The Brood

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The Brood
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDavid Cronenberg
Produced byClaude Heroux
Written byDavid Cronenberg
Music byHoward Shore
CinematographyMark Irwin
Edited byAlan Collins
Distributed byNew World Pictures
Release date
  • June 1, 1979 (1979-06-01)
Running time
92 minutes
BudgetCAD$1.4—1.5 million[1][2]
Box office$5 million[3]

The Brood is a 1979 Canadian psychological body horror film written and directed by David Cronenberg, and starring Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, and Art Hindle. Its plot follows a man and his mentally-ill ex-wife, who has been sequestered by a psychologist known for his controversial therapy techniques. A series of brutal unsolved murders serves as the backdrop for the central narrative.

Conceived by Cronenberg after his own acrimonious divorce, he intended the screenplay as a meditation on a fractured relationship between a husband and wife who share a child, and cast Eggar and Hindle as loose facsimiles of himself and his ex-wife. He would later state that, despite its incorporation of science fiction elements, he considered it his sole feature that most embodied a "classic horror film". Principal photography of The Brood took place in late 1978 in Toronto on a budget of $1.5 million. The film's score was composed by Howard Shore, in his film composing debut.

Released in the spring of 1979 by New World Pictures, The Brood proved profitable for the studio, grossing over $5 million. Though it initially received mixed reviews from critics, it would establish itself as a cult film in the following decades. It has attracted scholarly interest from academics in the areas of film theory for its themes regarding mental illness and motherhood, and its combining elements of the woman's film with body horror. In 2006, the Chicago Film Critics Association named it the 88th scariest film of all time. In 2013, it was selected for restoration by The Criterion Collection, who subsequently released it on Blu-ray.


Psychotherapist Hal Raglan runs the Somafree Institute where he performs a technique called "psychoplasmics", encouraging patients with mental disturbances to let go of their suppressed emotions through physiological changes to their bodies. One of his patients is Nola Carveth, a severely disturbed woman who is legally embattled with her husband Frank for custody of their five-year-old daughter Candice. When Frank discovers bruises and scratches on Candice following a visit with Nola, he informs Raglan of his intent to stop visitation rights. Wanting to protect his patient, Raglan begins to intensify the sessions with Nola to resolve the issue quickly. During the therapy sessions, Raglan discovers that Nola was physically and verbally abused by her self-pitying alcoholic mother, and neglected by her co-dependent alcoholic father, who refused to protect Nola out of shame and denial. Meanwhile, Frank, intending to invalidate Raglan's methods, questions Jan Hartog, a former Somafree patient dying of psychoplasmic-induced lymphoma.

Frank leaves Candice with her maternal grandmother, Juliana, and the two spend the evening viewing old photographs. Later, Juliana informs Candice that Nola was frequently hospitalized as a child, and often exhibited strange unexplained wheals on her skin that doctors were unable to diagnose. While in the kitchen, Juliana is attacked and bludgeoned to death by a small, dwarf-like child. Candice is traumatized, but otherwise unharmed.

Juliana's ex-husband Barton returns for the funeral, and attempts to contact Nola at Somafree, but Raglan turns him away. Frank invites Candice's teacher Ruth Mayer home for dinner to discuss his daughter's performance in school, but Barton interrupts with a drunken phone call from Juliana's home, demanding that they both go to Somafree to see Nola. Frank leaves to console Barton, leaving Candice in Ruth's care. While he is away, Ruth answers a phone call from Nola, who, recognizing her voice and believing her to be carrying on an affair with Frank, insults her and angrily warns her to stay away from her family. Meanwhile, Frank arrives to find Barton murdered by the same deformed dwarf-child, who dies after attempting to kill Frank.

The police autopsy of the dwarf-child reveals a multitude of bizarre anatomical anomalies: the creature is asexual, supposedly color-blind, naturally toothless, and devoid of a navel, indicating no known means of natural human birth. After the murder story reaches the newspapers, Raglan reluctantly acknowledges that the murders coincide with his sessions with Nola relating to their respective topics. He closes Somafree and sends his patients to municipal care with the exception of Nola.

