DIRECTED BY: David Cronenberg
FEATURING: Art Hindle, Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar
PLOT: Horrible murders swirl around the family of a woman who is under the care of a psychiatrist practicing “psychoplasmics,” an experimental therapy which elicits physical manifestations of psychic traumas.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The “deformed children” of The Brood might seem like a bizarre bunch to neophytes, but a glance at Cronenberg’s later works reveals they’re strictly a warm-up act where weirdness is concerned.
COMMENTS: The Brood includes a touch of the body horror that Cronenberg fans tune in for, though you have to wait until the end for the big reveal. Throughout most of the running time, this is more of a “regular” horror effort, with little monsters bashing in heads in bloody assualts (the broodlings favor wooden hammers as their weapon of choice, and although there are only a few attacks, they are very memorable and very traumatic). A psychological background gives the story texture that keeps it from sliding into slasher movie territory. Frank Carveth (the unremarkable Art Hindle) once had a happy family, but his mentally ill wife Nola (a remarkable Samantha Eggar) has been taken under the care of experimental psychiatrist Hal Raglan (the dependable Oliver Reed). On a visit to pick up his five-year old daughter from a visit with her mother at the “Somafree Institute,” Frank watches a public demonstration where Raglin, roleplaying a meek patient’s harsh daddy, bullies the man until he breaks out in sores of shame on his face (“go all the way through it to the end,” the therapist whispers as he eagerly anticipates the festering of the sobbing man’s impending wounds). When he takes the little girl back home, Frank discovers bruises and scratches on her back. Frank insists the girl’s visits be cut off, but an arrogant and uncooperative Raglan is not keen on changing the cloistered Nola’s therapeutic regime at such a crucial time, and insists the current custody arrangement must continue. Frank decides to conduct his own investigation into psychoplasmics.
The backstory that explains the level of intensity on display here, particularly in that final confrontation between Frank and Nola, is that Cronenberg was going through a divorce and custody battle of his own at the time he wrote up the scenario. The Brood is a step forward in Cronenberg’s oeuvre; it’s more polished than his previous efforts Rabid and Shivers, which were clearly ambitious exploitation movies. With its satirical shots at psychiatry coupled with a searing psychology of its own, The Brood takes a turn towards art-horror. It’s helped immensely by Eggar’s wild-eyed, all-in performance; she’s a nutcase, and an unintentional monster, but not an unsympathetic one. The Brood is an experimental therapy by David Cronenberg to elicit a cinematic manifestation of his own traumatic divorce, and its a successful one. It seems like an obvious influence on Andrzej Zulawski‘s even stranger and more bitter breakup memoir, Possession, which it beat to the screen by a mere two years. The torture of divorce, from the husband’s perspective, was a big movie topic at the time—patrons going out to see The Brood might have rubbed shoulders with those lining up to see the Oscar-winning Kramer vs. Kramer.
In 2015 The Brood joined Scanners, Videodrome, Dead Ringers, and Naked Lunch on the Criterion Collection label. Along with the usual extras, the release includes Cronenberg’s second low budget experimental movie, 1970’s Crimes of the Future, as a bonus feature. Crimes is the story of a rogue dermatologist who accidentally wipes out all females on the planet. Crimes is probably far weirder than The Brood, but not nearly as accomplished.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“In true Cronenberg fasion [sic], we are, instead, presented with something much, much weirder.”–Jerry, “Danny Isn’t Here Mrs. Torrance (DVD)
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