‘The Brood’

The Brood

The Brood (1979) Directed by David Cronenberg. Starring Art Hindle, Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, Cindy Hinds, Nuala Fitzgerald, Susan Hogan, Robert A. Silverman, Harry Beckman.

There’s a minor theme running through this year’s marathon. My wife and I are expecting another child, due next year (yay us!), so I thought I would sprinkle in some horror flicks that centered around babies or children. I already picked the awful Inside and Dream Home contained its own pregnant surprise (don’t ask). I’m continuing the trend here with one of David Cronenberg’s early films, The Brood.

Poor Frank Carveth (Art Hindle). His wife Nola (Samantha Eggar) is staying at the Somafree Institute, a psychiatric clinic run by Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed) who uses a controversial method of therapy called “psychoplasmics”. It’s a technique that somehow transforms the negative emotions of the patients into physical manifestations, just the kind of thing Cronenberg loves. After picking up his daughter, Candice (Cindy Hinds), from a visit with her mother at the institute, Frank notices some bruises and scratches on her back. Positive they are signs of abuse from the girl’s mother, Frank vows to stop the visits that Raglan insists are vital to Nola’s treatment. Soon the people in Frank and Nola’s lives are being killed by what appears to be a child but is actually something far more disturbing.

The first two-thirds of The Brood is engaging as Frank, while pursuing a lawsuit against the institute, learns about Raglan’s bizarre methods. He meets with Jan Hartog (Robert Silverman, whose performance provides some comic relief) who reveals that his lymphoma is a result of psychoplamiscs. What effect might Raglan’s therapy be having upon Nola? Soon a body count builds and Frank’s investigation becomes more urgent as he realizes his daughter’s life is in danger.

The early murder sequences are basic slasher stuff, a bit run-of-the-mill for a Cronenberg film. There is a sequence where a teacher is killed in front of her Kindergarten class that left me wondering what kind of experience that was for the children playing the students. It’s the finale that’s the most gripping, the most “Cronenberg-esque”. Frank and Raglan find themselves working together to stop the killers and Candice is caught in the middle. While Raglan moves in to rescue the young girl from the terrifying brood, Frank’s wife reveals her horrifying secret.

For me the film works as a metaphor for the effects a parent’s emotions can have on their children, that as parents our reactions to situations and other people will reflect in our kids. But perhaps that’s because of how much parenting is a focus in my life right now. During the time Cronenberg wrote the film, he was fighting his first wife for custody of their daughter; that may present a slightly different, more one-sided interpretation. Nola is portrayed as shrill and unstable, quick to snap judgments. Frank Carveth’s actions are protective; Nola is the real danger to their daughter. Unfortunately it gives the film an unpleasantly misogynistic taste that I hope is merely a reflection of Cronenberg’s bitterness during his divorce and not a general worldview. I don’t know the details of his divorce, but, criminey, I can’t imagine what his ex-wife must have thought while watching the movie, had she bothered to give it a look.

I also realized that I haven’t seen many films starring Oliver Reed and I probably should. I found his quiet, intense delivery and commanding presence fascinating. I’ll have to browse his filmography and check a out a couple of his films. I wonder what kind of James Bond he would have made…

The Brood is a decent enough flick with a finale that is gripping yet unsettling in its apparent misogyny. I can’t recommend it for everybody, particularly for those uncomfortable with seeing children in danger, but give it a look if you’re a fan of Cronenberg’s unique style.

Bonus video of Oliver Reed giving an acting lesson:

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One Response to “‘The Brood’”

  1. Michael K Vaughan Says:

    You never see a cobra blink do you?…Idiots have curly hair…Piss off!! Oh how awesome is Oliver Reed?

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