Chilling Classics Cthursday: THE BLOODY BROOD (1959)

Chilling Classics Cthursday: THE BLOODY BROOD (1959)

Because I am a simple creature, when I saw that today's Chilling Classic was called "The Bloody Brood" I thought "Oh, well, Bloody Birthday was about killer children and The Brood was sort of about killer children. So it only makes sense that The Bloody Brood is also about killer children, hooray!"

If you're thinking "That's not how things work, dumbass," well, congratulations to you for being so smart and worldly wise because no, The Bloody Brood isn't about killer children. It's about killer adults! One of whom is a young Peter Falk, which is really as good as like four killer children combined, so.

Yes, straight outta Toronto, Canada comes a cautionary tale of gangsters, beatniks, and other assorted ne'er-do-wells ne'er doing well. Falk, in only his second film role, stars as Nico, a small-time wannabe mobster and current psychopath, whose charisma has the whole bongo madness crowd hanging on his every word.

When a nameless local geezer keels over of a heart attack in the bar one night, Nico has an epiphany. "Did her die," he asks, "Or was he murdered by life?" He then suggests to his sidekick Francis (Ron Hartmann) that they go out and kill someone. It's a natural progression! You see, dying from a heart attack is pointless and random. But dying from murder, now that's really something, a real intellectual kick. And Nico makes it a point that he doesn't just talk his kicks, he does 'em, see? 

Side note: please don't so a shot every time someone says "kick." You will die within five minutes.

Other side note: shout-out to the nameless old geezer, who is a total drama queen when dying of a heart attack. For a moment I had visions of sugarplums Paul Reubens in Buffy the Vampire Slayer dancing in my head as he made the most of it.

When a messenger boy shows up at their beatnik house party, Nico and Francis see a perfect opportunity to get their murder on and they feed the young man a hamburger filled with ground glass. That is hardcore! Nico and Francis are now bound by their secret crime, like Leopold and Loeb but no homo. No homo, honest! Okay, Francis at least seemed quite a bit yes homo for Nico to me, but don't take my word on it. There's probably someone out there whose word you can take on it, though.

The young man's brother Cliff (prolific character actor and spaghetti western vet Jack Betts, in his film debut) is convinced the glassburger was no accident. The police aren't much help, so Jack takes matters into his own hands and investigates, eventually diving into the seedy beatnik underbelly to find out what happened. But Cliff's a real square, see, and he may end up getting a glassburger of his own--or worse.

Incidentally, A Glassburger of One's Own is my favorite work by Virginia Woolf.

With its scant 68-minute runtime, its no-nonsense flatfoots, and its squares-vs-deviants story, The Bloody Brood feels like an extended episode of Dragnet. Now maybe you're a deviant, a hippie, or a weirdo out there doing heaven knows what to get your kicks and "an extended episode of Dragnet" sounds like a one-way ticket to Dullsville. Well, if the promise of bongos-a-go-go isn't enough for you, there's the whole this is Peter Falk in only his second film thing, which, be ye a daddy-o or otherwise, should have you buying not only that one-way ticket but the whole damn train to Dullsville. You dig? Yes, that sentence was tortured, but there's a case for The Bloody Brood as a time capsule curio that starts with some discount Saul Bass opening credits, segues into ahhh it's Peter Falk, and ends with this guy, just a pure beatnik right outta central casting:

Funny, isn't it, how variations on "is the square life really the only life?" emerges like a cicada into the conversations and movements of all generations of post-WWII American youths? Sure, it manifests in different ways, from tuning in, turning on, dropping out, and rolling around in the mud at Woodstock to "no one wants to work anymore." (Gen X is perhaps the outlier, taking on a depressive/detached sort of "it sucks, but it is what it is" slant.) Nico and his friends sitting around opining about life on "the treadmill" and how The Man will make you go to the dentist for your own good and then send you to war wouldn't be an unfamiliar scene amongst the kids today...I mean, on their tiktoks or whatever it is they do. 

It's interesting to see the cultural responses to this, both satirical and sincere. It's the stuff of media theses, I suppose. But films like The Bloody Brood seem to be squarely on the side of...the square. There's little difference to be found between the amoral Nico and the random gal at the bar who just wants to dance (and who makes uncomfortable 4th wall-breaking eye contact with us throughout her whirling dervish bit).

Make no mistake, Cliff is the real hero of this show, extolling True American Values like getting a good job and living that white picket life. He wins over Ellie, a young woman who hung out with beatniks  because she wanted more from life than simply becoming her (perfectly fine) parents. They're smooching each other by the end of this show, while Nico and friends decidedly are not. (Sorry, Francis!)

Ultimately, The Bloody Brood isn't more than the sum of its parts, but the parts are so notable that it doesn't matter. I mean, it's got Peter Falk enjoying some spontaneous beat poetry, what more do you need?

Hmm, I wonder what surprise the 50-pack will puke up for me next week. You know, Nico once said that "death is the last great challenge to the creative mind" but I'm pretty sure that by "death" he meant "Mill Creek's Chilling Classics."