Frank is alerted of the closure of Somafree by Hartog. Mike, one of the patients forced to leave the institute, tells Frank that Nola is Raglan's "queen bee" and in charge of some "disturbed children" in an attic. When Candice returns to school, two dwarf children attack and kill Ruth in front of her class, and abscond with Candice to Somafree, with Frank in pursuit. Upon arriving at Somafree, Raglan tells Frank the truth about the dwarf children: they are the accidental product of Nola's psychoplasmic sessions; Nola's rage about her abuse was so strong that she parthenogenetically bore a brood of children who psychically respond and act on the targets of her rage, with Nola completely unaware of their actions. Realizing the brood are too dangerous to keep anymore, Raglan plots to venture into their quarters and rescue Candice, provided that Frank can keep Nola calm to avoid provoking the children.

Frank attempts a feigned rapprochement long enough for Raglan to collect Candice, but when he witnesses Nola give birth to another child through a psychoplasmically-induced external womb, she notices his disgust. The brood awakens and kills Raglan. Nola then threatens to kill Candice rather than lose her. The brood goes after Candice who hides in a closet, but the brood begins to break through the door and try to grab her. In desperation, Frank strangles Nola to death, and the brood dies without its mother's psychic connection. Frank carries a visibly traumatized Candice back to his car, and the two depart. As the pair sit in silence, two small lesions—a germinal stage of the phenomenon experienced by Nola—appear on Candice's arm.



Written in the aftermath of writer-director Cronenberg's divorce from his wife, The Brood has been noted by critics and film scholars for its prominent themes surrounding fears of parenthood, as well as corollary preoccupations with repression and the treatment of mental illness in women.[4][5]

Film theorist Barbara Creed notes that Nola's parthenogenetic births are thematically "used to demonstrate the horrors of unbridled maternal power" in which a woman gives birth to "deformed manifestations of herself".[6] Scholar Sarah Arnold similarly suggests that, despite Nola's apparent representation as a "bad mother" epitomizing "the monstrous feminine", The Brood "does not disseminate such images unproblematically, [and] instead questions these already (culturally and socially) pre-existing notions of the maternal and motherhood...  the film fuses the concerns of the woman's film with that of the body horror film."[7]

Feminist critic Carrie Rickey notes that, like many of Cronenberg's films, The Brood has been accused of presenting a misogynistic representation of women.[8] However, Rickey argues against this assertion, writing: "For me, Cronenberg’s gynophobia is a nonissue. It’s blaming the victim. After all, aren’t we talking about movies where male scientists use women as guinea pigs and then are shocked, shocked when the test subjects become monstrous, voracious, etc.? Let me invoke the Jessica Rabbit defense: The women are not bad, they’re just drawn that way. It’s the male scientists who have inadvertently transformed them into men’s worst nightmares."[8]



"The Brood is my version of Kramer vs. Kramer, but more realistic."

—Cronenberg commenting on his concept of the film, 1979[8]

In retrospect, Cronenberg stated that he felt The Brood was "the most classic horror film I've done" in terms of structure.[2] He conceived the screenplay in the aftermath of an acrimonious divorce from his wife, which resulted in a bitter custody battle over their daughter.[2] During his divorce, Cronenberg became aware of the drama Kramer vs. Kramer (also released in 1979),[a] and was disillusioned by its optimistic depiction of a familial breakdown after a couple's separation.[2] In response, he began writing the screenplay for The Brood, aspiring to depict the strife between a divorced couple battling over their child.[2]


In casting the roles of Frank and Nola Carveth, Cronenberg sought actors who were "vague facsimiles" of himself and his wife.[2] Canadian actor Art Hindle was cast in the role of Frank, while English actress Samantha Eggar was cast as Nola.[11] Oliver Reed was cast in the role of Hal Raglan, the psychologist who has kept Nola sequestered after her divorce from Frank.[2] This marked the second time Eggar and Reed had starred in a film together, having previously co-starred in The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun (1970).[11] Additionally, Eggar and Reed had known one another personally, having grown up together in Bledlow, England.[11] Eggar was impressed by Cronenberg's screenplay, and agreed to appear in the film as she felt the role of Nola was "almost Shakespearean...  How could you turn this part down?"[11]


Principal photography of The Brood began on November 14, 1978,[12] in Toronto, Ontario[13][14] and continued through December.[13] Additional photography was done in Mississauga. The film's budget was approximately C$1,500,000.

