Cronenberg’s public therapy session: The Brood


Finally, and I was owed this. Having waded through the bad Rabid and the absolutely awful Fast Company, I can’t begin to describe how pleased I am to see David Cronenberg hit his stride. The Brood is probably the quintessential Body Horror film, and deals with all the Cronenberg recurring themes in a story that is compelling, repulsive and more than a little unsettling.

It doesn’t start very promisingly, if I’m honest- as we see Oliver Reed’s quack psychiatrist Dr Raglan, the inventor of Psychoplasmy,  role play with a patient before a live audience. However, soon enough Frank Carveth (Art Hindle) visits Raglan to complain that his daughter is being harmed by her institutionalised mother (Samantha Eggar). He’s right, she is, but not in the way that he thinks. She’s actually being menaced by the products of Nola’s rage- the murderous Brood. The film slowly builds to a climax that frankly defies description, and finishes on a deeply depressing but inevitable low note.

This film contains two of the most disturbing scenes in Cronenberg’s career, and that’s really saying something. The first is the savage murder of Candy’s teacher- a demented and raw beating at the hands of two of the Brood armed with wooden hammers that takes place in front of her class of young children. It’s an astonishingly vicious scene, and one that I cannot believe would ever be filmed by anyone again. The second, is the iconic end scene where we see the birthing of the Brood. This is not particularly easy to describe, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that the image of Eggar licking amniotic fluid off the skin of a mutant dwarf stayed with me for a long time.

Aside from containing some definitively Cronenberg imagery, The Brood also tackles all the recurring Cronenberg themes. We’ve got a shadowy medical facility operating in an unethical and experimental field. We’ve got distortions of the body representing mental state. Oliver Reed’s Raglan adopts several different identities over the course of the film, purely in the name of therapy, and there are other identity issues at the crux of the film. This hits almost every Cronenberg hot topic.

That it can contain so many different themes without being a bloated and confusing mess is purely down to the script. The Brood was Cronenberg’s unpaid therapy session as he went through a horrendous divorce and he has actually said that he feels The Brood is more honest with the subject than Kramer v Kramer, and although that comment may be tongue in cheek, I still feel that there’s a kernel of truth to the assertion. Take, for example, the closing shot of the film- this leaves the viewer in no doubt that the cycle of violence will be continued in the next generation, and I have to agree- any child that undergoes the mental trauma Candy suffers is bound to have some issues herself.

It is also a very theatrical script. The therapy sessions between Raglan and Nola that are conducted one on one require Reed to play several different “roles”- Nola’s mother, father and potential replacement. His purpose here is to inflame Nola’s simmering rage for psychiatric purposes. Quite why he wants to do this is lost on me, but needless to say, anyone that he plays comes to a downright messy end.

As touched on above, the acting is sublime. The Brood contains arguably Oliver Reed’s most restrained performance, and I was quite pleased to be reminded of how good the great man could be when playing understated. Eggar is superbly unhinged and repellent as Nola, and Hindle is stoic as Frank, but a special note must be made of Cindy Hinds as little Candice, who manages to be suitably traumatised and puts in a touching show. I bet she’s in therapy now.

The direction also shows a marked improvement from previous efforts, and is certainly both the most competent film of his young career and also has some real confidence in it’s imagery that was maybe lacking a bit from Shivers and Rabid (I’ve conducted a Stalinist purge on Fast Company and erased it from my memory). The climactic scene, for example, where Nola lifts her dress is revolting and he places the camera further back from it than he did in comparitive scenes in previous films allowing us to see the full abomination. The murders themselves are also brilliantly staged, the first one in particular is absolutely gripping. This is a stylish film.

Overall, would I recommend The Brood? Yes. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that this is probably an essential Cronenberg film. This is the first film he made that flirts with greatness, and is a disturbing but compelling body horror played out by the master.

I give this one a well-earned 3 Changs- excellent.

Next up is the first unarguably great Cronenberg film: Scanners.

Until then,


The order so far:

  1. The Brood
  2. Shivers
  3. Rabid
  4. Fast Company

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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

27 responses to “Cronenberg’s public therapy session: The Brood”

  1. Continentalop says :

    Great review Jarv.

    Is this a great movie? Probably not, since it has in my opinion to many flaws (minor but still flaws). But I do agree with you it might be the quintessential Cronenberg. It is kind of like his Mean Streets or Blood Simple, where we could see that the beginning of what would be recurring themes and motiffs, and could tell he was someone who was finally getting comfortable and finding out his own voice.

    The Brood was to Cronenberg what the 2000-2001 Season was to Steve Nash – his breakout.

    • Jarv says :

      No, I wouldn’t say this was a “great movie”. The presence of the lunatic who exists solely to explain psychoplasmy probably excludes that.

      It is very much worth watching though.

  2. xiphos0311 says :

    This movie and Scanners are the only movies of his I like. Good review wasn’t it up earlier?

