For anyone who believes that letting your feelings out is a good thing… watch ‘The Brood’ first.

When Frank Carveth picks his five year old daughter Candice up from the Somafree Institute for Psychoplasmics, practitioners of a radical new therapy where his estranged wife Nola is undergoing some intensive isolated treatment, he discovers that Candi’s been severely scratched and bitten.  He confronts Dr. Hal Raglan, the founder of Psychoplasmics and Nola’s psychiatrist, telling him that he’ll no longer allow Candi to visit her mother. Raglan warns that being separated from Candi could put Nola over the deep end and Frank very quickly discovers that Raglan isn’t exaggerating. Thanks to Raglan’s controversial ‘Shape of Rage’ therapy, Nola is able to manifest her anger in extremely deadly ways and she’s got plenty of scores to settle.

The idea that negative emotion can create something real and monstrous outside the body isn’t a new one. ‘Forbidden Planet’ (1956), although a sci-fi reworking of Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’, explored a very similar concept, as did 1976’s ‘Carrie’  who didn’t create monsters with her mind but who telepathically released her fear and anger to terrifying effect.

But director David Cronenberg uses ‘The Brood’ to explore this notion even further. Cronenberg was going through his own custody battle when he wrote the screenplay for ‘The Brood’ but – unlike the cheesily sentimental and supposedly more ‘real’ ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ (ironically released the same year) – he uses the horror genre to paint an uncompromising and visceral depiction of what a break-up can really do to a family, and the psychological damage it inflicts upon ourselves and our children.

Samantha Eggar gives a complex performance as Nola whose resentments go far deeper than the failure of her marriage, and who is the embodiment of the belief that it’s our parents who really fuck us up. She see-saws between anger and despair, between victim and aggressor, between vulnerable child trapped inside an adult body and then, in a switch, to murderously resentful wronged woman. Her scenes with Raglan are fabulous and painful to watch because they’re so emotionally true, and her final encounter with her husband – in a tremendously imaginative ticking-bomb moment, when Frank tries to keep her calm while Candi is rescued from the clutches of The Brood – is a phenomenal combination of acting and screenwriting and, in one audacious reveal, a shocking coup-de-grace moment of body horror.

Art Hindle is surprisingly sympathetic as her husband Frank, whose mission to uncover what really goes on at Somafree takes him to some unexpected places. Normally a bland one-note actor – the reason he was such a convincing pod-person in Philip Kaufman’s remake of ‘Invasion of The Body Snatchers’ (1978) – Hindle is a hero we can empathise with; protective of his daughter, suspicious of Raglan’s motives, watching people die all around him and desperate to discover what’s happening before it’s too late.

But the star of this movie is Oliver Reed who plays Dr. Raglan like a softly spoken Svengali and, with his impressive build, his gently measured voice and unwavering gaze, there’s no doubt he’s a force to be reckoned with. Reed was a remarkable actor whose activities off-camera sadly overshadowed what a fascinating and charismatic presence he was onscreen. He’s a complex actor too. Raglan isn’t entirely the bad guy here, he’s a flawed genius who truly believes what he’s doing is right.

And, given recent medical evidence that the mind can have a devastating effect on the health of the body coupled with our new age interest in alternative therapies, Psychoplasmics is no longer a science fiction idea. ‘The Brood’ was made thirty five years ago but if Cronenberg ever published Raglan’s ‘The Shape of Rage’, it would never be off the bestseller lists.

‘The Brood’ is a movie that makes us think even as it makes us scared. There are a lot of visual shocks, not least of which when little Candice wanders into the aftermath of The Brood’s attack on her grandmother and The Brood momentarily appears, snarling, wrapping its small bloodied hands around the banisters of the staircase.

There is also an exquisite so-ugly-it’s-beautiful moment towards the end of the film (a moment which was originally cut by the BBFC but thankfully now reinstated) where Nola nuzzles a newborn Brood and lovingly licks the afterbirth off its tiny body. It’s a touching and psychologically revealing few seconds – the tenderness of motherhood, even when mother gives birth to a monster –  and the earlier, cut versions of the movie were weakened by its excision.

Finally though, what makes ‘The Brood’ one of my favourite movies is its reality. All great horror starts from a place we understand. We’re scared because we can imagine those terrifying events happening to us. It’s why Cronenberg’s early fascination with body horror – the two features he made before ‘The Brood’ were ‘Shivers’ and ‘Rabid’ – frightens me most of all. We can run away from a Freddy or a Jason – we probably won’t survive but at least we can attempt to fight back – but when the enemy is inside us, when our own bodies are working against us or, as in Nola’s case, creating deadly mutations over which we have no control – there’s no escape. That’s the reason Cronenberg’s work is so special to me, particularly his genius films of the seventies and eighties. He’s one of the few directors whose ideas alone can keep me awake at night.

We’re all scared to look into the abyss incase we find the worst parts of ourselves looking back, but whereas Nola created The Brood when she released her anger, Cronenberg created a significant and perfectly balanced horror movie when he released his.

Watch ‘The Brood’ and then watch ‘Kramer versus Kramer’ and decide which is a more honest depiction of a couple trapping their child in the throes of a break-up. I guarantee it won’t be the one with Meryl Streep in it.

About The Author

Ian White is an author, screenwriter and journalist. His book ‘Witchcraft and Black Magic in British Cult Cinema’ was recently published by Hemlock and he is a regular contributor to ‘Paranormal Underground’ and ‘Starburst’ magazines. He’s currently writing a new book and screenplay and his embarrassingly out-of-date website can be found at http://ianwhitelondon.wix.com/ian-white