The Film: 4/5
Frank Carveth (Art Hindle) suspects something horrible is secretly going on at the Somafree Institute of Psychoplasmics, where Dr. Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed) practices an unusual and controversial form of psychotherapy that involves helping his patients unleash decades worth of repressed emotions through role-playing and direct confrontation. His most important patient is Frank's wife Nola (Samantha Eggar), who was emotionally and physically abused as a child by her mother Juliana (Nuala Fitzgerald). As part of Nola's treatment she is allowed to see her and Frank's daughter Candace (Cindy Hinds) on the weekends, but when Frank brings Candace home after a visit with her mother and notices bruises and sores on her back he threatens to discontinue the visitations, which Dr. Raglan is not prepared to allow as it would compromise Nola's intense therapy. Meanwhile, people Nola was close to and also quite angry with are being brutally murdered by strange creatures the size of children. Frank tries futilely to make sense of what is going on until he discovers that these deformed monstrosities are the product of Nola's repressed rage that were inadvertently unleashed by her sessions with Raglan. Worse than that, the "Brood" have a special interest in Cindy.
If those of you reading this review will permit me, but I would like to start this review with a personal confession: the thought of being a parent scares the shit out of me. I've never had children of my own but throughout my life I have been called upon to help with the caring and upbringing of several close to me, including my siblings (my parents when I, the oldest child, was 13 years old) and most recently my nephew Jordan, who was born with autism and requires so much special care and attention that I basically became his respite care worker. That works out great for me because it's a paying gig, and yet at the same time it is both one of the most tiring and rewarding jobs I've ever had. It takes up a good chunk of my life and still I don't really complain. It's not my nephew's fault that he was born without having a reliable father, or even a real father who didn't disappear like a cowardly army deserter when news of the pregnancy was first revealed to him. I could relate; my own father was very much like that, except my siblings and I were handed the misfortune at birth of having to actually know him. Myself, I am 34 years old. If there was ever a time when I entertained the idea of having children of my own one day with sunny optimism, rest assured those days are pretty much gone. Spending a great deal of my life helping to care for children whose single parents were hopefully outmatched has permanently taken away my will and desire to ever have kids of my own. People always tell me that I am such a good and attentive uncle to my nephew that I am almost like a father to him. There is much I love about being a surrogate parent, so I have not come here to disparage others from wanting to have children some day. It's just not something I'm going to recommend either, at least not without reservations.
I feel the same about David Cronenberg's The Brood, a movie that was - pardon the pun - conceived out of the perennial fear that the children we bring into this world bear the mental and physical scars of our sins and could one day become even greater monsters that we had prayed they wouldn't. Watching the movie for the very first time courtesy of Second Sight's stellar new Blu-ray, I was instantly absorbed by Cronenberg's masterfully composed and frightening thriller, one of the downright most horrifying films he has ever made. The Brood was his fourth film as a director and his third in the "body horror" genre that he essentially created with movies like this and Shivers, Rabid, Videodrome, and his definitive work in the genre, The Fly. Stories of body horror explore our nascent fears that our bodies will turn against us at the moment when we least expect it to happen. Not in a literal sense of course, but when you grow healthy and strong and then you wake up one morning and while looking in the bathroom mirror discover a strange growth next to your Adam's apple a whole new world of diseases, tumors, and other curable or incurable maladies that you will have to deal with yourself one way or another because no else is going to begins to open up.
Let's see...I started out this review on a personal note, before segueing into a bloviating academic treatise on the beguiling themes in Cronenberg's films. Enough stalling, here's the part where I tell what a great horror The Brood is. Lately I think the filmmaker has been spinning his wheels making worthy but ultimately forgettable art house exercises like A Dangerous Method and Cosmopolis that hold fervent appeal for the most die hard intellectuals among Cronenberg's fan base. I respect him for taking chances with his career and using his considerable and well-earned clout with studios and financiers to make difficult films with limited audience appeal. But I am not alone in never thinking that the man who gave us so many nightmare-inducing sights early in his career would spend his twilight years making films that would be better appreciated as study aids rather than as thought-provoking entertainments.
