Back before I had cable television, hot water, or the convenience of the wheel, I used to depend on late night television for my horror fix. As a kid of around 12 or 13, I'd spend pretty much every weekend bunking at my friend's house, and, after raiding his parent's elaborate basement bar for Creme de' Menthe and Southern Comfort cocktails, we'd tune in to a local channel's midnight horror marathons of uncut classics from the sixties and seventies. David Cronenberg's The Brood was one of the "regulars" on that station, and I distinctly remember it to be the one film that truly disturbed my pal. I, on the other hand, didn't find it to be frightening so much as it was fascinating, and, as the dawn of the video rental came upon us, I sought out other works by the director. I especially enjoyed Cronenberg's approach to the genre; equal parts sci-fi, horror, and bizarre art-house cinema, and my appreciation of his work has grown over the years. However, of all of his films, the one that introduced me to his ouevre' still stands as my favourite.
Frank (Hindle) is a struggling dad whose estranged wife Nola (Eggar) is undergoing radical therapy at Somafree, an institution founded by mental health guru Hal Ragler (Reed). Frank's daughter Candice (Hinds) is a huge factor in Nola's treatment plan, and spends her weekends at Somafree with her mother. After returning from one such weekend, Frank notices bruises on his child, disrobes her, and finds more bruises, as well as bite marks and cuts, all over Candice's back. Frank immediatley consults his lawyer to see if he can somehow block his wife's visitation rights, but the lawyer tells him that, to do so, he needs proof of the strange goings-on at Somafree, and, if he's to prevent it from happening before the next weekend visit, he'd better act quickly. Frank leaves Candice with Nola's mother and pays a visit to Regler at his office. The doctor brushes off any notion that Nola is abusing her daughter, and advises against denying Nola access to her Candice at such a critical stage of her treatment. Privately, Regler knows full well that Nola had an abusive past at the hands of her own mother, and is concerned that she may be acting out against her child in the same way. After Frank leaves, Regler sits down with Nola and begins to probe her with questions about her past abuse, sending Nola into a rage. Meanwhile, Nola's mother is murdered by what is apparently a small child, and Candice bears witness to the brutal attack. As Dr. Regler digs deeper into Nola's past, more people fall victim to the same killer, and Frank is certain that the answer lie somewhere at Somafree.
The Brood is a fantastic and wildly original film. Cronenberg's complex stories have always elevated his films well above the norm, and this one is no exception. I've always marveled at his use of science, psychology, and the organic as the catalysts for his unique blend of science fiction and horror, and his influence can be seen in everything from the writings of Clive Barker to Japanese Cyber-Horror flicks. The cast is magnificent, especially the ever-reliable Oliver Reed as the arrogant Regler, and Eggar's bi-polar Nola, who simply owns the screen when she's featured. The film's got it's share of scares, although it's mostly content to keep us off balance with a sense of unease that's executed through long moments of silence and slow tracking shots. This is a truly cerebral horror film, in the Cronenberg tradition.
The DVD from MGM is a budget entry that features a solid widescreen transfer of the film, as well as a trailer, but nothing more. Still, the fact that it's finally available on Region One DVD is good enough for me. It's a classic example of this wildly misunderstood director's work, and an essential addition to any horror fans library.