David Cronenberg: The Brood

Review of The Criterion Collection Blu-ray edition.

The Brood
d. David Cronenberg (1979)
Spine: #777
Blu-ray Release Date: October 13, 2015

Screen captures below are taken from The Criterion Collection Blu-ray disc, but resolution has been reduced from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed. You may click on them to view the 900x506 image.

I’m sure I’m not alone in this, thanks to the rows upon rows of horror films for rent on VHS at local stores, but I first came upon David Cronenberg’s The Brood when I was far too young. It succeeded at frightening me for years — those little terrors running amok in places like the home and school where a child should feel secure — but anything beyond the more gruesome images on the screen went completely over my head. It wasn’t until just a few years ago that I learned that The Brood was a very personal film to Cronenberg, perhaps even his most personal. I was surprised to hear that the straightforward thriller I remembered could be “personal.”

I recently revisited and reconsidered The Brood on its new Criterion Collection release. It terrified me again, only this time the lasting terror was born not from the horrifying scenes but rather from the devastating shots of the child at the center of the film witnessing events with uncomprehending, indelible fear. The Brood is a disgusting, profound, and nuanced masterpiece that explores the frightening world of intrafamily conflict when deep-seated anger and humiliation is brought to the surface. Though it sounds tongue-in-cheek, I don’t think Cronenberg is at all wrong to say, “The Brood is my version of Kramer vs. Kramer, but more realistic.”

The Brood

When The Brood begins, the Carveths are already a broken family. Frank (Art Hindle) and Nola (Samantha Eggar) are fighting for custody of their five-year-old daughter Candice (Cindy Hinds). Frank and Nola had a rocky marriage, and we’re led to believe that Nola and her own traumatic past were the primary reason it failed. In fact, when the film begins Nola is a resident at Somafree, a kind of psychiatric treatment facility run by Dr. Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed).

The Brood 1
Oliver Reed as the trailblazing psychotherapist.

Dr. Raglan has developed a technique he calls “psychoplasmics.” He sits with his patients and performs the role of someone involved in their traumatic past — often, for example, a parent. He goads the patient on, encouraging — or provoking — them to release their formerly suppressed emotions physically, meaning that all of the anger or humiliation inside of them passes through the skin and exhibits in a physiological change outside of their body. The physical form of the anger is then lanced, theoretically. The patient is able to move on, feeling much better. As we watch the therapy with Nola, we learn that her mother was cruel and abusive and that her father was neglectful. She has been traumatized herself and now, sadly, the trauma is being passed to her daughter.

The Brood 2
Samantha Eggar as Nola Carveth.

Frank is incredibly upset to find that Candice, who had just spent a few days with her mother at the institute, has come home with bruising and scratching. He leaves Candice with Nola’s mom, Juliana, and rushes to Somafree to tell them he will no longer allow Candice to come visit her mother, though he knows he doesn’t have any solid legal footing to support his position.

While he is there, a hideous child-like creature enters Juliana’s home and brutally beats Juliana before heading upstairs. Candice does not witness the actual murder, but she sees the aftermath and then looks up at the banister to see the child-like creature watching her. The police find Candice upstairs sleeping when they arrive.

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Just one member of the brood.

Obviously, Candice cannot process all that is going on, and its here where I think The Brood really succeeds. She seems to know these horrific children. Though she looks wary, she goes with them when they come for her. For their part, they seem to protect her. When they escort her from the gore they suggest that all they are doing is for her own good.

They cannot protect her, though. No, indeed, their very presence continues to cause incomprehensible trauma to Candice, and the most gut-wrenching shots in the film do not even show the wicked children: we see Candice alone in the frame, hunched in a corner, plugging her ears, trying to shut her eyes, but always unable to block much at all from all that is going on around her as people fight over and ostensibly for her.

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Cindy Hinds as Candice Carveth.

It’s an effective horror story, especially since the final scene shows that the horror has not stopped — it may be buried, but not deeply.


Supplements:

  • As they did when they released Scanners, The Criterion Collection has included one of Cronenberg’s early features on the disc. Here we get a 4K digital transfer of Cronenberg’s 1970 Crimes of the Future, (1:02:38). Accompanying the feature is a 13:18-minute long interview with Cronenberg about his early work.
  • We also get “Birth Pains,” a new Criterion-produced documentary that runs 31:06 minutes. Here Samantha Eggar, executive producer Pierre David, cinematographer Mark Irwin, assistant director John Board, and make-up and effects artists Rick Baker and Joe Blasco discuss The Brood, how it was made, and how it fits into Cronenberg’s early work. The Brood doesn’t have the same caliber of special effects as Scanners, so this feature does not have that many fascinating insights into that particular facet of the filmmaking, but it was interesting to hear how amiable everyone seemed to be despite working on this terrifying film. Eggar did all of her work for the film in just four days, but she has great things to say about Cronenberg and the rest of the cast, especially Oliver Reed. Indeed, everyone was impressed with Reed, whom they present as professional and hard-working, despite his personal problems with alcohol. It’s a nice look back by many involved in the film when it was made nearly forty years ago.
  • We also get the 19:57-minute-long “Meet the Carveths,” an interview with Art Hindle and Cindy Hinds conducted by Fangoria editor-in-chief Chris Alexander in 2013.
  • Last, other than a thirty-second radio spot, is a 20:57 segment of The Merv Griffin Show from 1980, in which Oliver Reed guested with Orson Welles and Charo.
  • The disc comes with an accordion-style fold-out insert featuring an essay by critic Carrie Rickey. I particularly enjoyed Rickie’s female perspective, given that Cronenberg and The Brood have been the subject of attack from many who feel it demonizes women.

4 thoughts on “David Cronenberg: The Brood

  1. Great stuff Trevor. Fantastic film, and I love that Samantha Eggar told Cronenberg years later that she couldn’t understand what she’d been thinking in agreeing to do it. She’s great in it and it repulsed her!

  2. In her interview from earlier this year she seems to be pretty thrilled she did it, calling Cronenberg not just a great filmmaker but a great thinker and calling her role Shakespearean even! I’m thrilled she did it as well as I think she’s great!

  3. By the way, beyond being repulsed, it seems she repulsed everyone else on the crew! And she has a glimmer in her eye when she says this: I think she’s quite proud of herself :-) .

  4. A brilliant horror film, one of Cronenberg’s best. The trio of this film, Scanners and Videodrome is an enviable early career pinnacle. The mid-80s movies go a little mainstream and the 90s were checkered at best for DC, but the 2000s provide another strong set of films. His last four are flat out masterful for the most part. I actually think A History of Violence is really overrated and Spider downright disappointing but otherwise he’s had a late career revival and I for one was disappointed that his version of Lethem’s As She Climbed Across the Table never came to fruition. His earlier never-mades (Return of the Jedi and Total Recall as well) form part of a great “secret canon” as well.

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