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Review: The Brood (1979)

91Min. / Directed by David Cronenberg

Doctor Raglan (Oliver Reed) is a psychologist who practices his own radical form of therapy called Psychoplasmics. His prize patient is the troubled Nola (Samantha Egger), a woman with a young child and estranged husband (Art Hindle). The husband becomes worried after noticing black and blue marks on his child after a weekend with her mother at Raglan’s secluded retreat and threatens to withold her from Nola. At the same time, a group of deformed child-like beings who appear to be acting on the psychotic urges of Nola come out of nowhere and begin to terrorize Nola’s mother after issues of childhood abuse come out in a session with Raglan. After Nola directs his anger toward her father they seek him out to avenge her rage. When Nola’s daughter turns up missing the husband races to discover an answer to the strange beings and their relation to Nola and the enigmatic Raglan, who may be giving birth to Nola’s fury in a very real and dangerous way.

Though not as spectacular as his earlier efforts, The Brood is yet another exploration of the essentrial Cronenberg themes and what it lacks in scope it thoroughly makes up in its detailed and realistic handling of what could have become pure exploitation in lesser hands. Nola’s “children of rage” are in reality little more than a few child actors romping about in poorly-constructed masks but the sheer will of Cronenberg’s craft allow them to become a deadly force which easily rivals the plague of lunatics from Shivers or Rabid. As with most of Cronenberg’s formative work, the storyline is a cleanly-constructed machine of pure intention which is guided swiftly along by Mark Irwin’s expert cinematography and backed by an early score from Howard Shore. The Brood marked Cronenberg’s first collaboration with then-novice composer Shore and even at this infantile stage in Shore’s career there exists the same dark and stoic presence which would mark his latter-day compositions.

The externalization of the unconscious into some tangible organic form is a concept integral to Cronenberg’s work and something that’s often lost on those who feel that his pictures are too graphic or violent. Whereas other filmmakers are more adept at psychological horror, Cronenberg is all about physical exposure.”Long live the new flesh” is the mantra of Cronenberg work, a motto which would become self-evident in later films such as Videodrome and the groundbreaking remake of The Fly

The presence of high-profile actors such as Reed and Eggar marked another step in Cronenberg slow ascension to international recognition which would continue with his next smash Scanners and eventually explode with his cinematic adaption of Stephen King’s The Dead Zone. Although The Brood may not be the most exciting or ambitious movie it is a critical element of that ascension and a crucial film in the development of Cronenberg as a world-class filmmaker.

The Dutch company Arrow has produced a PAL DVD which is fortunately uncut but fails miserably in every other category. The video is an especially ancient-looking 3:4 video transfer. Colors are muted and black levels are generally poor and leaning toward grey. Compression artifacts are also visible during many of the darker scenes. The oddest area occurs approximatley 15 minutes prior to the end of the film where the screen flips out and goes black for a short period, indicating some kind of tape change which was poorly-handled by Arrow. Could this have come from some old television or video cut which Arrow had laying around? Maybe an early laserdisc transfer? Whatever the case, the video transfer on this dvd simply is only slightly above the efforts of companies like Madacy or Simitar. The DD 2.0 English Mono track is clear and strong but little more. The disc contains no extras beyond a simple menu with chapter stop selection.

2020 Update: Criterion Collection released a definitive Blu-Ray edition of The Brood includes cast and crew interviews.

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