David Cronenberg’s The Brood (1979) is an unspectacular-looking film, but it generates a nicely weird and unsettling atmosphere with its limited means. This Canadian horror yarn focuses on an unlikely custody battle between a devoted father named Frank Carveth (Art Hindle) and his psychologically disturbed wife Nola (Samantha Eggar). Nola has checked into an institute called Somafree, where Svengali-like psychotherapist Dr. Hal Ragland (Oliver Reed) performs a strange new talk therapy called “psychoplasmics,” which mysteriously channels a patient’s emotional distress into relieving physiological change. Frank’s attempt to liberate his daughter from Nola’s disturbing orbit runs into trouble when a series of brutal murders plague the people in Frank’s life — a murder spree that seems to be mysteriously tied to Ragland’s mysterious practice.
To say that The Brood is impressive may be giving it too much credit; like a lot of 1970s horror fare, it’s shot through with campy vibes and low-rent production values. The influential shadow of Psycho looms over it, an impression accentuated by Howard Shore’s knockoff score, which channels classic Bernard Herrmann. But glimpses of Cronenberg’s later visual flair are visible here, and there’s an unexpected elegance to the premise of psychological trauma manifesting in physical ways. The performances are fairly bland overall, with the exception of Eggar, who goes all-in at key moments to help to sell the grotesquery. An interesting early horror thriller from one of the genre’s most famous directors.