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I remember Friday, May 25, 1979 very vividly. ALIEN and THE BROOD and were both released. ALIEN was a film I had heard and read about and looked forward to with zeal and couldn't wait to see it. When I discovered that it received the "restricted" rating, I was very disappointed because my parents would not take me to see it. THE BROOD, too, received the same rating, and I was stumped as to what the film was about because the poster was perplexing to say the least. To think that two such horror films would simultaneously grace American motion picture screens is difficult to imagine in today's glut of formulaic scripts that are laced with lame witticisms and cartoonish action.
I saw THE BROOD finally six years later when I was almost 17 and I didn't understand it completely. I watched it again a week ago and I was struck by just how intelligent and well-made it really is. This is an adult tale to be sure, one that is painful to watch as it deals with themes of divorce, rejection and child abuse, and how these unfortunate aspects of life are passed from one generation to the next (sounds like an ABC Afterschool Special!). Many critics shrug off films like this is and it seems to stem from a universally myopic view of the horror film as a genre that most of them regard as repugnant. I suppose that the graphic violence and misogynistic overtones tend to turn some people off, and that is understandable, but to be fair you cannot go into a film like this expecting POLLYANNA.
Art Hindle is Frank Carveth, a building restorer whose wife Nola (Samantha Eggar) is in a psychiatric retreat under the care of Dr. Henry Raglan (Olive Reed) for her emotional instability. Raglan is dabbling in a new form of treatment called Psychoplasmics which causes his patients' bodies to revolt against themselves. Robert Silverman has a cameo as a patient who claims that his lymphatic system has gone haywire as a result of Raglan's treatments. He's really there to explain the whole idea of Psychoplasmics to the audience, much like Simon Oakland tutored the audience on the "why" of Norman Bate's proclivity for transvestitism in PSYCHO.
Part of these treatments consists of Raglan's role-playing with his patients to get them to express their sadness or rage and confront their buried fears. With Nola Carveth, he plays "daddy" to her "wounded little girl". The byproduct of these sessions is the sublimation of Nola's inner rage into an abnormal pregnancy that exists in the form of an amniotic sac on the exterior of her body. She gives birth to a monstrous "child" which is then set free to commit acts of violence as per Nola's will. Nola's parents are the victims of this rage (her mother beat her as a child and her father looked the other way), and her young daughter, Candy, becomes caught up in the familial turmoil.
THE BROOD is rightly regarded as one of Cronenberg's best films and it has attained this status by boasting an above-average screenplay and excellent acting by Oliver Reed and Samantha Eggar. Mark Irwin, Cronenberg's then-frequent cinematographer, lends a cold look to the film. Cronenberg often refers to this film as his version of KRAMER VS. KRAMER (Hollywood's squeaky-clean version of a marriage's collapse).
THE BROOD is a film that would unlikely be made today the way it was in 1979. It contains one of the most horrific scenes I've seen in a film � a kindergarten teacher is pummeled to death with mallets by the aforementioned "children" and lies in a pool of blood as her students cry at her side, in shock. I cannot imagine how Cronenberg secured the usage of children in a scene like this. It really is disturbing.
The film's final shot is criticized for being too pessimistic, but I think it's the only way the film can end. If you strangle your wife to death, the emotional scars will still remain with your child � and get passed on.
Howard Shore provides another great moody score which, as far as I know, was never released as a soundtrack album. Hopefully, one of the current soundtrack album companies out there will obtain the rights and pay the re-use fees to get this score released. It consists virtually completely of strings and violins.