Even though he’s moved away from it in recent years, focusing his eviscerating razor eye on other areas, David Cronenberg first made his name in body horror. With films like Scanners, Rabid, and Shivers, the Canadian shock auteur played on our visceral fears about ourselves, our bodies, and the terrors that lurk inside. One of his absolute masterpieces in this realm is 1979’s psychotronic magnum opus The Brood, which just got an expansive Criterion Collection release, and is a must-own for fans of the film, Cronenberg, or movies that unnerve you to your very core.
Famously dismissed on its initial release by legendary film critic Roger Ebert as exploitation and sleaze of the highest order, The Brood is as squirm-inducing as any horror flick, but exists as something more complex and disturbing than a throwaway genre feature. A mentally troubled woman, Nola Carveth (Samantha Eggar), receives an experimental psychological treatment at a remote institute at the same time that her young daughter is tormented by a group of grotesque creatures. These two sides are connected in a way that you would never expect, but will never forget, and our psychosis manifest physically on screen like you’ve never imagined before.
The film is full of shocking imagery, including, but not limited to, star Samantha Eggar eating her own placenta; some truly disturbing, stomach churning practical special effects applications from legend Rick Baker; and a group of what appear to be demonic children beating old people and teachers to death with mallets. But within all of this grotesquerie, blood, and trauma, Cronenberg, who also wrote the script, weaves in deep tension and legitimate emotional investment in the characters.
Full of themes of intrinsic fears of parenthood, larger cultural gender issues, and societal repression, The Brood taps into some fundamental, primal terror about the potential horrors that skulk and prowl inside all of us, down to our very genetic makeup, about a disconnect between our minds and our bodies. There are ideas of science and psychiatry running unchecked in the modern world, and the entire film is an allegory for the damage done by divorce and failed marriages that is somehow simultaneously eerily ephemeral and startlingly concrete.
In a film that laid the foundations for much of what was to come in his higher profile works, Cronenberg takes these ugly, twisted, mutated feelings and brings them to horrifying life. What was the last divorce drama you watched that featured murderous, misshapen dwarves? The Brood is also a stylistic forbearer to the cold, clinical aesthetic for which the director would ultimately become so recognized, serving as a bridge between his earlier, more straight-up shock fare and the more polished films to follow.
The harrowing score by Howard Shore evokes shades of the work Bernard Herrmann did with Alfred Hitchcock. His elevated strings evoke a visceral, knee-jerk response that can’t help but raise the hairs on the back of your neck. Cronenberg also uses color to great effect, employing stark shades to drive home and punctuate the underlying psychological refrains.
The Brood is the stuff of nightmares on every level, the recurring kind that stick with you and infect the rest of your day, long after you wake up. A dark, twisted parable, even 36 years later, it stands as one of David Cronenberg’s greatest achievements and most unsettling works.
As a if owning your very own copy of The Brood isn’t enough of an excuse to sprint out to your local independent retailer and pick this up, the Criterion Collection has, once again, lived up to their reputation and mission statement and released on hell of a package. Damn near any single extra in this package is enough to make this worth the purchase price, but taken together, you can scarcely justify not buying this.
First off, the movie looks fantastic, with a newly restored 2K digital transfer that was supervised by David Cronenberg himself, in the preferred 1.78:1 aspect ratio. You also get an extensive new documentary about the making of The Brood that features insight from the director, actress Samantha Eggar, executive producer Pierre David, cinematographer Mark Irwin, legendary make up artist Rick Baker, and many more folks who were there. It also digs into Cronenberg’s other early work.
Speaking of his earlier work, this two-disc set also comes with a new 4K transfer, also supervised by Cronenberg, of his 1970s film, Crimes of the Future, which is a treat indeed. Beyond all of this, there are a variety of in depth interviews with the director and various members of the cast and crew, a few TV appearances from around the time of the release of the film, and a detailed essay from critic Carrie Rickey just to sweeten the deal—maybe your power goes out and your Blu-ray player won’t work, you can still dig into The Brood.