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BROOD, THE(director/writer: David Cronenberg; cinematographer: Mark Irwin; editor: Alan Collins; cast: Oliver Reed (Dr. Hal Raglan), Samantha Eggar (Nola Carveth), Art Hindle (Frank Carveth), Cindy Hinds (Candice Carveth), Henry Beckman (Barton Kelly), Nuala Fitzgerald (Juliana Kelly) Susan Hogan (Ruth Mayer), Nicholas Campbell (Chris), Gary McKeehan (Michael); Runtime: 92; New World Pictures; 1979-Canada)
“A stunningly original film, but one that is hardly plausible.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A horror film about what unusual problems the human body presents to the modern world, as one’s repressed sexual desires are said to give rise to demonic psychic forces that can attack the mind and the body. A stunningly original film, but one that is hardly plausible.

Cronenberg’s film has outside forces in the forms of mutant dwarfs, who are controlled by psychic forces and react in a deadly manner to the rage of the one controlling it. They are the results of the evil experiments allowed by a mad therapist, Dr. Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed), the founder of the ‘Institute of Psychoplasmics.’ These psychic manifestations obey the sinister desires of a woman undergoing therapy for her psychosis, Nola Carveth (Samantha Eggar). The terror, unfortunately, seemed more theatrical than real inner angst.

A recurring theme in filmmaker Cronenberg’s repertoire is of an unhappy body in a palace revolt, which suggests in no uncertain terms that dreams can kill … and that anger if unchecked is something that takes its toll on the individual and on others.

Frank Carveth (Art Hindle) is head of a construction company and his wife Nola is being treated in isolation at the institute’s retreat for her mental illness, by the sinister Dr. Raglan. Frank attends a demonstration of how Raglan uses his therapy session to get one of his really sick patients to express his anger to the therapist and thereby the therapist could begin to deal with the patient’s problems—which brings about lesions on his skin (it can also bring about cancer and new organ growths). This transference method is called “Psychoplasmics.” When Frank notices that his 5-year-old daughter Candice (Cindy Hinds) has sores on her back after a visit to her abusive mother he confronts Raglan, saying he doesn’t want his daughter seeing her mother anymore.

The story proceeds on an erratic course of mixing gore and shock with cerebral challenges, never establishing which one it is more committed to. The story moves too far adrift to maintain a credible suspense. Instead it relies on the intense performance of Oliver Reed as the so-called genius experimenter who lost track of right and wrong, to pull you into the politics of what the film is saying about ethical medicine and the implications it has for the patients and society.

Frank is the “Everyman” good father, only concerned about his daughter’s well-being, sure that Raglan is insane, and he is willing to do anything possible to protect his daughter. He leaves his daughter with his mother-in-law (Nuala Fitzgerald) to baby-sit while he goes to work and the mother-in-law gets murdered by one of the ‘Brood,’ who was hiding in the cupboard. The murders continue when his mother-in-law’s estranged husband (Beckman) returns to the house to stay for her funeral and he is hammered by a midget with a mallet, who was hiding in the house. The mutant creature gets captured by Frank and dies, and the police believe their weird murders have been solved. But Candy’s attractive young schoolteacher is killed by two midgets with mallets bashing her head in, which takes place in front of her class. This comes after her visit to Frank’s house and she receives an insulting telephone call from Frank’s wife, accusing her of having an affair with her husband.

The remainder of the film is about Frank protecting his child from a further attack, and eventually confronting Nola with her hatred. It turns out that she is the source of these mutant sexless creatures, controlling them with her evil thoughts. I say…there’s nothing like hatred in a marriage to turn it into a nightmare!

It’s a film that could easily be viewed as being about a bad marriage and an even uglier separation, in other words a domestic drama with the trappings of a horror film. While throwing out a lot of nauseating sights and many indigestible themes, the film failed to hold together to make this a solid effort. But, if viewed for its parts rather than its sum, it had some very strong scenes of relating one’s body problems to the constraints of the mind. In any case, it’s more cerebral than the usual special-effect horror film and is worth seeing for its uniqueness.

REVIEWED ON 12/14/2000 GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”