When a horror film still has the power to disturb you over 30 years after its original release, you know it must be doing something right. Initially appearing in the UK in 1980, there’s no doubt The Brood looks a tad dated nowadays – the dialogue and style of direction betray the film’s age, as do the effects – but that doesn’t mean it’s lost any of its original unpleasantness.
With its relentlessly screeching music, the original and genuinely disquieting storyline and an abundance of creepy, demonic children, David Cronenberg’s film has all the ingredients of a horror classic. Using a blend of psychological horror and outright gore to create its atmosphere, it also foreshadows some of the themes Cronenberg has become associated with over the years. The action revolves around an alternative psychological treatment centre known as ‘Somafree Institute of Psychoplasmics’, where the charismatic (and, of course, unconventional) psychologist Dr Raglan (Oliver Reed) is treating main character Frank’s ex-wife. Frank (Art Hindle) becomes concerned for the safety of his daughter after seeing marks on her back when she returns from visiting her mother at the centre and decides to intervene. Naturally, things go downhill from there.
Aside from its ability to shock, The Brood is held together by a combination of great acting, solid direction and an entertaining story. The only thing that really detracts from this is a kind of accidental humour that creeps in occasionally, threatening to turn certain scenes from scary or unsettling into something close to farcical. A lot of the murder scenes have this quality about them; whether it’s the film’s age or the buckets of blood used whenever a character dies, the death scenes never quite manage to retain the tension created in their build-ups.
Certain moments of dialogue also tread a fine line between suspense and farce. While Oliver Reed is excellent in the role of Dr Raglan, for instance, his acting is so intense that some of his lines almost end up sounding comic. This is especially noticeable in his scenes with Nola (played brilliantly by Samantha Eggar); although both actors are incredibly powerful and do a great job of contributing towards the film’s atmosphere, some of their scenes together do border on being melodramatic.
Small faults aside though, The Brood remains an iconic and disturbing film. It’s worth watching for the final moments alone, which are up there with the ending of Don’t Look Now in terms of their ability to shock audiences dumb.