A horror version of Kramer Vs. Kramer may be an odd way to describe director David Cronenberg's The Brood. Yet it is a self-admitted comparison from the director...as he was inspired by a messy divorce from his first wife during the filming.
A grisly yet intelligent tale, The Brood is perfectly in line with Cronenberg's often brilliant, sometimes maligned views and images of the human body in revolt.
Following Shivers (They Came From Within) and Rabid, the director showed immense growth and maturity as a filmmaker - and he finally got to work with a more capable and established cast.
Brits Samantha Eggar, who had been nominated for an Academy Award for William Wyler's stunning The Collector (1965) and veteran actor Oliver Reed co-star in this disturbing and eerie Cronenberg ride.
Dr. Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed) is author of the book The Shape of Rage. At his Somafree Institute, he practices his unorthodox therapy called Psychoplasmics with his patients.
Psychoplasmics is a psychotherapeutic approach that involves bringing out the pain and anger of the individual's past experiences...which manifests itself by making the bodies of its practitioners break out in welts and various skin abnormalities. (Whew, you got that?)
Frank Carveth (Art Hindle) attends one session that has been opened to the public. His interest comes from the fact that his emotionally disturbed wife, his estranged Nola, is under the care of Dr. Raglan.
After watching the doctor in action with Mike Trellan (Gary McKeehan), one of the more unstable patients...Frank picks up their daughter Candice (Cindy Hinds) from a nursery and takes her home.
While giving the little girl a bath, he notices some markings on her back. Assuming Nola has been beaten by her mom, he heads back to the institute and demands to see Nola. Dr. Raglan is reluctant, citing the intense therapy and isolation that Nola's treatment requires.
While Nola can see Candice on the weekends, the doctor would rather that she not come into contact with her husband. If Nola is not responsible for the markings, Frank believes it could have been some other "crazy" patient. In any case, "no more weekends with Mummy."
"To take Candice away from her at this stage...could send Nola over into the deep end. It's a critical time for her," Dr. Raglan tells Frank. In addition, the doctor threatens legal action. He's not persuasive. Franks says Candy won't be back.
"An emotional opportunist" is what Frank calls Dr. Raglan to his attorney (Larry Solway). Still, he's told the law believes in "motherhood" and chances are slim that Frank can prevent Nola from visitations with her daughter. Perhaps if Frank can prove that Somafree is crawling with crazies and is not a healthy place for children, he might have a case.
While picking up his daughter from school, Candy's teacher Ruth Mayer (Susan Hogan) tells Frank she'd like to speak to him soon about school activities and the little girl.
That night, Frank brings Candy to her grandmother's house so she can babysit. Despite the fact that Juliana Kelly (Nuala Fitzgerald) is Nola's mother, Juliana tells Frank that Nola will not let her see her granddaughter.
She has been drinking and starts to pour her heart out to Frank, telling him that Nola blames her for everything. She holds their past and her unhappy childhood against her.
Meanwhile, Nola (Samantha Eggar) is undergoing a session with Dr. Raglan. The doctor takes on the role of Candice and Nola denies that she physically hurt her in any way. "Mummies don't hurt their own children," she says.
But there is a seething anger in Nola. She starts to remember her relationship with Juliana, recalling beatings and even getting thrown down the stairs. Dr. Raglan encourages her to talk about it.
Juliana is showing photos to Candy. One of them is of Nola in a hospital when she was a little girl. Juliana explains that Nola would sometimes wake up and be covered with "big, ugly bumps."
The doctors could never figure out the cause of this. Suddenly, there is a commotion in the kitchen. Milk, juice and cookie jars are being knocked onto the floor. A small grotesque hand grabs a meat tenderizer...
Juliana leaves Candy alone to see what is going on. The kitchen is a mess. She looks up and gasps...a small creature...a kind of mutant dwarf in a child's outfit...jumps off the top of a cabinet and begins striking her in the face with the tenderizer.
Candy hears this and approaches the kitchen - where she sees her grandmother's bloodied corpse on the floor. The girl glances at the staircase and catches a quick glimpse of the dwarf - who then dashes off...leaving its bloody handprints behind.
