Retro Review: ‘The Brood’
In 1979 Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg made his presence known in the film industry with the strange yet memorable horror film, the Brood. Cronenberg has stated in the past that this was a very autobiographical movie for him, as he was battling for the custody of his own daughter at the time. Hopefully his custody battle involved lawyers, rather than murderous mutant kids and body horror. This psychological horror film has built a cult following especially among fans of this imaginative filmmaker.
After drunkenly abusing her daughter, Nola Carveth is placed under the care of Dr. Hal Raglan, a psychiatric expert who utilizes creative and unorthodox practices. In the outside world her husband, Frank is trying to raise their daughter, Candice. This task is made more difficult by the fact that people in his and Candice’s life are being brutally murdered by deformed children. Frank knows this is somehow tied to Dr. Raglan and his estranged wife and the mysterious psychological experimenting being conducted. When he finally confronts the two of them he learns the deformed children are a being born from a strange transformation Nola has undergone due to her psychological issues.
The wintery Canadian landscape of rural Ontario, truly adds something to this bleak film, as most scenes are covered in snow and darkness. This backdrop serves well in a movie which blends family drama with strange horror. Despite a limited budget, Cronenberg’s mastery at the helm covers any deficiencies a lack of funding may have caused. Unlike his other early works, the auteur filmmaker shows a remarkable restraint with this picture, which serves it well as it builds tension. Even the scene of Samantha Eggar as Nola licking he blood off a newly hatched abomination in the most disturbing and memorable scene in the movie is played with a sense of unnerving subtlety.
In what could have been a silly B-movie, the cast Cronenberg assembled turned in top notch performances across the board. Stealing the show is Samantha Eggar as the troubled Nola. Over the course of the film we see her fluctuate between sympathetic to terrifying without missing a beat. As the aloof, Dr. Raglan, veteran actor Oliver Reed pulled off a performance which left audiences wondered if he could be trusted, or if he was playing a part in the brutal slaying carried out by the child-like creatures. These two along with the rest of the ensemble, do a remarkable job carrying the film.
Despite being close to 40 years old, the Brood has lost little of its power. A solidly made film will stand the test of time regardless of what happens and that is surely the case here. The drama of the story still has the ability to wrap the audience up, and the body horror of the conclusion is still horrifying and unnerving. In a film David Cronenberg considers one of his most personal, the Brood still has the ability to get into the heads of viewers and stick with them.