrific automobile accident, caused in part by a Tuck’s distracted driving.

Cut to two years later. We find Tuck and Ruby moving into White Pines, a gated suburban housing development (“It’s better here!”). As the father/daughter duo are getting settled in, they’re met by Barton, Tuck’s father-in-law. In short order, we learn that Nola is still alive, and is currently housed in a wellness colony run by Doctor Raglan, a magnetic older man acting as Nola’s therapist. We learn soon enough that Tuck and Nola had divorced some time after their accident, which caused Nola to miscarry, and now the two are engaged in a bitter custody battle over Ruby.

In a chilling early setpiece, Barton acts as a babysitter, playing hide-and-seek with Ruby. While searching his son-in-law’s house for his granddaughter, Barton is attacked by a small, shadowy figure who viciously beats Barton to death with the very snowglobe he’d recently gifted Ruby. While his death is initially staged as an accident, the investigation – led by one Detective Rinzler – eventually views the older man’s death as a homicide, with Rinzler believing that Ruby likely witnessed the killing.

At Barton’s funeral, Tuck and Nola reconnect briefly, each trying to be cordial before the conversation becomes contentious – with Nola both expressing her intent to keep partial custody of Ruby, and taking a jealous swipe at Tuck for chatting up Kathy, an attractive fellow divorcee living in White Pines. Before things reach a fever pitch, Raglan appears and intervenes, removing Nola – but not before she takes a well-aimed swipe at Tuck: “After the accident, you said you’d make everything alright. You lied.” Tuck withers under this obvious truth.

Oliver Reed as Dr. Hal Raglan in ‘The Brood’ (1979)

Growing more and more concerned with Raglan’s obvious hold over Nola, Tuck enlists his lawyer Pennington to dig further into the doctor’s background to find anything he might use to prove Raglan a fraud and regain full custody of Ruby. In doing so, they are led to Jeremy Vale, a wealthy eccentric and former Raglan patient who agrees to meet with Tuck to judge whether or not he may want to testify against his former therapist. Vale invites Tuck to his massive manor, where he communicates via a television set which only reveals his face, noticeably framing out the rest of his body. While this initial meeting doesn’t bear fruit for Tuck, Vale does eventually send him a DVD with a note reading “Imagine what your rage would look like.” The DVD holds footage revealing a younger Raglan employing his techniques on an eleven-year-old boy named Ivan, who manifests the anger he feels toward his abusive father in the form of thousands of tiny black insects which pour from black cysts growing on his neck.

Once Raglan’s prized patient, the now-adult Ivan harbors an intense jealousy toward Nola in the colony, which is revealed to be populated by several patients clad in surgical robes. Nola confesses her fears to Raglan – not only about Ivan’s jealousy, but her own daughter’s fear of her, and how the other patients view her in light of her “power”. “Even amongst the freaks,” she says, “I’m a freak.” After an intense confrontation that finds Ivan threatening Nola, the former finds himself chased down and killed by an unseen figure, whose “HORRIBLE MOUTH [clamps] down on his skull!”

Meanwhile, Tuck discovers that Ruby has been playing with a phantom friend outside of their home late at night. Feeling that Vale must have more answers to his current situation beyond the DVD he’d sent, he bursts into Vale’s mansion and demands to speak with him face to face, only to discover the horrible truth: Raglan teaches his patients to transform their rage into physical form, to unleash it on the world. Much like Ivan’s insects, Vale’s own shape of rage takes on a grotesque form: a huge mass protruding from Vale’s back, holding within it another being whose face can be seen just beneath Vale’s striated flesh, whose one dead, black eye stares out at the horrified Tuck.

