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Brood, The (1979)

Oliver Reed persuades Samantha Eggar to give birth to deformed children with killer instincts in another of David Cronenberg’s disturbing shockers.

An intriguing metaphor for both unexplained bodily changes and the mental abuse some parents heap on their offspring, this genuinely creepy offering is a modern horror classic.


The idea for The Brood had been in Toronto-born director Cronenberg’s head for ten years when in 1978 he became an early recipient of a new system of tax incentives designed to encourage growth in the Canadian film industry.

He made the little-seen drag racing picture Fast Company and The Brood in quick succession. The latter was far closer to what he had done before – after the low budget Rabid (1977) and Shivers (1975) – trademark Cronenberg; Physical horror with a strong sexual undercurrent.

Cronenberg recalls writing The Brood with gloves on because the house he had just bought had no heating. He had been working on a project called The Sensitives – filmed after this as Scanners (1981) – but The Brood “pushed its way right up through the typewriter”. He describes it as his most autobiographical script.

It concerns Nola Carveth (Eggar), a woman locked up in a mental institution run by Dr Hal Raglan (Reed) and denied access to her daughter.


Carveth’s rage manifests itself as homicidal monsters to which she “gives birth”.

Cronenberg insists it is his version of Kramer Vs Kramer (1979).

At the time, Cronenberg was in the middle of a divorce and a custody battle for his daughter Cassandra – later an assistant director on his films Naked Lunch (1991) and Crash (1996).

Cronenberg even admits that the London-born Eggar’s resemblance to his ex-wife may have influenced the casting.

Eggar gives emotional depth to Cronenberg’s complex chiller but later described The Brood as “the strangest and most repulsive film I’ve ever done”. One scene, where she licks her own monstrous foetus, was considered so repellent that it was trimmed, much to Cronenberg’s own rage.

brood_005The film was shot on wintry location in Ontario at the end of 1978.

Because of the tax-shelter system, investors would lose their write-off if a film wasn’t shot by 31 December, so Cronenberg was under pressure to finish it.

With a budget of $1.5 million, it was at the time the director’s most expensive film, but still enjoyed only limited distribution in the US.

Scanners (1981) would be the one to put him on the map.

Dr Hal Raglan
Oliver Reed
Nola Carveth

Samantha Eggar
Frank Carveth

Art Hindle
Candice Carveth

Cindy Hinds
Julianna Kelly

Nuala Fitzgerald
Barton Kelly

Henry Beckman

David Cronenberg