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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

New on Video: Terrifying Toddlers in The Brood

Posted By on Tue, Oct 13, 2015 at 12:00 PM


With all due respect to my niece who’s currently on her way to being the best midwife in Denver, reproduction is an icky process. But that’s because it involves the body, and quite frankly, there’s little the body does that isn’t icky. That’s been a recurring theme in the work of my favorite director, David Cronenberg, and the grotesqueries of birth are at the forefront of his fourth film: 1979’s The Brood, which the Criterion Collection is releasing this week on Blu-ray. Most people tend to think of it as his third film after 1975’s Shivers and 1977’s Rabid, but that’s only because nobody wants to be reminded of his other 1979 film, Fast Company. He shot it right before he made The Brood, but it’s about car-racing, so, whatevs.

As for The Brood is ultimately more about the effects of divorce and separation on children than it is about birth per se; Cronenberg has famously referred to it as “my version of Kramer vs. Kramer, but more realistic.” Recently estranged from her husband and daughter, Nola Carveth (Samantha Eggar) is receiving an extreme and often abusive form of psychotherapy run by the creepy Dr. Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed). Meanwhile, that estranged daughter Candy (Cindy Hinds) — under the custody of the husband Frank (Art Hindle) — is being attacked by a horde of demonic little people who dress and look not unlike her, give or take their hideous faces. Could there be a relation, literally? Oh my, yes.

The Brood is ultimately my least favorite of his Cronenberg’s first half-dozen films; indeed, my favorite of his early period is his sixth film, 1983’s Scanners, although The Dead Zone from that same year was the first film of his I saw on video in 1985, being a 12-year-old going through a massive Steven King phase. (Do 12-year-olds still do that?) But I realize now that part of it has always been because it has some of the darkest, rawest emotions of any of those early films, because it is Cronenberg working out his own darkness as he struggled through a divorce. And considering that my parents separated when I was 8 (and by 12 I was a Stephen King fan, go figure), it might mean the themes hit a little too close to home.


As is always the case with Criterion releases, this is the best this low-budget, grainy-as-hell Canadian B-picture has ever looked. As is also the case with Criterion, there are also some nifty extras.

Perhaps because of the dispassionate way that Cronenberg considers the human body, he’s never struck me as having as much of a fear of the feminine as a lot of other male directors, and horror directors in particular. Gender issues frequently factor into his work, and I have to admit that I’m glad that he hasn’t done a film with a transgender character yet (and the closest he’s come, 1993’s M. Butterfly, is almost as forgotten now as Fast Company). In the new making-of documentary “Birth Pains,” Samantha Eggar looks back on the making of the film with great fondness. She was excited to make a horror movie, and in this clip, she talks about a making a suggestion based on her observation of female dogs to Cronenberg, a suggestion which made it into the film, and which made the menfolk watching the dailies almost throw up. Rawk!

Meanwhile, in a short interview called “The Early Years” about the making of his first film, Shivers, Cronenberg relates that his original title for that film was much more…unsubtle, shall we say. As he puts it, “I was ready to really go for it, not hold back — y’know, we’re making a horror film, let’s go for it.” It’s probably for the best that his title wasn’t used, but it’s great hearing him talk about what might have been, and like Eggar, to so fully embrace this most disreputable of genres.

Criterion has given the full treatment to such stone-cold Cronenberg classics as Videodrome, Naked Lunch, and Dead Ringers, and as they continue to make their way through his catalog, my fingers are crossed that they’ll make their way back around to one of my most favorite movies of all time, his 1996 Crash. They released it on LaserDisc in 1997, but it's been out of print since then, including his terrific commentary. Fingers crossed!

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Sherilyn Connelly


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