Blu-ray Review: The Brood (1979)

The Brood BR CoverDistributor: Second Sight Films

BBFC Classification: 18

Director: David Cronenberg

Starring: Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, Art Hindle, Henry Beckman, Susan Hogan, Cindy Hinds

Following on from their Blu-ray release of Scanners Second Sight Films returned to Canadian body horror maestro David Cronenberg’s earlier works to add to their catalogue of genre classics given the HD treatment with The Brood, which is arguably the point where Cronenberg started to be taken seriously by critics after his grimy ultra low-budget shockers Shivers (1975) and Rabid (1977).

Devoted father Frank Carveth (Art Hindle – Porky’s/Invasion of the Body Snatchers) is bathing his young daughter Candice (Cindy Hinds – The Dead Zone) when he notices cuts and bruises on her back. Enraged he goes to visit Dr. Raglan (Oliver Reed – The Curse of the Werewolf), who is treating Frank’s ex-wife Nola (Samantha Eggar – The Exterminator) using an experimental treatment known as psychoplasmics, during which patients with mental disorders are encouraged to unblock their suppressed feelings and emotions through physiological changes to the body. Raglan warns Frank that stopping Nola having access to Candice may jeopardise her treatment but Frank threatens to challenge Raglan and his methods, beginning an investigation into the Somafree Institute.

As Frank gets closer to Raglan and his mysterious treatment he makes contact with a former patient who has developed lymphoma brought on by psychoplasmics, and, as Nola’s mental rage gets worse, the people around Frank start dying at the hands of strange child-like beings and after Candice is abducted by said beings, Frank returns to the institute for a final showdown with his deranged ex-wife.

As with most David Cronenberg films you’re immediately thrown into a strange situation that you’re supposed to accept as normal and The Brood could quite possibly be the strangest, the only notable exception being Videodrome (Naked Lunch doesn’t count as it has a literary source). The opening scene is classic Cronenberg as Dr. Raglan is giving a demonstration of his methods with a patient called Mike (Gary McKeehan), who has some rather extreme issues with his negligent father, and it is effective in setting the mood of the film by demonstrating the intelligence that Cronenberg was injecting into his dialogue with an intense performance from Oliver Reed.

But given the strength of its setup The Brood is probably best known for its gruesome climax, where the full extent of Nola’s psychosis is revealed in all its gory glory. It’s a scene that works because, like the more dialogue-heavy introduction to the film, you don’t question the abnormalities that are presented to you and readily accept whatever Cronenberg sees fit to put on the screen.

Given the offbeat story and cold, clinical feel of the film it’s easy to see why The Brood may not resonate quite so much with mainstream audiences as some of Cronenberg’s other well-known films like The Fly or Dead Ringers, but The Brood is something of a breakout film for the director, expanding on the body horror ideas put forth in his previous excursions into the genre and pointing the way forward to where he would go in the future with his bigger budget movies. The casting of Oliver Reed certainly helped raise the film above many of its contemporaries and his restrained yet commanding presence certainly adds weight to what would probably be a lesser role in the hands of somebody else, and the other performances are also rock solid, with Samantha Eggar getting the balance between sympathetic victim and crazed antagonist bang on. Touching on themes of divorce and the effects of separation on a child’s mind, as well as pent-up emotions and modern psychiatric methods, it’s interesting to note that during this time David Cronenberg was going through a messy divorce and has gone on record as stating that the character of Nola shared many similarities to his ex-wife – hopefully not too many…

The transfer to Blu-ray is very pleasing, with many of the colours showing up a lot richer than on previous DVD editions. The picture has been tidied up nicely, with a little bit of grain here and there which helps keep the edgy feel of the film intact, although the volume did need to be set a couple of digits higher to make out some of the dialogue. What really makes this a special edition for fans, though, are the extras that Second Sight have packed in, including interviews with Art Hindle and Cindy Hinds, an interesting look at the making of the film with producer Pierre David (who reveals that there may be more to come with regards to The Brood), interviews with cinematographer Mark Irwin and actor David A. Silverman plus a conversation with David Cronenberg himself about his early pre-The Brood career.

If one were to analyze and order the films of David Cronenberg then The Brood would arguably feature in the top five as a horrific film that straddles the line between the director’s more underground works and his mainstream successes. It is a little slow in places and the narrative does get a little heavy at times, but since when have you ever watched a David Cronenberg film for giggles? If your knowledge of the man only goes as far as The Fly or something less shocking like A History of Violence but you’re intrigued to know more then The Brood is a good place to start, and this is the edition you should pick up.

The Brood

Special Features: Meet The Carveths interview with Art Hindle and Cindy Hinds, The Look of Rage interview with cinematographer Mark Irwin, Producing The Brood interview with producer Pierre David, Character for Cronenberg interview with actor Robert A. Silverman, Cronenberg – The Early Years interview with David Cronenberg.

UK Release Date: 8th July 2013

Second Sight Films – Website

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3 thoughts on “Blu-ray Review: The Brood (1979)

  1. Pingback: Blu-ray Review: Possession (1981) | Ancient Slumber

  2. Pingback: Blu-ray Review: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) | Ancient Slumber

  3. Pingback: Blu-ray Review: Hired To Kill (1990) | Ancient Slumber

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