Frank runs a construction company called Carveth Restorations Ltd. While surveying a house, he receives the bad news and heads over to the police station. The Inspector (Michael Magee) describes the murder scene and tells him that an officer discovered Juliana's body when he noticed a broken kitchen window.
He shows Frank the murder weapon and says that Candy was found upstairs, sound asleep. It looks as if she missed the whole thing. "Where is his daughter now?" Franks wonders. The inspector tells him that she is with a psychologist. Not because she was hysterical...but because she was a little "too cool."
Is there anyone that Frank knows who might have wanted to kill Juliana? Frank can't think of anyone, although he mentions that she had a series of lovers - none of which he ever met. He also says she had been divorced from Nola's father Barton for ten years.
The police psychologist, Dr. Birkin (Reiner Schwartz) tells Frank he wants to speak with him. He tells him that Candy did not escape the incident entirely unscathed. She may have gone into a deep sleep to escape something traumatic that she witnessed.
The girl doesn't even remember being brought to Juliana's house in the first place. Dr. Birkin encourages Frank to try and get Candy to talk about what happened.
That evening, Frank tries to do just that but Candy won't respond. The phone rings. It's Nola on the other end. Chris (Nicholas Campbell), a worker at Somafree, hangs up the receiver. He tells Nola she is in isolation and forbidden from making calls. The doctor is away and Nola wants to see him.
Dr. Raglan returns to the institute. Nola tells him she knows that Frank is trying to take Candy away from her. "That's very unfair of him...that's very arrogant of him," she says. Dr. Raglan believes Frank is just trying to protect the girl.
An impromptu session reveals that Nola also has issues with her father. She feels that he didn't do enough to guard her when she was a little girl from her mother's abuse.
Frank photographs the bruises on Candy's back and then drives to the airport to pick up Nola's dad, Barton Kelly (Henry Beckman) - who has arrived in town for Juliana's funeral.
Barton tells Frank he may end up staying at the house he shared with his former wife, rather than at a hotel. He still has a key and Juliana always made a big deal about the fact the she never changed the locks.
Frank pays a visit to Jan Hartog (Robert A. Silverman), who used to be under the care of Dr. Raglan, at a clinic in which he is a patient. Frank found him because he was made aware of a lawsuit Jan has against the Somafree Institute.
The guy is very strange but Frank is there to get some information. Jan tells him his lawsuit is based on the physical change that happened to his body because of Dr. Raglan's Psychoplasmics therapy.
He lifts up a towel wrapped around his neck and shows Frank a disturbing tumor...an organ caused by Raglan encouraging his body to revolt against him. Although Jan doesn't really believe he has a good case, he feels the bad publicity can get the institute shut down.
Barton drives to Somafree and demands to see Nola...to tell her about her mother's death. Dr. Raglan won't allow a visit. Barton has been drinking...but he tells the doctor that if he doesn't hear from his daughter by the next day, he will be back to remove her from his care.
Frank picks Candy up at school and invites Ruth over for dinner that night. Barton calls from Juliana's house...drunk and depressed. He tells Frank to come over right away so they can drive out to Somafree to try and see Nola. Ruth agrees to look after Candy while Frank heads over to talk some sense into Barton.
Juliana's kitchen is roped off and Frank kneels over the outline of where her body was found. He then goes upstairs to her bedroom and lays down on the bed in tears, unaware that something is hiding beneath.
With Barton intoxicated, the dwarf leaps onto the bed and strikes him in the face with a glass weight...knocking him to the floor. The creature hits him repeatedly.
Frank arrives and hears the sound of glass shattering. He heads upstairs and finds Barton dead on the floor. The creature suddenly tosses the glass weight in Frank's direction before running out.
Franks find it in the bathroom, where it falls to the ground and expires. At the police station, the inspector says the creature must have been in the house all along, at least since Juliana's death. He speculates that it could be a deformed child that some mother kept in an attic all these years.
Ruth has been babysitting Candy. The phone rings and it's Nola. Jealous, she asks her, "are you and my husband having your own private PTA meeting, Miss Mayer?" and calls her a "bitch."
The coroner (Joseph Shaw) takes a look at the dwarf's body. It has distinctly inhuman traits...its eyes have retinas but no irises. It has beak-like gums in place of teeth. And aside from not having a sexual organ...it doesn't have a belly button, which according to the coroner means "this creature has never really been born, at least not the way human beings are born."
