Stacked up against all of his horror filmmaking contemporaries hailing from the 1970s, perhaps only Canadian maverick David Cronenberg has truly evolved, taking the disturbing themes that have been evident since his first feature film, 1975’s SHIVERS and refining them from picture to picture, transcending the very notion of what a genre film is.
Cronenberg films are sophisticated of thought, challenging of idea, often revolting, disturbing and occasionally quite funny. But they’re almost always personal. And none more so personal than his 1979 ode to cyclical child abuse, THE BROOD.
The film stars Art Hindle (BLACK CHRISTMAS) as Frank Carveth, a man in the thralls of a bitter custody battle with his mentally ill ex-wife Nola (Samatha Eggar) for their shell-shocked daughter Candice. Nola has been in virtual quarantine, undergoing intensive treatments by her psychiatrist Dr. Raglan (a reportedly – surprise! – often inebriated Oliver Reed) at his compound, subjected to Raglan’s controversial treatment regimen which prescribes manifesting ones trauma physically.
When Frank finds scratches and bruises on Candice’s body, he immediately thinks his ex is abusing her, seeing as she herself was an abused child and the nature of such things is known to continue. He’s only half right of course. It seems Raglan’s treatments, dubbed “psychoplasmics”, are causing Nola to literally “birth” her rage; when her stress levels rise, alien-like external wombs grow from her body and hatch bloody, malevolent “children”. These snowsuit-wearing dwarf humanoids react to their mother’s anger and run loose, committing violence and murder.
THE BROOD was made while Cronenberg was going through his own bitter divorce and custody battle, making the picture a very sensitive one. To this day, the filmmaker will not speak on the record about the movie. He just won’t go back there. That thinking, that “staying in the present and looking to the future”, has likely been what has kept DC vital and engaged and still creatively fertile.
Still, it would be nice to get a proper reflection on this, his first legitimate masterpiece.
I think SHIVERS is Cronenberg’s most important film, as it contains all the ingredients that he would use in every single movie he would later make. But I do think THE BROOD is his best film. And his scariest.
At the time, critics weren’t so fond of it, however.
As a kid, pre-IMDB, reading Leonard Maltin’s annual Video Movie Guide book, I was always taken aback that Maltin and company saddled THE BROOD with a dreaded BOMB rating, his review saying something to the effect that “midgets beat schoolteachers to death while Eggar eats her own afterbirth”.
Thing is, Eggar does no such thing. She LICKS her newborn rage baby. Licks the blood and fetal slime from it. But the US censors opted to trim that sequence, making the edit look like mother is diving in and eating either child or her deflated placenta.
So Maltin had it wrong. Not necessarily his fault.
This column IS Gruesome Galleries but before we get to the slew of photos from the film, just for fun, have a listen to an audio interview I did a few years back with Maltin, in which I take him to task on his THE BROOD review. After a lengthy discussion about his scale in evaluating horror films, he mentions that he just might re-visit THE BROOD.
I wonder if he ever did.
THE BROOD chat begins at the 11:52 mark:
And now…the picture show: