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The Brood (1979)

La Clinique de la terreur, David Cronenbergs The Brood

The Ultimate Experience Of Inner Terror

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 92 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 18


When Frank Carveth (Art Hindle) picks up his five-year-old daughter Candice (Cindy Hinds) from a weekend visit at the Somafree Institute where her mother, his mentally unstable ex-wife Nola (Samantha Eggar), is receiving an experimental therapeutic treatment known as 'psychoplasmics', he notices bruises and welts on the little girl's body. Refused access to Nola by Somafree's guru-like leader Dr Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed), Frank begins investigating the organisation, and meets freakish former patients like Jan Hartog (Robert Silverman) who have now fallen out with Raglan and his unorthodox methods. As Nola's sessions, guided by Raglan, reveal more about her troubled past and violent emotions, her own mother (Nuala Fitzgerald) is bludgeoned to death by a strange, snarling child – and with more vicious murders taking place around him, Frank realises that the dangers to his daughter and himself are much closer to home than he could possibly have imagined.

Was Nola abused by her mother as a child, as she claims? And if not, what caused the “big ugly bumps” that saw her spend so much of her youth in hospital? Is Dr Raglan a pioneering genius, or merely a Svengali-like showman (Reed's performance is certainly mesmerizing enough)? Is the wonderfully weird Hartog onto, or just on, something? And is it more than mere coincidence that the killer so closely resembles Candice? The ambiguities and red herrings woven intricately into the plotting of 'The Brood' are enough to keep most viewers from guessing its bizarre conclusion – but in any case the film is less a mystery thriller than a horrific tragedy, where all the family psychodramas that usually remain deeply buried take on alarmingly tangible form – and even those who can see the end coming will be unprepared for the triumphant grotesquery of its spectacle, in what is one mother of a climax.

From its wintry Canadian setting to its prominent 'mad scientist' figure, from its darkly imaginative plot to its chilling Howard Shore soundtrack, and from its psychosexual transformations to its unflinchingly repellent body horror, 'The Brood' is unmistakably a film by David Cronenberg – but what makes it unique amongst the visionary auteur's œuvre is its close connection to his personal biography. For at the time he wrote the script, Cronenberg himself had just been through a difficult divorce and bitter custody battle for his own daughter – and if 'The Brood' is concerned with transgressively extreme ways of finding release for inner feelings of rage and recrimination, then it is also clear that the film itself allowed the director to give 'psychoplasmic' expression to his own sense of anger and frustration. Cronenberg has even joked that 'The Brood' was his peculiar version of 'Kramer Vs Kramer', Robert Benton's sentimental divorce pic released in the same year – although Benton's film, perhaps to its discredit, never featured dwarfish homicidal psychopaths amongst its methods for bridging irreconcilable differences.

It's Got: The ever-versatile Oliver Reed playing a guru-psychiatrist who in turn plays the rôles of his patients persecutors as part of his radical therapy; Robert Silverman bringing perfectly pitched strangeness to the part of former patient Jan Hartog; repellent body horror that gives flesh to male anxieties about the close bond that exists between mothers and children.

It Needs: A more engaging principal character.

DVD Extras Disc One: Widescreen version (aspect ratio 1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs; shorter UK version of the film (87min); scene selection; choice of 2.0/5.1/dts; optional English subtitles for the hard of hearing; trailer reel; bios (in tiny script) of actors Samantha Eggar, Oliver Reed and Art Hindle; The Directors: the Films of David Cronenberg (59min), excellent featurette covering Cronenbergs films from his early experimental shorts up to eXistenZ (1999), and including interviews with many of his stars (Brooke Adams, Marilyn Chambers, Willem Dafoe, Deborah Harry, Holly Hunter, Michael Ironside, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Peter Weller, Anthony Zerbe) as well as with Cronenberg himself; filmnotes (in tiny script). Disc Two: Uncut, and therefore much better, US version of the film (92min); scene selection. Version reviewed: The Brood (Anchor Bay double disc edition) DVD Extras Rating: 7/10


Rage gets a shape in Cronenberg's compellingly grotesque psychothriller.