Eggar recalled the production crew being very small, with only around seven crew members in total while she was filming her sequences, many of them "academics and PhDs, standing there holding lights".[11] Her scenes were shot over a period of three days.[2] To portray the brood of children, Cronenberg cast a group of child gymnasts from Toronto.[2]

This was the first film scored by composer Howard Shore. Shore has written the music for all but one of Cronenberg's subsequent films.[15]



The Brood had cuts demanded for its theatrical release in the United States, Canada, and United Kingdom. Eggar conceived of the idea of licking the new fetuses that her character Nola Carveth has spawned. "I just thought that when cats have their kittens or dogs have puppies (and I think at that time I had about 8 dogs), they lick them as soon as they’re born. Lick, lick, lick, lick, lick…," Eggar said.[16]

However, when the climactic scene was censored, Cronenberg responded: "I had a long and loving close-up of Samantha licking the fetus […] when the censors, those animals, cut it out, the result was that a lot of people thought she was eating her baby. That's much worse than I was suggesting."[17]

Box office[edit]

The Brood was released in North America on June 1, 1979.[b] After its screenings in Toronto and Chicago, The Brood grossed $685,000 over only a period of ten days between the two cities.[20] By 1981, the film had grossed over $5 million.[3]

Critical response[edit]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, The Brood holds an 81% approval rating based on 21 critic reviews, with an average rating of 7.16/10. The consensus reads: "The Brood is a grotesque, squirming, hilariously shrill exploration of the bizarre and deadly side of motherhood.”[21]

While Variety called it "an extremely well made, if essentially unpleasant shocker",[22] Leonard Maltin reviewed the film in two sentences: "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!" and rated it an outright "BOMB".[23] Roger Ebert called it "a bore" and "disgusting in ways that are not entertaining; as opposed, for example, to the great disgusting moments in Alien or Dawn of the Dead", and even went as far as asking, "Are there really people who want to see reprehensible trash like this?" concluding with "I guess so. It's in its second week."[24] Writing for the Vancouver Sun, Vaughn Palmer lambasted the film, referring to it as "mean, foul and witless...  The people who made The Brood do not like people. They do not even appear to like themselves. They just like money."[20] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times praised the film as "well-made" and "expertly acted," but criticized its depictions of violence, stating: "Perhaps Cronenberg means to make an extreme comment upon the irresponsibility of psychiatrists and parents, but The Brood is so totally sickening it's an irresponsible work itself."[25]

In Cult Movies, Danny Peary, who openly disapproves of Shivers and Rabid, calls The Brood "Cronenberg's best film" because "we care about the characters", and, although he dislikes the ending, "an hour and a half of absorbing, solid cinema".[26] In his An Introduction to the American Horror Film, critic Robin Wood views The Brood as a reactionary work portraying feminine power as irrational and horrifying, and the dangerous attempts of Oliver Reed's character's psychoanalysis as an analogue to the dangers of trying to undo repression in society.[27]

The Brood was listed #88 on the "Chicago Film Critics Association's 100 Scariest Movies of All-Time".[28] In 2004, one of its sequences was voted #78 among the "100 Scariest Movie Moments" by the Bravo Channel.[29]

Home media[edit]

The film was released on DVD in its original uncensored version by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer on August 26, 2003.[30] Anchor Bay Entertainment subsequently released the film on DVD in the United Kingdom 2005.[31]

In mid-2013, The Criterion Collection added The Brood, as well as Scanners, to their selection of films available to Hulu and iTunes customers. The film was subsequently issued on DVD and Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection on October 13, 2015,[32] featuring a new 2K scan of the original film elements.[4]

Related works[edit]

A novelization by Richard Starks was published to coincide with the film's initial release.[33] In 2009, Spyglass Entertainment announced a remake from a script by Cory Goodman, to be directed by Breck Eisner.[34] Eisner left the project in 2010.[35]

Notes and references[edit]


  1. ^ Kramer vs. Kramer was released theatrically in December 1979, after the release of The Brood[9]; though Cronenberg stated that he intended The Brood to be his own version of Kramer vs. Kramer,[2] he would not have seen the film as it was still being shot in January 1979,[10] around the same time filming of The Brood took place. He may have been referring to its source novel by Avery Corman.
  2. ^ Newspaper sources show the earliest release date for the film being the weekend of June 1, 1979, when it screened in Indianapolis.[18] The following week, the film opened in Los Angeles.[19]


  1. ^ Lee, Mike (August 1, 1979). "Horror good for you". Ottawa Journal. Ottawa, Ontario. p. 39 – via
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Botting, Josephine (March 17, 2017). "Why I love... The Brood". British Film Institute. Retrieved July 13, 2019.
  3. ^ a b "The Dark Mind of David Cronenberg". Vancouver Sun. Vancouver, British Columbia. February 28, 1981. p. 142 – via
  4. ^ a b McKnight, Brent (November 17, 2015). "Cronenberg's 'The Brood' Taps Into Some Fundamental, Primal Terror". PopMatters. Archived from the original on July 12, 2019.
  5. ^ Creed 2007, pp. 47–50.
  6. ^ Creed 2007, p. 47.
  7. ^ Arnold 2013, p. 84.
  8. ^ a b c Rickey, Carrie (October 13, 2015). "The Brood: Separation Trials". The Criterion Collection. Archived from the original on July 13, 2019.
  9. ^ Canby, Vincent (December 19, 1979). "East Side Story". The New York Times. Archived from the original on July 13, 2019.
  10. ^ "Dustin Hoffman hopes to return to New York Stage". The Decatur Daily Review. Decatur, Illinois. January 2, 1979. p. 8 – via
  11. ^ a b c d e Eggar, Samantha; David, Pierre; Irwin, Mark; Board, John; Baker, Rick (2015). Birth Pains (Blu-ray documentary short). The Criterion Collection.
  12. ^ "Not a bargain evening". The Gazette. Montreal, Quebec. November 11, 1978. p. 50 – via
  13. ^ a b "Art Hindle filming in Toronto". Ottawa Journal. Ottawa, Ontario. December 5, 1978. p. 41 – via
  14. ^ Adilman, Sid (November 15, 1978). "Canada: Land of Big $ ?". Windsor Star. Windsor, Ontario. p. 50 – via
  15. ^ "Howard Shore". IMDb. Retrieved 12 May 2011.
  16. ^ "Collecting Life: An Interview with Samantha Eggar - July 2014". The Terror Trap.
  17. ^ Chris Rodley (ed.), Cronenberg on Cronenberg, Faber & Faber, 1997.
  18. ^ "The Brood trade advertisement". The Indianapolis News. Indianapolis, Indiana. June 1, 1979. p. 22 – via
  19. ^ "The Brood trade advertisement". Los Angeles Times. June 8, 1979. p. 27 – via
  20. ^ a b Palmer, Vaughn (September 1, 1979). "This movie is mean, foul and witless". Vancouver Sun. Vancouver, British Columbia. p. 19 – via
  21. ^ "The Brood". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 12, 2019.
  22. ^ Variety, December 31, 1978.
  23. ^ Leonard Maltin's 2008 Movie Guide, Signet/New American Library, New York 2007.
  24. ^ Ebert, Roger (June 5, 1979). "The Brood". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on July 18, 2012.
  25. ^ Thomas, Kevin (June 8, 1979). "Tumors Beget Dwarves in 'Brood'". Los Angeles Times. p. 21 – via
  26. ^ Danny Peary, Cult Movies, Dell Publishing, New York 1981.
  27. ^ Robin Wood, An Introduction to the American Horror Film, in: Bill Nichols (ed.), Movies and Methods Volume II, University of California Press, 1985.
  28. ^ "Scary: Not all on list from horror genre". The Daily Herald. Chicago, Illinois. October 25, 2006. p. 8 – via
  29. ^ "Greatest Scariest Movie Moments and Scenes". AMC Networks. Archived from the original on July 13, 2019.
  30. ^ "The Brood". Archived from the original on July 13, 2019.
  31. ^ "The Brood (1979) Releases". AllMovie. Archived from the original on July 13, 2019.
  32. ^ Barkan, Jonathan (July 16, 2015). "'The Brood' And 'Mulholland Dr.' Getting Criterion Editions". Bloody Disgusting. Archived from the original on July 13, 2019.
  33. ^ Starks, Richard (1979). Rabid. HarperCollins. ISBN 0583128521.
  34. ^ Zeitchik, Steven (December 15, 2009). "'Creature from the Black Lagoon' emerges". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on July 10, 2012.
  35. ^ Goldberg, Matt (August 10, 2010). "Breck Eisner Leaves The Brood and David Fincher Departs Black Hole". Collider. Archived from the original on July 17, 2012.


External links[edit]