Later on, Tuck manages to catch a glimpse of Ruby’s nighttime visitor, chasing after it while believing it’s his daughter. The small, childlike figure runs out in front of a car, getting struck and killed before Tuck’s horrified eyes. During its autopsy, it’s revealed that the figure was not a child at all, but in fact a creature of some sort: “…something less than human, almost alien: Flesh PALLID and SOFT, fingers topped with NAIL-LIKE TALONS, hair like STRAW.” The creature bears no fingerprints, has no bellybutton, and seems to have been powered by a nutrient-filled fleshy sac on its back. “Basically it’s a gas tank,” the coroner reveals. “Once the material’s completely assimilated, the creature starves to death. Runs out of gas.”

At Tuck’s house, a babysitting Kathy receives a threatening phone call from Nola, before another childlike creature appears, chasing Kathy about in a tense cat-and-mouse sequence before a second creature appears, stabbing her in the chest with a pair of scissors before the two Brood children finish her off together in gruesome fashion. In an unbearably intense moment just after, the two Brood stalk after Ruby in her bedroom, slowly letting themselves into the tiny tent she hid herself away in.

Art Hindle as Frank in ‘The Brood’ (1979)

In the final act, Tuck races to the Colony to rescue his daughter, only for his car to be run off the road and forced to crash. An injured Tuck is then pursued by numerous Brood before he makes it into the Colony. There, he meets Raglan, who reveals that he’s been tending to the Brood children and keeping them in line with a cattle claw and sedatives. Tuck soon learns that things have turned deadly at the Colony, with the Brood having massacred all of the other patients. More surprising still, Raglan reveals that the Brood are born of Nola’s rage and are psychically linked to her, manifested through her flesh much as the insects were from Ivan, and the being was from inside Vale’s mass. The two strike a deal – Raglan will step into the Brood’s barracks and retrieve the kidnapped Nola, while Tuck will approach Nola in her cabin to keep her calm and prevent any emotional outbursts that could result in the Brood running wild. Before they part, Raglan reminds Tuck of his responsibility in the situation: “And remember, Tuck…you’re the one who made her this way.”

In her cabin, Tuck approaches Nola, and apologizes for his fault and failings in their marriage, especially in the aftermath of the car crash and the resulting miscarriage. “I was never really there for you … I let our family crumble just when it needed me most.” Just as the two appear to reconnect, Nola gives birth to another Brood child before Tuck, repulsing him. Nola sees this and turns furious, realizing that her ex-husband had only come there to retrieve Ruby.

Her anger coincides with Raglan’s attempted rescue mission, foiling it and seeing the Brood swarm over him, killing the doctor mercilessly. Tuck races from the cabin and finds the escaped Ruby. Together, the father and daughter fight away the Brood as best they can, but it’s a hopeless battle. Just as they are about to be overtaken, Tuck sees – Nola, in the distance, having left her cabin with the Brood fetus cradled in her arms. She makes her way to the Colony’s frozen lake, striding out onto the thin ice. “Forgive me.” She sacrifices herself, plunging through the ice and into the freezing water, her death severing the psychic connection to the Brood and killing all of them at once.

Six months later, Tuck and Ruby are at a birthday party for Pennington’s young daughter. Ruby appears to be a happy child untouched by the trauma and madness she endured, playing in a swimming pool and laughing with other children. However, Pennington can’t help but notice a troubling sight: a red welt, raised just below Ruby’s shoulder blade…

The screenplay, to this reader’s eyes, is both a solid reinvention of and an earnest love letter to David Cronenberg’s original chiller. Given Mr. Cronenberg’s notoriously prickly attitude toward his films being remade, one wonders if he was aware of this project, and what he might have made of it. “I have no idea if he was aware of the project,” Mr. Goodman notes. “My guess is probably not. If he was, I imagine he probably wouldn’t be too happy about it.”