During a session that Nola has with Dr. Raglan...the doctor takes on the persona of Ruth, the "other woman." Nola believes that someone is trying to break her family apart and she is starting to focus her rage on her daughter's teacher.
When Frank returns home from his visit to the coroner, Ruth leaves abruptly...still upset over Nola's phone call. Candy is awake and tells her dad she had a "scary, bad dream." Frank comforts her by telling her that the creature is dead.
The second Kelly murder makes the newspaper headline the next morning, complete with photo of the deceased perpetrator. Dr. Raglan reads it and asks Chris how many people they have at the main house. There are 27. The doctor says he wants them out by the afternoon and the house closed.
Raglan double checks to make sure he has a gun stashed in his desk drawer as the patients are all boarded onto a bus immediately. The most troubled person at Somafree is Mike Trellan, who seems reluctant to leave. However, Chris convinces him to get on the bus.
Jan gets in contact with Frank and tells him to come to his clinic right away. There's a new patient...Mike. Mike has something interesting to tell Frank. He calls Nola the "queen bee" of Dr. Raglan's institute. He says Frank's wife is the one the doctor is most interested in. She can prove, according to Mike, that Raglan's Psychoplasmics are the ultimate therapeutic device.
Frank finds out that all the patients at Somafree have been thrown out...except for Nola. Meanwhile, Dr. Raglan heads down to a work shed behind the institute where he sees that an attic window has been broken.
As he does every weekday, Frank drops Candy off at her school. As the students file in for class, two kids stay outside...playing on a tire swing. Ruth prepares for the day's activities as those two students enter the classroom and remove Candy. It turns out they are not normal children but two deformed dwarfs.
Approaching Ruth, they each grab a wooden toy hammer and pounce on the teacher as the other kids watch in horror. A little boy runs outside screaming. "they're hurting Miss Mayer!" Frank is still nearby, speaking with another parent.
He rushes in and finds Ruth on the floor, blood gushing from her head. The shocked students stand around, in shock and crying...as Frank covers her head with a drawing. The dwarfs are gone - and so is Candy.
Dr. Raglan wakes up his last remaining patient from a deep sleep. Nola says she was having a wonderful dream...that her husband and daughter were coming back to her.
The doctor asks her about Ruth and Nola tells him she must be getting stronger because she doesn't feel threatened by Candy's teacher anymore.
Frank and the inspector stop by an apartment that Nola lived in with Candy for nine months before she checked into Somafree. There's no sign of anyone having been there recently.
While looking at an article in the paper that night about Candy's disappearance, Frank hears a knock at his front door. It's Mike...and he tells Frank that Somafree was closed down because Dr. Raglan is up to something big with the "disturbed kids" he keeps in the workshed. The ones Nola is "taking care of."
Frank jumps into his car and heads out to the institute. He finds the shed and grabs Dr. Raglan as he's leaving. Frank reveals that he knows some of these children killed Ruth and brought Candy back with them.
Dr. Raglan is surprised to hear of the teacher's death. He pulls out a gun and warns Frank that if he tries to take the little girl away, they'll kill him. He says Candy is being kept in the attic of the shed.
Candy isn't like them, Frank tells him...or is she? Raglan says she is. And Nola isn't just a surrogate mother to these unfortunate children - according to the doctor, she is their real mother. He says, "they're the children of her rage. They're motivated only by her anger, whether that anger is conscious or subconscious."
He admits that Candy WAS beaten, not by Nola...but by the creatures when Nola got cross at her. When Nola released her anger at her parents while under therapy, the "brood" went further and killed them.
With Ruth now dead, either of them could be next. And Nola wouldn't be aware of it. She doesn't even know her daughter is just upstairs from her at the moment.
Dr. Raglan wants Frank to go to Nola immediately and persuade her that he wants her back...while the doctor rescues Candy from Nola's brood. If Nola can stay calm and happy, the brood stays neutral, allowing Dr. Raglan to help. But if Nola gets pissed off...the brood gets angry and the consequences could be deadly.
