Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The Brood

The Brood
Director: David Cronenberg
Released: 1979
Staring: Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, Art Hindle, Susan Hogan, Cindy Hinds

Plot: Frank’s (Hindle) wife (Eggar) is currently under the care of the eccentric and highly unconventional psychologist Dr. Hal Raglan (Reed), who is also pioneering a technique called “psychoplasmics”. Meanwhile a brood of mutant children responsible for a series of violent attacks seem to be linked to the reclusive psychologist but how?

Review: Cronenberg has always held a strange fascination for me, perhaps due to his obsession with bodily mutation, disease and infection, which even from my early exposure to his work, easily set him apart from other directors especially as they always felt like they contained some element of clinical study of these themes within, perhaps due to voyeuristic nature in which he chooses to shoot these main obsessions in his work.

So with my blogging hombre Emily over at “The Deadly Doll’s House of Horror Nonsense” wrapping up her month long celebration of vertically challenged villains with “The Shortening”, I was inspired to delve into one the Cronenberg back catalogue and revisit one of his earlier films, aswell as one of my personal favorites yet sadly most overlooked from this period.

Written and directed during his messy divorce from his first wife, this would be one of his most personal films to date and almost a form of personal therapy, with his own battle for custody of his daughter being especially highlighted through Frank’s own battle to protect his daughter Candice, who is seemingly being harmed by his wife, when she returns to him covered in cuts and bruises. Still being a Cronenberg movie nothing is quite what it seems, as he crafts here what could almost be seen as the horror version of “Kramer Vs. Kramer”.

Opening with Dr. Raglan holding a showcase for “psychoplasmics”, a highly experimental method which forces his patents to invoke painful and traumatic memories with encouraged role play, which we get to see him demonstrate with one of his patients, while the more Cronenberg side of this method is kept for a later revel. This however is the perfect introduction to the barmy yet fantastic performance Oliver Reed brings to this character and while some might argue that Reed’s appearance here was miscasting, I personally adored his performance here, especially as he frequently plays the big secret so close to his chest that we never see the big revel coming, which also serves to highlight in many ways the depths of his own personal obsession with furthering his psychoplasmics research.

While the rest of the cast might not manage to reach these same levels of performance, Hindle is still convincing as the concerned father, while Eggar is suitably insane as his committed wife, while her most bonkers scenes sadly felt the wrath of the censor cuts, much to the frustration of Cronenberg who rightfully argued that these cuts completely changed the context of the scenes they were cut from. Hinds however is possibly one of the worst child actors I have ever seen in, as she fails at any given moment to show any form emotion other than looking permanently stunned and to see her try and pull off any kind of performance is a painful experience to sit through, so it’s almost a blessing when she gets kidnapped by the mutant kiddies.

Despite frequently being sold on the prospect of baseball bat welding mutant dwarf children, this film is actually a lot more of a slow burn than you would expect, with the mutant kiddies only making a handful of appearances throughout and while memorable as they are, it still feels like more of a detective story with elements of horror than a straight forward shocker, as Frank investigates what is really happening at Dr. Raglan’s clinic, an investigation which along the way leads him into a number of colorful characters, who all hint at the larger secret being hidden by Dr. Raglan.

Still gore fan’s needn't be too disappointed, as we still get some meaty bludgeoning to enjoy via a variety objects from mallets to paperweights and these sporadic deaths are shot with such a sobering view point, that they are just as effective as if Cronenberg had doubled his body count, an urge he resists in favor of more focused kills with each death ultimately serving a larger purpose, rather than to just add to the death toll. While perhaps traumatizing a whole group of small kids with the clubbing scene at Candice’s school, Cronenberg would also go on record in “Cronenberg on Cronenberg” that he particularly enjoyed the scene were Frank strangles his now frenzied wife, especially with so many of her characteristics being based on his ex wife.

Howard Shore provides a rich and haunting classical score to the film, which adds the perfect edge to the film, especially as it is frequently kept to the background with Cronenberg allowing his imagery to present their full power, rather than using the soundtrack to provide any false sense of horror or discomfort.

“The Brood” would serve to be the film to elevate Cronenberg from his schlocky origins which had began with “Shivers” and “Rabid” and showed a director with an impassioned desire for artistic expression, while setting the tone for the films to come which would continue to push the boundaries explored here, yet on it’s own merits it remains like it’s director great, yet sadly underrated.


  1. This was the film which elevated Cronenberg as a filmmaker, to me it was his first, really professional looking film as opposed to Shivers and Rabid which had a rawness to them, which by the way I also enjoy. But The Brood was the first 'classy' looking Cronenberg film.

    That scene with the placentas....aaarrrgggh!

  2. I don't think it was until I re-watched it for this review that I really got how good it is, especially with my mind immediately going to films like "Videodrome", "The Fly" and "eXistenZ" when I think about his work, which bare all his trademark visual flair, which embodying his favourite themes, ideas he was still playing with more for shock value with "Shivers" and "Rabid" and here he seemed to finally find his focus as a director, somthing especially shown in the slow build up and that shocking final revel were we see the twisted and mutated body of his wife.

    The placentas scene really suffers because of it's cuts and what should have been a nurturing scene, like a wolf licking her new born pups clean, just comes off bizarre and strange as a result of the cuts, but then Cronenberg has always been the kind of director who envokes feelings in his audience while bombarding them with frequently grotesque images which like a car crash are still so strangely compelling to look at.

  3. Score! The Brood is easily my favorite Cronenberg film and one of my all-time fave horrors. The first time I watched it, I found those early scares absolutely terrifying. Looking at it again, I think what makes it so good--aside from actually being scary--is that Cronenberg brought heart to it, something he tends to specifically avoid in his more clinical films. WHereas in his other films, you get the feeling that he's just fascinated by his subject matter, The Brood feels like he actually cares.

    Also, the kindergarten murder is one of my favorite kill scene of all time.

  4. Agree, Cronenberg likes to shock, but first he layers everything with his themes, he really explores his characters psyche and situations.

    Certain themes are always a constant in Cronenbergs body of work: human psychology, and our violent and sexual natures. These are the themes that he has always toyed around with since day one with Shivers.

    This continues right down to his latest one "A Dangerous Method". He's never really made a film that didnt include these themes in one way or another.

    Ever seen 'Dead Ringers' that's one of my favorite Cronenbergs...so twisted! Highly recommend it.

  5. Emily: I think the heart this film has, really comes from how personal it was to Cronenberg and less about finding way to further explore his favourite themes and alot of comparisions can be drawn between the characters and people in his life, with Frank clearly being a representation of Cronenberg and Candie representing his own daughter.

    @Film Connoisseur: I can't belive that I forgot about those themes, especially when the later two have recently been the main focus of his work, with "A dangerous method" being especially good, despite IKEA Knightly pulling out another grating performance. Still it did spark a renewed intrest for me in Freud and Jung.

    Still have to watch "Dead Ringers" which is strange being the Walken fan that I am :)


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