    • Continentalop says :

      What about Videodrome? Long live the new flesh!

      • xiphos0311 says :

        Oh yeah I forgot about that one. it’s okay didn’t do a lot for me don’t hate it or anything it’s just sort of there for me.

      • Continentalop says :

        I don’t know why but I look at Videodrome as a companion piece to Hardcore.

      • xiphos0311 says :

        I can see that in a loose sort of connection way.

        Thinking about more you have something there Conti.

      • DocPazuzu says :

        Hmmm…. well, they’re both science fiction. The thing that galls me about Hardcore is the basic message that all porn is just as bad. One character says at one point, while giving George C Scott tips about how to get into the business, “Start with kiddie porn and work your way up” (paraphrase). The implication is that all “legit” porn is rooted in child pornography, which is not only factually incorrect, but morally reprehensible. Other than that, it works just fine as a grotty little 70s thriller.

        Oh and Videodrome is fucking amazing. The remake will be as awful as the original is good.

      • Continentalop says :

        Doc, Hardcore was made in the 79 and like most films it is actually about an era 5-10 years previous. Back then porn was illegal, controlled by the mafia (look who made all the profit from Deep Throat, members of the Colombo family). A lot of truly sleazy and dangerous men worked in porn and controlled the business back then.

      • Jarv says :

        If we’re talking remakes:

        The Brood- 2011.

        Fuck. Off. Cunts.

        I knew this would happen when they finished arse-raping Carpenter’s back catalogue.

      • Jarv says :

        I have to see Hardcore at some point.

      • Continentalop says :

        You haven’t seen Hardcore yet? You got to see it. That and Taxi Drive are the original Sleaze movie that spawned all the others.

      • Jarv says :

        It’s something I keep forgetting about for some fucking reason.

      • DocPazuzu says :

        Good point, C-Op, but I would still maintain that even for criminal types, all things being equal (i e illegal)making the kiddie variety would be much more difficult and risky than just making illegal smut with consenting adults.

    • Jarv says :

      It was. Because I fucked up and forgot that the clock to schedule was 24 hour not 12. As soon as I corrected that it went back to where it should be.

      Scanners is unquestionably great. I like/ love almost all the films from here up to the next “shit” period. I can even find time for naked lunch. It’s an amazing 12 year run of goodness.

  3. kloipy says :

    Yeah, I really like the Brood a lot. Videodrome is probably my favorite of his older stuff though. Looking forward to that review. Great job as always Jarv

    • Jarv says :

      Vidoedrome is 2 films away. HUZZAH! LONG LIVE THE NEW FLESH.

      Cheers Kloipy. I could have rattled on and on about this film, to be honest- and it was a challenge to review without spoiling the actual end.

  4. Droid says :

    I’ll be redundant and say I haven’t seen this. But this is a really good review. Well done.

    On a subject I do know about. I don’t think KvK is necessarily about divorce per se. I think it’s more about parenting, and about one selfish, self-involved man becoming a selfless loving father.

    Anyway, good stuff.

    • Jarv says :

      I probably phrased that wrong. It’s that he felt that KvK was less honest in it’s depiction of Divorce than The Brood. This may well be coloured though by the nightmare he had.

  5. Jarv says :

    Fuck’s sake. I’m an idiot- I’m editing it to put in the key sentence:

    “In front of a class of 8 year olds”.


  6. lordbronco says :

    Yikes-I’ve never even heard of this particular flick…I dunno if my psychic barriers are strong enough to take on fresh cronenberg. *shudders*

  7. koutchboom says :

    Jarv, in preperation for your videodrome review

  8. Stuntcock Mike says :

    YES! A great film. Let the golden age of Crones begin.

  9. ThereWolf says :

    Fantastic review, Jarv. Could not agree more with that.

    The film really hits its stride in the last third, with Olly trying to sneak past the Brood while downstairs Frank is trying to con Nola to keep her benign – and failing miserably. It’s some kind of casting genius to turn the usually mild-mannered Eggar into a snarling, bloodied psycho protecting her newborn. It’s an image that has been seared into my brain since seeing the film, round about 1981/82.

    The class room murder is a shocker, but it’s always bugged me that the teacher gets overpowered so easily, she doesn’t even react to the one climbing onto the table. I think Cronenberg was aware of this and probably why he had two of the Brood go for her and not just the one we’d seen in previous scenes. Raw sequence, though.

    Must see this again. I may have it taped on VHS from years ago…

    • Jarv says :

      I can put it past me, because The Brood are supernatural- ergo have supernatural strength. They can punch through doors and shit.

  10. M. Blitz says :

    Late again. Really like this movie. Soooo insane. Nice pic of the baby-licking, too.

    Another installment should be coming up pretty soon, right? The next 5 (or 6, depending on my mood) are all faves…

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