Considering Mr. Goodman’s appreciation of Mr. Cronenberg’s work and the original film, one wonders if his writing process might have been affected in any way by the knowledge that the legendary filmmaker might have been displeased with this project. “In terms of my process, I wanted to do something that honored the original, but at the same time – if we had a larger budget, in terms of actualizing the Brood, what could we do that he couldn’t back then? I know when he made The Brood, that there were a lot of limitations. In terms of the writing, he had to execute it really fast. In terms of the shooting, it had to be really fast. I know the budget wasn’t where he wanted it to be, as I recall. So it was like, ‘Well, imagine then. You have more time to execute the movie. You have a larger budget. What are all of those things that you can bring that Cronenberg couldn’t back then?” and try to turn that to your advantage. What are some ways of visualizing the Brood, and using them in setpieces and scenes that couldn’t have been done back in the 70s. But at the same time, I always wanted to hang onto the earthiness and naturalness … of the aesthetic that Cronenberg had. That was something that I wanted to preserve, and was hoping could be replicated in this film. That’s something that I feel a lot of modern horror doesn’t have. There’s a sort of syntheticness to a lot of the aesthetic of these films. And [the more natural aesthetic] works well with what The Brood is. It’s about giving birth, in a way, and the primality of that, so those natural elements that were sort of feathered throughout the script were a part of trying to bring all of that to life.”

‘The Brood’ (1979)

In addition to being an impressive updating of the original film, this reader appreciated that Mr. Goodman was able to weave in the occasional nod to Cronenberg throughout: Vale communicating solely via television recalls Videodrome’s Brian O’Blivion, while neither Vale’s unveiling nor the nature of Ivan’s affliction would be out of place in a Fly sequel. “It was a chance for me to go a little nuts with my Cronenberg love. Of a lot of the things that I’ve written, that one more than most was just a great joy. It was such a wonderful sandbox to play in. And again, to try to live up to Cronenberg. That original film marked me. I saw it at the age of eleven! I still remember that first-time viewing, but luckily enough I was able to record it and watch it over and over and over again. I just found the whole film incredibly remarkable. But then we come back to – ‘So then, why remake it? Why are you doing this?’ The thinking was, ‘Well, the original will always be there for people. But hopefully, this will get The Brood up there to a level where more people are aware of this incredible creation that Cronenberg made in the first place.’

“But at the same time, it felt like the story that he told back then in the ‘70s had even more relevance in some ways when I was writing it. One element that was really interesting to me is what I call ‘The Cult of the Child’. Growing up as a kid in the ‘70s, your parents just kind of lived their own lives, and you were a little bit of an afterthought in some ways. You were just kind of left to your own devices. But nowadays, the kid is just the center of everything. I’m part of it, too. I have two kids, and they’re my entire world. We wrap our kids in cotton and make them our sole focus. That was one element that I found really interesting, that I thought could be brought to life a little more in the remake. That was the idea behind putting a little bit of it in that pre-planned neighborhood that Tuck and Ruby move into, that was a little bit like a prison. This sort of perfect neighborhood that the Brood can come in and tear apart.”

Nola is given more of a substantial role here in this screenplay, and is softened a bit from the character we know in the original film, while the fault of the situation is placed a bit more firmly on her husband. What was Mr. Goodman’s reasoning behind giving the character a little more weight, and spreading out the blame a bit when it came to their split and the ensuing drama? “I didn’t want to paint her one hundred percent as the villain. I wanted to kind of understand where she was coming from, and try to give her more dimension. Particularly in how the ending plays out, and give her more agency.

“As you probably know, when Cronenberg wrote The Brood … he was basing it off of his own divorce. It was his version of Kramer vs. Kramer, is a common note that’s been made often. I imagine there was a lot of anger put towards it in terms of the Nola character, based on his experience. But I feel in terms of divorce, quite often it really is two people in a relationship where things can go wrong. I didn’t feel comfortable in terms of pinning everything on just one character. I felt that Tuck needed to sort of own up and grow and change over the course of the story, and understand that he had a part to play in this as well.”