Cronenberg, who directed from a screenplay he wrote while in the midst of a bitter custody battle, takes his time developing the story and allows events to unfold at their natural speed rather than rush things. Once he introduces the Brood and the murders begin the pacing remains deliberate but never to the point of inducing sleep from its audience. The plot proceeds like a great mystery, with Frank racing to unravel the strange goings-on at Somafree with a little help from the police while his efforts are intercut with Dr. Raglan's increasingly powerful sessions with Nola - during which he often has to assume multiple roles in her past to unleash her repressed feelings. By this point in his career Oliver Reed was taking whatever role he could get just to pay down his colossal bar tabs. Be that as it may, he does exceptionally solid work here as the morally ambiguous Hal Raglan. Throughout the movie we're kept in the dark as to what the doctor's true motivations are for his intensified interest in Nola. Is he manipulating her awful power to suit his own ends? Has his best intentions for her been twisted into something far beyond the control of any normal human being? There are shades of Mary Shelley's Dr. Henry Frankenstein in the character, the well-meaning man of science and medicine whose unleashes pure evil through his noble efforts for the betterment of mankind, which the always invaluable Reed plays very well. There's even a touch of sympathy to the character.
Art Hindle makes an excellent, capable hero. He is very believable as the loving father who would risk death for his daughter Candy, and the heroic act he has to perform in the finale doesn't involve weapon or stunts of any kind, just an attempt to reconnect with the wife he once thought he knew. It is a far more grander and emotional climax than we're used to seeing in movies like this. By the ending Frank feels just as culpable for the trauma his daughter has had to endure as Nola actually, which unites him in a sense with his own father-in-law Barton (Harry Beckman) who wasn't there to protect Nola from the abuses inflicted on her by her own mother. Samantha Eggar doesn't fare as well because we get no sense of the woman she was before committing herself to Dr. Raglan's care. All her scenes are spent in sessions with the doctor that spurn the creation and motivation of the Brood, so in a sense Nola is more of a plot device than an actual character. Eggar's alien-like face and eagerly extreme dramatic performance ably compensate for the thinly-sketched archetype she was handed to play. Cindy Hinds gives one of the better performances by a child actor I've ever seen in a modern horror film; she is benevolent, sweet, doesn't go overboard with the emoting (at times she rarely does any, which adds to the creepiness of the story), and makes you as concerned for her protection as her own father. Robert A. Silverman, a familiar face from several of Cronenberg's films, makes a welcome appearance as an eccentric former patient of Raglan's who is dying from lymphosarcoma brought about by his own therapy sessions. Silverman alleviates the grim proceedings with some quirky humor that keeps the story from becoming too dark and depressing. Gary McKeehan also impresses with a few interesting scenes as a particularly troubled patient who proves helpful to Frank's cause.
Until the finale, which I would dare not spoil, Cronenberg keeps the violence and bloodshed at a minimum, though he does stage some unsettling set pieces. The murders committed by the Brood give us few actual glimpses at the titular monsters, which is good for the movie because the make-up effects used to bring out the horrific qualities in Nola's demonic children often resemble dollar store Halloween masks painted flesh color. Their presence is more terrifying when they are barely seen at all. They even brutally murder Candy's teacher in full view of her students without a second's hesitation. Even to this day that scene has the powerful to shock and repel. No wonder so many critics loathed The Brood at the time of its release. It takes a strong stomach to withstand the skin-tightening terrors Cronenberg has in store for us, but it takes a stronger mind to put them in their proper context and appreciate what the director set out to accomplish. Killer kid movies were a dime of dozen by the late 1970's and the decade that followed would bring many more, usually the kind of reprehensible trash critics labeled Cronenberg's movie as, but The Brood is certainly one of the best of its kind that I have ever seen. Now I need to get on scheduling that vasectomy.
