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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Brood (Blu-ray)
The Brood (Blu-ray)
Criterion // R // October 13, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted October 20, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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The Movie:

When David Cronenberg's The Brood begins we see Doctor Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed) engaged in rather unorthodox therapy session with one of his patients whose body is covered in strange, grotesque lesions. A crowd of medical professionals looks on, one man declaring Haglan a genius. Haglan is the man behind ‘psychoplasmics,' a technique in which Haglan is able to help those who suffer from serious mental trauma by forming a link with their mind and in turn shape their thought processes. He conducts these therapy sessions at his own Somafree Institute, a large building located out in the woods outside of Toronto, Ontario.

Nola Carveth (Samantha Eggar) is one of Raglan's patients. She's been sent off for therapy after abusing her five year old daughter, Candice (Cindy Hinds), who now lives alone with her father, Frank (Art Hindle). Raglan finds her a most interesting case because her emotions are so strong that he gets reactions from her that are considerably different than those of his other patients. While Raglan is using her as a human guinea pig of sorts, Frank is nevertheless concerned about what's going on at the Institute. When he leaves Candace with Nola's mother Juliana (Nuala Fitzgerald), the grandmother winds up murdered at the hands of a small creature resembling a child but Candace is found upstairs, unharmed, having supposedly slept through the incident. When Nola's father, a drunk named Barton (Harry Beckman) heads to the institute to tell his daughter what has happened, Raglan prohibits him from seeing the woman. He calls Frank for help, who leaves Candice in the care of her teacher, Ruth Mayer (Susan Hogan), a pretty younger woman who has become quite friendly with Frank recently. Nola calls the house and Ruth answers and it doesn't go well. When those strange child-like killer dwarfs show up again, Frank starts connecting the dots and realizes that something very strange is happening at Raglan's institute and that his wife seems to be the catalyst.

Simultaneously thought provoking and repulsive, like many of Cronenberg's early features The Brood was made on a modest budget but wisely puts atmosphere and tension over effects laden set pieces. The ‘body horror' theme that was so prevalent in earlier features like Shivers and Rabid and that would be best exemplified in Videodrome plays a big part in the themes explored in this film as well, making it ‘prime Cronenberg' if you will and given that he wrote the film in addition to directing it, it will come as no surprise to anyone that his stamp is all over it. Many of the trademarks of his seventies and eighties work are here: a cold and clinical setting, a macabre atmosphere, the more disgusting aspect of human anatomy explored visually and thematically and a hero working overtime to uncover a conspiracy of sorts. If this doesn't all move at a lightning pace it hardly matters, as the deliberate pacing builds towards a truly chilling conclusion and offers up enough character development and genuine suspense along the way to easily hold our attention.

The cast do fine work here. Oliver Reed, who did have a tendency to go over the top and who most certainly had a flare for the dramatic, plays Haglan with enough restraint that he works very well in the part. Reed always came across as a smart man, even when obviously intoxicated, and Cronenberg is able to use his gargantuan screen presence very well here. On the flip side of this is Samantha Eggar as Nola. She does play things with a much more exaggerated take on character but it suits her. She is, after all, essentially damaged goods, a mentally deranged woman coping with the elements of her past that have wound up shaping her present. Art Hindle is an unlikely hero but we have no trouble buying him in the role and by casting an everyman in place of an action star Cronenberg grounds the film nicely. Hindle is able to convey both concern and anger well, and so too are we able to believe that his fear is very real, particularly during the big reveal at the end of the film. Supporting work from Fitzgerald, Beckman and Hogan is also solid.

Nicely shot in and around Toronto, the film makes great use of an excellent score from Howard Shore (who does occasionally seem to be influenced by Bernard Herrman). The effects used in parts of the film are a bit rudimentary (the makeup on the dwarfs is less than perfect) but those in the ending are top notch and appropriately gross. The film holds up well though, a clever and effectively nasty horror picture well worth revisiting (or seeing for the first time).

The Blu-ray:

Video:

The Brood arrives on Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p high definition in a director approved transfer framed at 1.78.1 widescreen. The picture here is a little on the cool side as far as color reproduction goes, but that not only suits the movie but it looks accurate as well. There's plenty of detail and texture in the new 2k restoration to ogle, lots of depth here too. At the same time, the image stays clean and stable showing very little in the way of print damage. Grain is present, as it should be, but it is never overpowering or distraction. There are no obvious instances of noise reduction or edge enhancement and the transfer is free of any compression artifacts.

Audio:

The only audio option on the disc is an English language LPCM Mono track and it sounds quite good. No alternate language options are provided although subtitles are available in English only. Howard Shore's score definitely benefits from the lossless treatment here as it sounds quite deep and nicely balanced. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion to note although there are some scenes where the dialogue does sound a little flat. Otherwise, the audio here is fine.

Extras:

Extras start off with a new documentary called Birth Pains about the making of The Brood. Clocking in at just over half an hour in length this is made up of interviews with lead actress Samantha Eggar, executive producer Pierre David, cinematographer Mark Irwin, assistant-director John Board, and special makeup effects artists Rick Baker and Joe Blasco this serves not just as a look at the making of the feature but also as a nice overview of the director's early years in the Canadian film industry. It would have been nice to get Cronenberg himself interviewed here (though there is an older interview with him included as a separate piece) but even without that having happened, this is quite an interesting little documentary.

The disc also includes a new, restored 4K digital transfer of Cronenberg's early feature Crimes Of The Future. Made in 1970 this sixty-two minute film is experimental than some of his other early works. The minimalist narrative and sparse soundtrack lend this tale of a dermatologist who creates a condition that inflicts upon its victim bizarre sexual urges plenty of atmosphere. His acts cause people to act out weird fetishy kinks and indulge in some homosexual acts. What happens to them after the condition takes hold is bizarre, and rather unsettling. This one drags a little bit but at the same time its slow and nightmarish pacing lends it a surreal quality. When this is contrasted against the stark and cold sets and locations it makes Crimes Of The Future a little more subversive than it would have been otherwise. Once again, the fascination with medical experimentation and what horrors can be derived from the human body are on display and it is quite interesting to compare this to some of his other work, most notably Shivers.

Outside of that, Criterion have included a separate interview with Cronenberg conducted in 2011 in which he spends thirteen minutes talking about the early days of his fimmaking career. He talks about how he got into filmmaking, why he chose to work in horror films early in his career, his insistence on directing Shivers when he sold the script and more. In a separate twenty-minute interview recorded in 2013, former Fangoria editor-in-chief interviews Art Hindle and Cindy Hinds about their experiences working on The Brood, their thoughts on the film itself and what it was like working with then young upstart Cronenberg. Also on hand is an amusing twenty-one minute vintage interview with the late, great Oliver Reed that was conducted for a 1980 episode of The Merv Griffin Show. Oddly enough, Orson Welles and Charo were also guests on that night's particular episode so they're sort of lingering about as the always rambunctious Reed talks to Griffin about his acting career and discusses the finer points of hamburgers (really).

Rounding out the extras on the disc are a Radio Spot promoting the feature, menus and chapter selection. Inside the keepcase is a full color booklet containing credits for the feature and the disc as well as an interesting essay on the film by writer Carrie Rickey.

Final Thoughts:

Criterion have given The Brooda first rate release with this Blu-ray, presenting the film with an excellent transfer and a bunch of fascinating and informative extras. The movie itself remains a tense work of horror made with a fine cast and with some memorably bizarre set pieces. Great, creepy viewing for sure and highly recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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