Considering its solid screenplay, recognizable title, and connection to a beloved filmmaker, one imagines this project should have attracted a great deal of attention and talent. Indeed, as Mr. Goodman notes: “One time, there was a director attached – Pascal Laugier, coming off of Martyrs. I was told he was attached, but I never actually had a conversation with him, so I don’t know how real that attachment was. I was a huge fan of Martyrs, and he seemed like a perfect fit to do something interesting. And again, weird.”

Aside from Laugier’s potential involvement, were there any actors who were looked at for this film? “For Tuck, the names were – and these are great names, actually: Casey Affleck, Eric Bana, Josh Brolin, John Cusack, and Mark Ruffalo. I don’t know that the script ever actually made it to any of those guys, but those were the names that were being bandied about [by Mr. Goldman’s agency at the time, William Morris Endeavor]. In particular Eric Bana, who I think would’ve been incredible. For Raglan, the only name I can remember right now was Brian Cox. For Nola, the one name that stuck with me at the time was Kate Beckinsale.

Eric Bana

With a strong script, an acclaimed director, and the potential to draw an impressive cast, one wonders why this film never came to pass. “At the end, I think Spyglass decided that it wasn’t for them. Which at that point was not really a surprise, because you could see that they were not really that comfortable with it. Particularly, the guy who was in charge over there never really seemed to get the ‘Brood’. Which, based on my experience with this script, and going around town with it, that was a common sort of refrain. The word ‘weird’ came up all the time. Like, ‘It’s a little too weird’ is what we got. It didn’t really fit into a neat box. I think people were like, ‘Oh, it’s Cronenberg! It’s a remake!’ At the time, horror remakes were having a bit of a renaissance, with movies like The Fog and Texas Chainsaw. But The Brood isn’t like that. It’s a strange bird. Eventually, that fell apart. After Spyglass passed, we did then try to set it up at a couple of other places. Universal started expressing some interest, but that fell apart as well. And, as most projects do, it just eventually died and you move onto other things.

“As a writer, when you start any project, I think you really have to go in with the mentality that it’s not really going to be made. The chances are so slim. Every project you work on…it’s amazing that anything gets made to me, after having worked in this industry for awhile now. It’s so hard to move something through development, to get it up to production, all the stars lining up just right for something to happen. I never necessarily expected it to get made, but I always hoped, you know? Particularly with The Brood, I was hopeful.”

It’s now been over a decade since this screenplay was written. Is there any chance that we could yet see this iteration make it to screen? “This iteration, probably not. The script’s a little bit older at this point. When a project loses momentum, it’s very hard to get it back. This script in particular – they paid me, there were producers attached. So if someone wanted to take this script, the way it works in the business, those payments need to be made back to the original production company, which would be Spyglass in this case. So there’s a lot of what we call ‘weight’ behind it. However, I’m still hopeful that someone else will tackle The Brood. I honestly believe that the Brood themselves should be up there with Jason, and Freddy, and Frankenstein, and Dracula. They’re so visceral. The idea that your anger and rage could be manifested in these crazed toddlers is an incredible idea, and an incredible visual idea. I truly believe it would make a phenomenal updated horror film. Rage is something that’s ever-present. It feels like now even more than ever, of course. It’s funny, when I was watching the storming of the Capitol a couple of weeks ago, I was thinking about The Brood. To me, just looking at it, this seething tide of people who were programmed into anger by this external force. Trump was like Raglan almost, and here was the Brood attacking. I just felt it a little bit, y’know?

“I would love to see The Brood done with a female director today, which feels like there’s a lot more opportunity for that than there was when I was writing it. That would be really intriguing to me. Again, it’s just about getting The Brood out there so people can see these amazingly horrible, fascinating creatures that Cronenberg created and brought to life on the big screen.”

In closing out our talk, Mr. Goodman offers his final thoughts on his time with The Brood: “It was a joy to play with these characters and that world for a little bit. I’m just hopeful that someone will do a remake on some level to get the Brood out there. I’m just so thankful that I got this chance to tackle it at one point in my life. It was a very exciting time.”

Very special thanks to Cory Goodman for his time and insights.


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