The Brood (1979)

The Brood is a 1979 Canadian science fiction horror film written and directed by David Cronenberg (Shivers; Dead Ringers; The Fly).

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The film stars Oliver ReedSamantha Eggar (Curtains; Demonoid), and Art Hindle (The Void).

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Buy Blu-ray: Amazon.com

On 3 October 2015 The Criterion Collection released a Director-Approved Blu-ray of The Brood with the following special features:

  • New, restored 2K digital transfer, supervised by director David Cronenberg, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New documentary about the making of the film and Cronenberg’s early work, featuring actor Samantha Eggar, producer Pierre David, cinematographer Mark Irwin, assistant director John Board, and special makeup effects artists Rick Baker (Videodrome) and Joe Blasco (Shivers and Rabid)
  • New, restored 2K digital transfer of Crimes of the Future, a 1970 feature by Cronenberg, supervised by the director, plus a 2011 interview in which the director discusses his early films with Fangoriaeditor Chris Alexander
  • Interview from 2013 with actors Art Hindle and Cindy Hinds
  • Appearance by actor Oliver Reed on The Merv Griffin Show from 1980
  • Radio spot
  • Plus: An essay by critic Carrie Rickey

Plot:

Psychotherapist Hal Raglan (Reed) runs the Somafree Institute where he performs a technique called “psychoplasmics”, encouraging patients with mental disturbances to let go of their suppressed emotions through physiological changes to their bodies. One of his patients is Nola Carveth, a severely disturbed woman who is legally embattled with her husband Frank for custody of their five year-old daughter Candice. When Frank discovers bruises and scratches on Candice following a visit with Nola, Frank accosts Raglan, and informs him of his intent to stop visitation rights. Eager to protect his patient, Raglan begins to intensify the sessions with Nola to resolve the issue quickly.

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During the therapy sessions, Raglan discovers that Nola was physically and verbally abused by her self-pitying alcoholic mother, and neglected by her co-dependent alcoholic father, who refused to protect Nola out of shame and denial.

Meanwhile, Frank, intending to invalidate Raglan’s methods, questions Jan Hartog, a former Somafree patient dying of psychoplasmic-induced lymphoma. Frank leaves Candice with her grandmother Juliana, and the two spend the evening viewing old photographs; Juliana informs Candice that Nola was frequently hospitalized as a child, and often exhibited strange unexplained wheals on her skin that doctors were unable to diagnose. While returning to the kitchen, Juliana is attacked and bludgeoned to death by a small, dwarf-like child…

The Brood was David Cronenberg’s third ‘mainstream’ horror film, following the notorious Shivers (1975) and Rabid (1977). The film has often been seen as part of an unofficial trilogy, mainly because it was only with this film that most non-genre critics began to take notice of the director, and because his subsequent movies would have larger budgets and – ostensibly – more mainstream ambitions. However, things are rather more complex. Cronenberg had, in fact, taken a break from the visceral horror of this previous films after Rabid, directing the drag racing drama Fast Company and a couple of dramas for Canadian television. Indeed, it seemed to many observers at the time that Cronenberg was simply becoming another jobbing director, moving into the position of director for hire having proved himself on a couple of low budget horror quickies.

This was, of course, nonsense – Fast Company is as much a product of Cronenberg’s obsessions as his horror films – they are just different obsessions! Cronenberg’s return to his unique brands of body horror came when he hooked up with a new production company which had formed to take advantage of Canadian tax shelter financing.

At the end of the 1970’s, the Canadian government introduced an incentive scheme which allowed investors to promise money to film-makers, write off the tax and yet not actually have to part with the full amount – as long as the money was available if needed, which it rarely was. This loophole was eventually stopped, but for a while, it caused a boom in Canadian film production as companies and individuals with money to burn looked at ways of reducing their tax bills.