Second Sight made damn well sure that my initial viewing of The Brood would be one to remember and not just because of the movie itself. Presented in an all-new MPEG-4 AVC-encoded, 16:9 enhanced, 1080p high-definition transfer in its original 1.85:1 widescreen theatrical aspect ratio, this Blu-ray of The Brood will visually astound. The picture quality has been cleaned up and brightened and almost completely removed of film grain. Mark Irwin's chilly cinematography looks remarkably crisp and so rich in visible detail that you can practically see the design of every falling snowflake and the chips in the paint on the cream-colored walls. The English Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track is a strong sound mix that serves Cronenberg's occasionally witty dialogue and Shore's operatic, Hermann-esque orchestral work very well with solid volume levels and no signs of distortion or drop-offs at any time. English subtitles are included.
On par with their recent Blu-ray release of the original Scanners, Second Sight has put together a fantastic selection of informative supplements produced by Severin Films to go with their A/V upgrade of The Brood. The only thing really missing from this disc is a new commentary with Cronenberg, but in light of what we receive in its place its omission is forgivable.
Pierre David, who also worked with the director on Scanners (and its Cronenberg-less sequels) and Videodrome, discusses the making of the film in "Producing The Brood" (11 minutes). His talk is filled with interesting stories about working with notorious hearty partier Oliver Reed, financing The Brood through Canadian tax shelters, and how Roger Corman kicked in $200,000 to acquire the movie for Stateside release. Future Howling/Gremlins director Joe Dante even cut the U.S. theatrical trailer!
"The Look of Rage" (13 minutes) sits down with cinematographer Mark Irwin to talk about how his working relationship with Cronenberg started on the car racing drama Fast Company and speaks in detail about their collaboration on The Brood.
Fangoria editor Chris Alexander sits down in a movie theater with a few bags of popcorn to talk with actors Art Hindle and Cindy Hinds for "Meet the Carveths" (20 minutes). Alexander is full of interesting questions and Hindle and Hinds are more than happy to provide him with funny and revealing answers. The topics include working with co-stars Reed and Eggar, how Hindle got the role of Frank partly because his brother Lang was a champion motorcycle racer whom Cronenberg was fond of, and their thoughts about the finished film and how it has held up over time.
"Character for Cronenberg" (10 minutes) turns its attention to one of my favorite faces in the director's cinematic output, that of veteran Canadian character actor Robert A. Silverman. His all-too-brief talk covers his love of folk music, breaking into acting (including the now-obligatory stint living in Hollywood), and coming to first work with Cronenberg on Rabid. They would later work together on The Brood, Scanners, Naked Lunch, eXistenZ, and even an episode of the syndicated Friday the 13th TV series.
Though we are deprived of a commentary with the filmmaker behind The Brood, Second Sight has seen to giving us a new interview with the man in "David Cronenberg: The Early Years" (13 minutes). As the title suggests, the talk mostly covers Cronenberg's first years working as a director, from making the acclaimed short films Crimes of the Future and Stereo (both available on Blue Underground's Fast Company Blu-ray) to hooking up with producers Andre Link and John Dunning to make his first feature Shivers (re-titled They Came from Within in the States) and how a bad review of that movie nearly destroyed his filmmaking ambitions. Though this is a great interview with a director I could watch speak for hours it gets a huge strike for failing to cover the movie whose Blu-ray release it is accompanying. That's right, the interview ends before Cronenberg can actually talk about making The Brood. What a rip-off.
A genuinely frightening and powerful film that still maintains its ability to chill and provoke discussion over thirty years after its first release, The Brood is one of David Cronenberg's finest achievements as a filmmaker. Second Sight seems to think so too, since they've given the movie's UK debut on Blu-ray the first class treatment it richly deserves. Fans of true horror owe it to themselves to buy this disc. With any luck the inevitable region A Blu-ray will be half as worthy of purchase.