Frank enters the first floor of the shed, where Nola is meditating. She's surprised to see him and even more surprised when Frank says she's the only person for him. "God, I wish it were true," she tells him.
When he says they have to make sure they don't lose touch again, Nola replies that isolation is part of her therapy, adding, "what's been happening to me has been just too strange...too strange for me to share with anyone from my old life."
Frank pleads with her to make him a part of her life. He says he wasn't ready before - but he is now. Nola believes him and she lifts her gown to reveal something horrifying. Her womb is outside of her stomach.
As Frank looks on in disbelief, Nola rips the baby sac open with her teeth and gives birth to another child. She licks the blood off the baby's head as Frank clearly gags.
Nola knows she is being deceived. "No! I disgust you...I sicken you. You hate me! You didn't come here because you love me. You came here to take our daughter away and give her to somebody else!"
Dr. Raglan opens the door to the attic, where the brood is sleeping and where Candy is being kept. As Nola gets angrier and angrier, they start to wake up.
The doctor grabs the girl as several dwarfs jump off their bunk beds to block his path. He tells Candy to make a run for it and fires his gun at the creatures. But they overpower him and start beating him to a pulp.
Frank can hear the noise and tells Nola to stop them. She says she would rather see Candy dead than returned to him. With this, Frank begins to strangle her as the brood close in on the girl.
Candy runs into a closet and locks the door but the brood break a hole through it and grab at her. The assault ends when Nola loses her life at the hands of her husband.
Frank finds Candy crouching in the corner of the closet. In a complete state of shock, she doesn't say a word. Frank carries her to his car and as he's driving
away, his distraught daughter starts to cry silently...and two wart-like sores are visible on one of her arms...
The film was shot in Toronto and Mississauga, Ontario...and is a distinctly Canadian production. It has a cold, stark feel to it...that perfectly suits the story.
The Brood has its detractors. Leonard Maltin dismissed it with two lines: "Eggar eats her own afterbirth while midget clones beat grandparents and lovely young schoolteachers to death with mallets. It's a big, wide, wonderful world we live in!"
There is no doubt that this is a very weird offering from Cronenberg. Love it or leave it, there's an undeniable truth about The Brood: it's a completely original creation, whether viewed as an allegorical musing on the 'shape of rage' or simply as a straight horror vehicle.
The hooded dwarfs may have been inspired by Nicholas Roeg's Don't Look Now but the rest is pure Cronenberg.
Both Eggar and Reed give potent performances and can really be called the glue that holds this whole strange enterprise together. Yellow hate, moist atmospherics, the director's love of biophysics and ski-clad killer dwarf-entensions combine to form an enjoyable terror journey.
The part of Nola is difficult in that the character is immobile throughout the story...sitting in Buddha-like fashion while undergoing therapy and subconsciously sending her "children" out to kill those with whom she's angry or embittered towards.
But Samantha Eggar makes what could have been an outright monster...sympathetic. Not an easy thing to do. You feel for her when Frank puts his hands around her neck and takes her out of the "strange world" she has inhabited. She is intensely terrific.
Eggar would make another horror film (1983's excellent slasher Curtains) and continues to act, both in theatrical films and television.
Hammer vet Oliver Reed worked in pictures up until his death from a heart attack in 1999.
Art Hindle, whose work in The Brood was preceded by appearances in two other fine genre films, the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) and 1974's Black Christmas, keeps busy to the present day as well.
After appearing in the 1985 TV movie Tales of the Haunted, it appears that Cindy Hinds stopped acting altogether. She may have lost interest or perhaps there was something too dark about her...an aloofness that set her apart from Heather O'Rourke, the ill-fated child star famous for the Poltergeist films with whom Hinds shared a resemblance.
Howard Shore composed the chilling score. A reliable partner with Cronenberg through most of the director's career, he went on to become one of the most successful composers in Hollywood, writing the score for Silence of the Lambs and winning an Oscar for 2001's Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
Cronenberg's immediate follow-ups to The Brood continued his fascination with body mutations. None had major box-office success in the States but Scanners and Videodrome would be followed by his remake of The Fly - his biggest hit and most mainstream film to date.
Like other visionaries of his generation, Cronenberg seems to have lost his way, making the little seen Spider (2002) and Crash (1996) in later years.