(Originally posted on 12/9/03)
David Cronenberg's pleasurably twisted The Brood (1979) may be the most damning movie ever made about psychiatry. Wacko therapist Dr. Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed) is the preeminent practitioner of psychoplasmics, a revolutionary form of treatment in which the good doctor goofily role-plays with his unbalanced patients by earnestly pretending to be their neglectful fathers and abusive mothers. Cronenberg, showing his contempt for this buffoonish hack, tips us off about Raglan's craziness by making the character wear turtlenecks underneath a leather jacket and by encouraging Reed to speak in a frustratingly inaudible hushed whisper. Frank Carveth (Art Hindle), the husband of Raglan's patient Nola (Samantha Eggar), correctly deduces that psychoplasmics is a crock and demands that his wife be released from Raglan's prison-like medical facility. However, in this alternate (read: Canadian) universe, people undergoing psychiatric treatment cannot be disturbed for fear that contact with the outside world will permanently screw up their fragile minds. To complicate matters, Carveth's parents-in-law are murdered by dog-faced children dressed in snowsuits resembling the one worn by Carveth's stone-faced daughter Candy (Cindy Hinds). This being a Cronenberg movie, it's only a matter of time before fantasy and reality collide amidst penetration/expulsion imagery, and wouldn't you know it, the monster children turn out to be physical manifestations of Nola's conscious (and unconscious) rage. Nola's painful childhood has left her terrified of abandonment and generally pissed off, and this anger is so great that she's actually spawned a horde of these pesky pint-sized creatures. Even though she's gone through the trouble of developing an external birthing organ to breed these tykes -- thus presumably making it very hard to walk around -- Nola nonetheless cares very little for her ugly new children, who are forced to reside in a bunk bed-filled attic when not doing their mother's dirty work. Things come to a head when the evil little buggers kidnap Candy, forcing Carveth to confront his loony spouse. Cronenberg, seemingly intent on condemning psychiatry as a menace to humanity, makes sure that Raglan is the brood's final victim. Yet the quack doctor's demise is preceded by the film's unforgettable, spectacularly repulsive vision of maternal love: Nola greeting her thoroughly freaked out hubby by giving birth to a bloody baby and then, like a cat confronted with a saucer of milk, licking the goo-covered infant clean.