The early David Cronenberg feature film The Brood encapsulates the director’s recognizable hallmarks. The Brood is a creepy and strange cinematic experience, gradually building up moments of horror into an intensely twisted climax.
Frank Carveth (Art Hindle) is a divorced parent of a young school-age daughter named Candice (Cindy Hinds). After Candice spends the weekend in her institutionalized mother’s custody at the psychiatric center, Frank discovers unusual bruises and scratches on her.
Fearing that the mother, Nola Carveth, (Samantha Eggar) is abusing their daughter, Frank confronts psychologist Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed), the doctor who has been treating Nola with unconventional therapy techniques. Meanwhile, gruesome murders begin to strike the people closest to Frank.
Based on Cronenberg’s own experience of divorce and battling over child custody, The Brood hits upon many unsettling themes, particularly to parents. Divorce can bring out the emotionless ugliness in people and manifest in unthinkable ways.
The Brood’s screenplay takes many deep seeded fears such as child abuse, childhood deformity and how parental failure can lead to monstrous effects, melding them in a provocative yet thoughtful manner.
Cronenberg wisely adopts a slow burn approach, focusing more on the psychological drama in the opening act than relying on jump scares. The first scene is a foreshadowing of what the rest of the film does. It’s a deceptively ingenious opening scene with many layers at play and on an emotional level gives off a feeling of something isn’t quite right but you can’t quite put your finger on it until all is revealed.
The less is more approach to depicting the creatures are partly a necessity because of the limited special effects back in 1979. It’s also much more frightening when the threat isn’t directly shown at first. One of the most effective shot selection is where Cronenberg simply places the camera perspective from the ceiling looking downward. This weird, confined perspective subconsciously informs the audience that this is a creepy scene and evokes the skin crawling sensation of being closely watched from the viewpoint of the creature.
In many horror films, particularly in recent times, murders are depicited graphically. In the Brood, much of the horror lies in who the perpetrators are. The Brood’s bloody climatic sequence still holds up very well. The editing and camera shots are well designed to shock and disgust.
Two British actors, Oliver Reed and Samantha Eggar, are cast in pivotal roles. Reed’s natural gravitas is a great fit as the calm yet authoritative doctor. Like a lot of great British actors he delivers his lines in such a way that you are hanging on his every word. He also conveys a sharp intellect as Dr. Hal Raglan, coming off as someone who knows more than they are leading on. Dr. Raglan’s suspicious intentions could be malevolent or simply misguided, this nuance is played very well by Reed.
Samantha Eggar is an accomplished actress and shows she’s capable in a horror film role, a genre in which she hasn’t had prior experience. Eggar is very good at embodying an emotionally skittish lady, someone who’s on the edge of a mental breakdown. She doesn’t play a scream queen or the female victim, it’s an unforgettable role that’ll be burned into your cinematic memory.
In the lead role, Canadian actor Art Hindle (Invasions of the Body Snatchers) gives a solid, reliable performance. Hindle’s everyman appeal lends well to Frank Carveth who is identifiable as a father protecting his daughter and trying to be rational despite the weird and brutal things happening around him. A poor child performance can hinder a film, thankfully child actress Cindy Hinds holds her own for her age.
Vision & Sound
Released October 2015, The Criterion Collection is a newly restored, uncut version of The Brood. In color and widescreen (1.78:1), the film’s presentation is supervised by director David Cronenberg. The clean, quality visuals look very good for a movie made over 35 years ago. There aren’t any noticeable glitches in the visuals. The sound is also clear. Howard Shore’s (Lord Of The Rings) score is memorable and quite suspenseful in a number of scenes. There are subtitles for the feature film The Brood, but not for “Crimes Of The Future”. The Criterion Collection would be a good upgrade if you own an older, grainy looking, censored version of The Brood.
Aside from trailers and radio spots, most of the bonus features are on the 2nd DVD disc. “Birth Pains” is a half hour documentary made specifically for The Criterion Collection, consisting of interview clips of actress Samantha Eggar, executive producer Pierre David, cinematographer Mark Irwin, assistant director John Board, and special makeup effects artists Rick Baker. Eggar gives some great anecdotes including how the special effects in the climatic scene were achieved.
“Meet the Carveths” is 2013 retrospective interview with actors Art Hindle and Cindy Hinds who talk about their experiences making the film and on working with Cronenberg.
In both “Birth Pains” and “Meet the Carveths”, the interviewees reveal fascinating behind the scenes antics of actor Oliver Reed. Widely known as an alcoholic, Reed famously helped himself to an entire bottle of Cognac at the wrap party and got arrested when he bet he could walk naked back to the hotel in the Canadian winter, where the film was shot. Tragically many years later, during the production of Gladiator (2000), Reed passed away due to a heart attack from a drinking competition at a bar.
A 20 minute clip of actor Oliver Reed’s appearance on “The Merv Griffin show” from 1980 is memorable for the awkward tension but also mutual respect between him and fellow guest Orson Welles.
Also included is a new, restored 2K digital transfer of “Crimes of the future”, an 1970 arthouse feature by Cronenberg, plus a 2011 interview in which the director discusses his early films with “Fangoria” editor Christ Alexander.
In his early directorial years, David Cronenberg has a strong vision for the films he wants to make and the filmmaker he wants to be. The Brood is a thoughtful and alarming examination of divorce through the lens of an art cinema auteur. As many others have put it, to describe this as a horror movie or its sub genre “body horror” doesn’t adequately encompass The Brood, it’s a Cronenberg movie.