THE BROOD (1979) Blu-ray
Director: David Cronenberg
The Criterion Collection

Canadian director David Cronenberg has produced some of the most bizarre, dark and disturbing films of modern horror cinema, so it's no surprise he has developed a strong cult following. Beginning his professional film career in 1975 with the apartment building shocker SHIVERS, which was quickly followed by 1977's RABID starring Ivory Snow girl turned porno chic queen Marilyn Chambers, THE BROOD was only Cronenberg's third horror film, but it displays all the intelligence of a much more experienced director in the genre, and it’s now spotlighted on Blu-ray courtesy of The Criterion Collection.

Psychiatrist Dr. Raglan (Oliver Reed, THE DEVILS, in a surprisingly subdued performance) has perfected a revolutionary form of therapy termed "Psychoplasmics," where the subject releases their emotions in the form of blemishes or growths on their body. His star patient is Nola Carveth (the amazing Samantha Eggar, THE COLLECTOR), an emotionally unstable woman who suffered through an abusive childhood and now lives separated from her husband Frank (Art Hindle, BLACK CHRISTMAS) and young daughter Candy (Cindy Hinds, THE DEAD ZONE), isolated in Raglan's woodland spa. When a series of nasty murders are committed by child-like monsters, Frank must discover their connection to Raglan and his wife's completely unorthodox therapy sessions.

THE BROOD is perhaps the best introduction to the twisted world of David Cronenberg. Everyone is a potential victim and through every twist and turn, there remains no hope for humanity, let alone the primary characters. There is a lot of physical and emotional pain on-hand throughout the film, which doesn't make for pretty viewing. The disturbing murders aren't overly bloody, but are so vicious and revolting in nature they indulge cringing even when very little is shown. Cronenberg bathes his film in an atmosphere of unease, and even his usual pitch-black humor can't be found (unless it's so pitch-black that you can't see it!). Helping bring Cronenberg's fantastic tale to vicious life are Oliver Reed and Samantha Eggar, playing off each other in a very bizarre father-and-daughter-type relationship. Reed, known for his over-the-top scenery-chewing characters, seems like a perpetual fuse ready to blow, but who never lets loose with all the violence HIS character has pent up inside. Even in his final confrontation with the brood, he doesn't fight as hard as his character wants to. Eggar is such a broken and battered woman we never really know WHAT to make of her; the viewer at first believes she is the vehicle of the psychotic Dr. Raglan, but it turns out the game is being played vice versa. Her "birth scene" is absolutely unforgettable and a show-stopping setpiece if there ever was one! One of the most original and frightening of 1970s horror films, Cronenberg's BROOD also features some of the most chilling villains of the entire genre: the screeching demon children with faces like rotten apples and the bloodlust of a panther.

The Criterion Collection presents THE BROOD on Blu-ray from a restored 2K transfer approved and supervised by Cronenberg himself. The film has been presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, and has excellent clarity and detail throughout. Colors are pleasing, with the entire presentation having a clean, organic appearance and perfect grain structure, with the grain only being heavier in a handful of scenes. The transfer is also very sharp, black levels are deep and darker scenes are also handled extremely well, being appropriately bright and clear. The LPCM mono mix is very strong, with Howard Shore's dramatic score bursting forth at the precise right moments, and dialogue is well-rendered. Optional English SDH subtitles are included. Note that this is the unrated version of the film, including extended footage of the "cub licking" and a few extra whacks of violence not in the R-rated theatrical version.

“Birth Pains” (31:05) is an excellent new documentary centering on the making of THE BROOD, as well as Cronenberg’s early work, and it features interviews with Samantha Eggar, executive producer Pierre David, cinematographer Mark Irwin, first assistant director John Board, and special makeup effects artists Rick Baker (who worked with Cronenberg on VIDEODROME) and Joe Blasco (who worked with Cronenberg on SHIVERS and RABID). The piece gives good insight to Cronenberg as a director, and all the interview subjects are interesting, especially Eggar who found her character robust and “almost Shakespearean” (the actress in fact flew to Canada after doing an episode of “Fantasy Island” and worked on the film for a total of four days). Some interesting stories are shared here about Oliver Reed (including him being arrested for streaking over a bet he made) with the general consensus being that he was fine on the set despite any hangover he might have been suffering (Eggar admits that she saw nothing but the “good” side of the actor while they worked here together). It’s also a treat to see make-up great Blasco showing off one of the original parasites from SHIVERS. “Meet the Carveths” (19:51) has former Fangoria editor Chris Alexander interviewing actors Art Hindle and Cindy Hinds. Things start off with a bang with the usual wild stories about Reed, and Hinds states that she never met her on-screen mother Eggar until the wrap party! The two actors also revisit the schoolyard location from the original shoot while sharing more memories from when they made it. “Cronenberg: The Early Years” (13:18) has the director sitting down to talk about his entrance into commercial filmmaking, hooking up with the Montreal-based Cinépix distribution company after making his early underground films. He discusses the trials and tribulations of getting SHIVERS filmed, as well as his follow-up feature, RABID.

A real treat here is a segment from an April 25, 1980 episode of “The Merv Griffin Show” (20:57) featuring a surprisingly cordial Reed being interviewed on a guest panel with Orson Welles and Charo! Reed chats about Californian hamburgers, his preference for film acting over stage acting, and he and Welles (they acted together in Michael Winner’s I’LL NEVER FORGET WHAT’S ‘ISNAME) go back and forth in a playful manner. Reed was on the program plugging the film he just made, DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYPE, which he describes as a “story of self-ejaculation” (the video segment ends here once Merv announces he’s going to show a clip from it). Cronenberg’s second feature, CRIMES OF THE FUTURE (63 minutes) from the 1970, is presented here from a new 4K digital transfer from the original 35mm negative in 1080p. Set in a futuristic 1997, the film (which was shot silent) concerns dermatology clinic head Adrian Tripod (Ronald Mlodzik, SHIVERS) who searches for a “mad dermatologist” after a cosmetics-caused plague (Mlodzik also narrates the bizarre independent project which has themes which would letter be re-explored in THE BROOD). A radio spot is also included, and the package's insert folds out into a poster, with liner notes by Carrie Rickey on the back side. (George R. Reis and Casey Scott)