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Brood, The (Blu-ray Review)

26 Oct, 2015 By: Mike Clark

$29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’
Stars Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, Art Hindle, Cindy Hinds.

Only in a Criterion bonus section can you ever hope to find an extended “Merv Griffin Show” bonus clip featuring Oliver Reed, Orson Welles and Charo, but this is getting ahead of a movie (think: David Cronenberg, unbridled) that has enough outrageousness of own.

I panned The Brood in 1979 during my tenure as Detroit Free Press film critic, and I see (per Carrie Rickey’s terrific Criterion essay here) that Roger Ebert did as well. In my own case and in retrospect, I likely dropped the ball a little; it was too early in Cronenberg’s career for me to realize that there was a consistent method to his madness — even though I had previously seen Rabid, which has another doctor royally messing up a woman under his care, with grisly results. Of course, Roger Corman’s New World Pictures didn’t give The Brood much advance help at the time, relegating it to a cold opening (i.e. sans advance critics’ screenings) in even a red-meat movie city like Detroit. So there I was on a Friday afternoon in some giant decaying empty movie house, watching what looked like neo-Munchkins bludgeoning victims to death. And wondering what had happened to ladylike lead Samantha Eggar, who had been my absolute ’60s numeral una during my early college years following The Collector and Cary Grant’s swan song, Walk, Don’t Run.

In this case, her body has broken out in revolting fashion with … well, somethings (note the plural) … while spending time in an emotionally chilly Canadian clinic run by Oliver Reed in full quack mode. The Eggar character has a lot of inner rage that’s getting less repressed as time goes on, and it has affected her marriage to a guy (Art Hindle) who has just about reached his limit — though their young daughter (Cindy Hinds) hasn’t yet been obviously affected (as if we can really know). Eggar’s own estranged parents have had a rough time of it as well, and the strongly suggested subtext here (Rickey elaborates in her essay) is the fallout that divorce can often wreak on children.

The physical manner in which Eggar’s anger manifests itself is the payoff to the story’s horror and an early example (there are many, as we now know) of Cronenberg figures who have unthinkable things happen to their bodies. If Cronenberg had come along a few years earlier and network standards-and-practices guidelines been more liberal than they were in the Dick Clark ’50s and ’60s, he probably could have cornered the market on directing commercials for acne cure-alls. The “before” sections really would have been something.

Eggar, who says she labored just four days on the film (hard to believe), is part of a half-hour interview of production principals that kicks off the bonus section. Third-billed Hindle, on another extra here, says she was a bit distant on the set, but Eggar is not without humor here and seems somewhat amused at what she got herself into 3.5 decades ago, though maybe this is a luxury that comes with the passage of time. She also says that she had known co-star Reed going back to childhood or at least a very young age and was thus able to go with the flow when it came to his drinking, which was not only legendary but probably a contributor to his 1999 death. Everyone here says, however, that he always showed up ship-shape on the set, despite having done things like walk naked on Canadian streets on his way back to the hotel from a location pub.

Other extras include a sweet reunion between actors Hindle and Hinds — she all grown up, long out of acting and seemingly very well-adjusted and not at all traumatized by her Brood experience. We also get Cronenberg’s second feature (Crimes of the Future), which has the academic advantage of being thematically comparable to this release’s main event, though Future’s budget (which makes The Brood look like something bankrolled by Cimino-sized coffers) makes it strictly for completists. And then there’s the “Griffin” interview from 1980, in which Reed (looking remarkably spry) spends some of the time curtsying to a corpulent-plus Welles and at least a little of the time jabbing the needle into him a little (though they did have a long and apparently harmonious professional association). Charo, possibly intimidated, doesn’t bring a whole lot to the party, though maybe Orson had her in mind for some fantasy second screen version of Macbeth and was floating the idea in the un-excerpted part of the show. Five years later, by the way, Welles died right after a subsequent Griffin taping, oddity of oddities.

A part of me thinks that The Brood is a borderline choice for Criterion to be doing, but the company has a history with Cronenberg just for starters, and it should also be remembered that the film wasn’t just featured in one of Danny Peary’s great Cult Movies books but the very first one. There’s something about it that does get under your skin — and speaking of skin, just wait until you see what Cronenberg does to Eggar here. Playing opposite Cary this is not.

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