Progeny Was Somehow the Most Cerebral B-Movie Ever

This schlocky alien impregnation flick inexplicably has some thoughts on the anxieties of parenthood.

Written by Jon O'Brien

There are many things you expect from a collaboration between splatterfest maestros Brian Yuzna and Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, From Beyond, The Dentist). Copious amounts of full-frontal nudity, but only ever of the female kind. Brilliantly creepy prosthetics made on a shoestring budget. Enough blood and gore to make even the most hardened surgeon squeamish. 1998 cinema-bypassing release Progeny ticks all these boxes. But apropos of nothing, it also doubles up as a cerebral look into the anxieties of conceiving, birthing, and raising a child.

The Yuzna-directed, Gordon-penned effort stars straight-to-VHS regular Jillian McWhirter and Arnold Vosloo (The Mummy) as a happily married couple who, after years of trying, discover they’re about to have a baby. Yet while the former is overjoyed at the seemingly miraculous news, the latter becomes increasingly perturbed about the possibility that he’s not the father, and an alien life force is his number one suspect.

On the night of conception, Vosloo’s Dr. Craig and McWhirter’s Sherry experienced a two-hour loss of time. And ever since, Craig has been troubled by how. Hypnosis sparks a recollection of being lifted in the air mid-coitus, placed on the other side of the bed, and paralyzed while his wife is transported through a vortex. Although the special effects are considerably dated, these visualizations are still decidedly eerie, combining the soft focus of softcore porn with the paranormal activity of The X-Files.

Soon, Sherry finds herself taunted by visions even more disturbing, the most dominant of which sees her strapped to a gurney and violated by extraterrestrials. Firmly in Roswell territory, the creations might not break the mold, yet their giant bug eyes, latex-like skin, and protruding tentacles are still the stuff of nightmares. Ditto the terrifying Alien-esque scene where Sherry’s offspring, essentially a gelatinous blob, bursts out of her stomach while trailing its umbilical cord across the kitchen floor.

Yuzna initially keeps the audience guessing as to whether these are just nightmares, flashbacks and flash-forwards to genuine encounters, or manifestations of the parents’ mental states. Therapist Susan Lamarche (Lindsay Crouse) believes they’re all in the mind, and that Sherry’s been deliberately harmed by her overly-controlling other half.


Progeny Films

The otherworldly theory gains more credence, though, when Wilford Brimley’s obstetrician suffers a fatal heart attack brought on by the sight of an abnormal ultrasound. And when Craig stumbles across a TV show about similarly unexplained time frames, he calls in its supernatural researcher Dr. Bert Clavell (Brad Dourif) to help figure out what the hell is going on.

The introduction of Dourif, a man who’s built a career on inhabiting the truly deranged, would suggest things are about to head into Yuzna’s insane wheelhouse. But intriguingly, his character proves to be strangely relatable. Clavell is a man who gets spooked after witnessing Sherry’s visions by proxy, and who makes a quick exit when Craig’s paranoia leads to murderous consequences. You could argue that asking Dourif to play it relatively straight is a waste of his talents. On the other hand, anything more unhinged may have derailed a film that, despite the outlandish subject matter, tries to keep things grounded.

A rather literal representation of Dr. Craig’s time concerns.

Progeny Films

Clavell’s hypnosis sessions give Craig all the confirmation he needs about his suspicions. While in a trance-like state, Sherry recalls how she was artificially impregnated (wisely, Yuzna decided to omit a much longer, much more graphic take). The motive, however, remains less clear. “What do you figure animals think about when we experiment on them?” Clavell asks, in another example of how Progeny refuses to spoon-feed you answers.

These revelations provoke Craig into terrifyingly drastic action. Accompanied by Clavell wielding a camera for posterity, the doctor intends to flatline his wife, fooling the alien fetus into leaving its host’s body before killing it and resurrecting Sherry in the nick of the time. Needless to say, the whole operation — one of the few occasions that leans into Yuzna and Gordon’s body horror past — doesn’t have the desired effect.

Even by this point, it’s still not certain whether all the extraterrestrial drama occurred or was merely a figment of Sherry and Craig’s shared delusions. The court system and the highly skeptical Lamarche obviously didn’t buy the story, having sentenced the doctor to prison for what, from an outsider’s view, appeared to be a frenzied and entirely unjustified butchering.

Brad Dourif in one of his lower-key roles.

Progeny Films

Progeny continues to skillfully tread the line of ambiguity for its final downbeat scene. Sitting in his jail cell, a despondent Craig suddenly gets transported into the same vortex that beamed up his late wife, reuniting him with one of cinema’s ugliest babies in the process. Or does he?

The tragedy is heightened either way. If it’s a straightforward alien abduction tale, then Craig’s fears have been validated, but he’s lost the love of his life, been convicted as a spousal killer, and is now left holding a mutant spawn. If it was all in his mind, then we’ve been watching a man slowly descend into madness. Whatever your interpretation, it’s hard to deny that Progeny was just as interested in testing the brain cells as splattering them all over the floor.

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