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The Brood

One of the less-appreciated films in the David Cronenberg canon, The Brood (1979) is an early exploration of the themes that would continue throughout the director's work — most specifically, the externalization of sexuality and horrific organic human mutation. Oliver Reed stars as psychiatrist Dr. Hal Raglan, who promotes a controversial psychological technique called Psycho-Plasmics, designed to help patients deal with their repressed rage. His prize patient is Nola (Samantha Eggar), a seriously disturbed woman estranged from her nice-guy husband Frank (Art Hindle). When the couple's young daughter returns from a weekend visit with Nola and Frank finds the child covered with nasty scratches and bruises, Frank blames Nola — but as he investigates Dr. Raglan's techniques, he gradually discovers that his wife's repressed rage takes a physical form that's as deadly as it is shocking. With its themes of parenthood, loss, rage, and good old-fashioned gross physical deformity, Cronenberg has reportedly called The Brood his answer to Kramer vs. Kramer — more than a simple horror film, it's a disturbing examination of, as Raglan calls it, "the shape of rage" and the intense damage that can be done through dysfunctional intimacy. Eggar is marvelous as a damaged, fragile, virtually unsympathetic woman who's both the victim and perpetrator of intense abuse; Reed turns in an admirable performance as Raglan, as a fundamentally good man whose therapeutic ideals have gone wildly, horribly out of his control. The Brood helped bring a glimmer of attention to Cronenberg, who'd previously had modest successes with Shivers (1976) (also known as They Came From Within) and Rabid (1977) — his career would really take off two years later with Scanners, launching a prolific string of almost-but-not-quite mainstream films. The Brood also marked Cronenberg's first collaboration with composer Howard Shore, whose moody, intense score perfectly complements the cold-as-ice cinematography by Mark Irwin (Shore is sometimes credited with having scored 1977's Rabid, but in interviews Cronenberg has confirmed that The Brood was the first score written specifically for one of his films). Long unavailable on home video in North America, MGM's DVD release offers the original theatrical cut of the film (earlier VHS and DVD versions available in the UK have featured different cuts of the film, with as many as ten minutes excised). The monaural English-only audio is fine, if unexceptional (English, French and Spanish subtitles are available). The transfer is very clean but the print seems overly saturated — flesh tones tend to the too-pink or too-orange and hot colors jump off the screen with distracting intensity. Brightly lit scenes are nicely detailed with excellent contrast but darker scenes can be murky, with details getting lost in too-black shadows. The original theatrical trailer — describing The Brood as "a film so terrifying, it will devastate you totally" — is included. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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