Vision 4, formed by Pierre David, Victor Solniki and Dick Schouten, agreed to produce Cronenberg’s film The Sensitives, which had been in the director’s mind for a decade, when he’d explored the idea of telepathy in his experimental movie Stereo. However, as Cronenberg worked on the project, another story began to take over – one which had more personal resonance for the director. As Cronenberg commented, “I couldn’t write the script I was supposed to because The Brood kept coming. It was a compelling script; it insisted on getting written. I really don’t think I had any choice.” Luckily for Cronenberg, the tax shelter situation meant that films had to be made, and producers were not all that fussy about which films. So when he presented The Brood instead of The Sensitives, Vision 4 gave him the go-ahead to make the movie.

The Brood is a multi-layered story, based around The Somafree Institute of Pyschoplasmics, where patients are taught to externalise emotional traumas as physical afflictions – what scientist Dr Raglan (played by Oliver Reed) refers to as ‘the shape of rage’. In the middle of this, a father fights to save his daughter from his estranged wife – something Cronenberg himself had experienced.

In fact, The Brood is – despite the strange and disturbing story ideas – an autobiographical film for the director, who’s divorce and subsequent custody battle had been both stressful and messy. In real life, Cronenberg had been forced to ‘kidnap’ his own daughter when his wife announced that she would be taking the child to live in a Californian religious community.

In the film, Art Hindle strives to save his daughter from Samantha Eggar, who has been externalising her rage by creating psychopathic ‘brood children’. Cronenberg has, in fact, referred to The Brood as his version of Kramer vs. Kramer – the Oscar winning divorce drama which had been released a year earlier. the-brood-children400

Given a bigger budget than he had on his earlier films (though at $1.5 million, the film was still a low budget affair), Cronenberg could afford to cast a few name actors. Oliver Reed was a major international superstar, but by the end of the 1970’s, was more famous for his drinking bouts and bad behaviour than his actual acting. Often wasted in films he clearly had little interest in, it was easy to forget that Reed was a first rate actor, and The Brood would feature one of his finest performances. He apparently told Cronenberg that the screenplay was the best he’s read since The Devils.

Equally impressive was Samantha Eggar, and actress who – like Reed – had often been wasted in poor roles. She had an instinctive understanding of where Cronenberg was coming from with the film. “She told me the script reminded her of things from her childhood”, Cronenberg would tell Cinefantastique. “She never got more specific than that.”

The Brood saw many critics taking Cronenberg seriously for the first time, although some were appalled by the film, possibly finding the ideas it expressed a little too close to home. Certainly, several people – including the US censors – misunderstood the climatic scenes where Eggar reveals the Brood Children growing on her body. Her licking the blood from the foetus was heavily cut, leading many people to think that the scene showed her engaging in cannibalism. Cronenberg raged “That’s much worse than I was suggesting. It f*cks the whole movie as far as I’m concerned. I could kill the censors for their stupidity and narrow-mindedness. Talk about rage!”

Most people agree that the film was Cronenberg’s best work to date, and there are many who still believe it to be his most accomplished movie even today. Although not exactly comfortable viewing, the film unquestionably still has the power to shock and disturb a quarter century on. As for Cronenberg, with this highly personal story now exorcised, he was free to revive his story of The Sensitives, which eventually emerged as Scanners in 1981.

David Flint, Horrorpedia

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Other reviews:

“The story comes oozing with Cronenberg’s signature bodily horror, with the suggestion that strong emotions cause a physical response. Anger, fear, doubt—they leave their mark on the body. Extending that concept to horrific extremes, psychosomatics take living, breathing form in the film, resulting in a macabre take on a melodramatic subject.” Deep Focus

“The Brood has something deeper, more focused to it and more depressing perhaps. Cronenberg has a lot of knockabout fun in his early shockers—there’s a quick if dark wit to them—but here, there’s a po-faced focus, a taming of style, a neatness to which the occasional moments of violence of body horror are a disturbing aberration.” Static Mass

Buy: Amazon.ca | Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk

“The Brood was David Cronenberg’s first great film, the point where he can be identified as someone who is not merely an interestingly perverse B-movie director but someone whose movies bristle with a dazzling intelligence. The Brood was slammed much when it came out – even surprisingly by many genre critics who later championed the Cronenberg cult – for its supposedly repellent elements.” Film4

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Japanese VHS image courtesy of Basement of Ghoulish Decadence

 

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Categories: 1970s, body horror, Canadian, gory

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