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Director: David Cronenberg
Cast: Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, Art Hindle, Henry Beckman, Nuala Fitzgerald
Length: 92 min
Rating: BBFC: 18
Label: Second Sight
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English: LPCM 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH
Master of body-horror David Cronenberg took the genre in a unique and ultimately grisly direction in one of his earliest films, The Brood (1979). The creator of classics like The Fly (1986), Scanners (1981) and Videodrome (1983) exposes the roots of what the metaphor of body-horror could mean, and gives reason for the warped portrayal of human flesh in one of his most gruesome, but coldly precise films.
The Brood has an incredibly striking opening scene that immediately unsettles the audience’s sense of reality. We see two men sitting across from each other in bathrobes under a spotlight. We have no inkling of place or time, just the faces of these two men, and they are speaking as father and son. The father is cruel and emasculating to his son, issuing forth a stream of verbal abuse until the son’s rage and pain break through and he lets out a scream of hate. Boils follow on the coattails of the scream, erupted all over the son’s face and chest, actualizing the internal pain that he is suffering. And the father says, “Follow it through to the end.”
Only then do we get an establishing shot to reveal a stage and an audience. We have witnessed a psychiatrist and patient participating in therapeutic role-playing. And from there the film begins it’s main narrative, but the initial scene serves as a play within a play, an exchange that represents what the film as a whole is trying to expresses about the psychological damage that exists between children and their parents, as well as the metaphor of physically representing mental agony.The film follows Frank Carveth (Art Hindle) as he struggles to get custody of his daughter Candice. Frank’s ex-wife Nola (Samantha Eggar), an incredibly unstable and disturbed woman, has enrolled herself in an experimental therapy called ‘psychoplasmics.’ The therapist Dr. Raglan (Oliver Reed), who we saw playing the role of the father in the mini-play, encourages his patients to access their rage and emotional pain and express it physically, by manipulating their body to produce representative symptoms, like the man’s boils in the first scene. It is a therapy that straddles the line between extreme psychology and metaphysical voodoo. When Frank notices his daughter has been cut and bruised after her visit with her mother in the remote colony where she stays for therapy, Frank investigates. Strange, deformed children begin to emerge and attack everyone that Nola expresses rage towards, starting with her abusive and alcoholic mother.
The Brood deals with the way that repressed trauma can worm its way to the surface and pollute the person carrying it until they no longer recognize themselves in the mirror. There are a myriad of metaphors given in the film that express this. Frank goes to see an ex-patient of Dr. Raglan who is also suing him for malpractice. This ex-patient, who is suffering from Lymphatic cancer because of Dr. Raglan’s therapy, explains that there are systems inside of a person that they’re not even aware of, like the lymphatic system, until they become sick. There are systems of trauma and darkness that lace the human body as thoroughly as the circulatory system; they have just as many veins and capillaries. And when they aren’t expressed in a healthy manner, when the mind tries to repress these painful systems, the body revolts. And the bloody war that follows is what defines the genre of body-horror—the transmutation of psychic horror into skin-splitting physicality.
Second Sight Films has been doing some stellar remastering work lately, (their wonderful Possession is a prime example). Though this HD transfer of The Brood may not be quite of that caliber, it comes very close and there is really nothing here to complain about. Natural film grain is present throughout, but is mostly unobtrusive, only becoming slightly nosier in some darker scenes, which is to be expected. Colors look very natural throughout, as does the contrast. The original film elements seem to me in great shape, so there is no real age damage to report. In sum, this is a very organic-looking, filmic presentation of a vintage film that should please everyone except the most diehard grain haters.
Like the HD video, this lossless LPCM 2.0 track is true to the original source material and presents it honestly, without undue tinkering and “enhancement.” The music track sounds clear and full and the dialog is crystal clear as well.
Second Sight Films also provide a nice selection of interviews as bonus features. First is an interview entitled, “Meet the Carveths,” in which Fangoria editor, Chris Alexander interviews Art Hindle and Cindy Hinds. Next is an interview with cinematographer Mark Irwin entitled, “The Look of Rage.” Next is another interview with producer Pierre David, and also an interview with actor Robert A. Silverman. And finally, in a new interview also conducted by Chris Alexander, David Cronenberg discusses how he broke into filmmaking.
While the film’s concept is fascinating and very well executed, it seemed to be the only thing of import in the film’s narrative arch. Only one small moment in the film touched upon the deeper themes that were being reached at by the gory hand of the psychoplasm. Nola’s supposedly abusive grandmother (the details of the abuse come out in one of Dr. Raglan’s role-playing sessions and so the reality of the matter is left murky) touches upon how the past is a fiction, and depending on how its imagined through memory, a potentially damaging one. Children and their parents look back upon the same stretch of time and what they see is completely different. And this is the true horror. All in all, the film is rather seamless, beautifully shot, and really fun to watch.