View Full Version : Chromosone 3 (The Brood) Musings.

09-26-2003, 10:06 AM
As someone who enjoys writing reviews, I know the value of being impartial going into a film. In the case of The Brood (or Chromosome 3 in the version I watched) I can only claim to be slightly impartial (if that is possible!) David Cronenberg is simply one of the best Directors making films today. If you sift through his legacy, you find a unique individual, someone with a real vision of the world that is somehow warped, distorted – yet seems to make perfect sense. His mode of expression, and repeated themes, are part of all of us, yet no-one dares go to the edge as often as he does – either artistically, or commercially.

Cronenberg seems to relish filming the unfilmable. Who else would have tackled Naked Lunch? Who else would have embraced Crash? Who else would have made Spider? And who else would have stopped mid-career, put aside his fantastical imaginary worlds, and brought us Madame Butterfly? How many Directors have reimagined older films and been successful, such as when he made The Fly? And how many movies based on a Stephen King stories have really been worth a damn?

Perhaps it is because Cronenberg has stayed anchored outside of the Hollywood system, preferring to make films in his native Canada? Perhaps it is the people he managed to surround himself with. Whatever the reasons, Cronenberg has an authenticity that you can’t seem to find anywhere else, and his style of filmmaking is largely unique, special to him. He has come to embody an entire style unto himself, you’ll likely read about movies being “Cronenbergian”, as though that term existed before he ever lived.

So what we have here is a living legend, someone whom it is always interesting to watch. So it is with great distress that we have to endure half-hearted DVD releases, all around the world, of his works. I guess that the independence he has enjoyed is still working against him somehow. Sure, Criterion did us proud with Dead Ringers (which is, obscenely, now OOP) and we all know their upcoming release of Naked Lunch is going to be exemplary, but the rest of his catalog lies represented somewhere between adequate and poor. This is a shame, and it hopefully will be fixed sometime in the future. It really is pretty rotten that genre fans can’t get his films loaded to the gills, with perfect transfers. It’s called RESPECT folks!

Regardless, Cronenberg’s films are so good that even a half-hearted release is a worthy one. No matter what form they come in, you’re in for a ride with a Cronenberg film. In the case of The Brood – it’s an interesting one at that, and represents something which, undoubtedly, could not be made today. What does it say about the progress of our society, when we see films from the 70’s containing images that would be censored in present times?

I digress, as you might well have figured out, I am in awe of Cronenberg and what he represents. It is heart-warming to know that an artist of such bizarre visions should not only have been able to make their ideas come true (albeit in a fictional world), but that he’s made an entire career out of it – that he’s still out there somewhere, astounding us with every frame of ever imagination he can bring to life.

I opened by saying I could only be half-subjective. The other half of this statement is that the last time I watched the Brood, I was not really taken with it. So it tempers my approach a little bit, it’s hard not to be a little leery when you’re going in knowing the film you’re about to see is perhaps not a masterpiece in the making. However, sitting here, fresh from viewing it again, I have to say I’m embarrassed that I spoke ill of this film. Some days things click, some days not. I guess last time was a bad day.

Stay with me here – this review might be a little long for some. I’ll deal with the basics first, and then dig into “Final Thoughts”.


Frank Carveth (Art Hindle), is married to Nola (Samantha Eggar). They have one child, a little girl by the name of Candice. When the movie opens, Nola is receiving psychological care from Dr. Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed) in a remote medical center called the Somafree Institute. This means she is distant from her family, living away from home.

Every weekend, Frank takes Candice to the center to visit her mother. Frank is never allowed access to his wife, since Dr. Raglan says this would interfere with her treatment.

After a visit, Frank bathes his daughter, and notices bites and bruises on her back. Clearly she has been abused at the institute. Knowing that his wife was herself abused by her own mother, Frank puts two-and-two together and believes that Nola has been attacking the girl. He rushes to the center, and tells Dr, Raglan that the little girl will no longer be visiting on weekends.

Knowing he will have to fight his wife in court, Frank then hires a lawyer to bring a case against Dr. Raglan and the institute for what he perceives has happened to his wife. He then takes his daughter to stay with her grandmother, who at this point is estranged from her own husband.

During the evening, after Frank has gone, the grandmother is brutally beaten to death. Candice sees the aftermath, throwing her into psychological silence.

The grandfather then arrives on the scene, planning to bury his own wife. He confronts Dr. Raglan, since he wants to tell his daughter what has happened, but is surprised when he too is denied access. Cursing Dr. Raglan, and threatening to return later, he leaves to visit the house he had shared with his ex-wife, drinking heavily. While drunk he calls Frank to ask if he wants to return to the Institute with him. Frank agrees, but before he can get to the house, the grandfather too, is murdered by a strange dwarf.

What is Dr. Raglan doing at his institute? Why is he hiding Nola? What or who are the strange dwarfs that are killing people? Why were the grandparents murdered in their homes? All is revealed, as this surreal movie takes us into the minds (and out again) of emotion gone awry.

Image Quality

This review is based on the French release of this film – known as Chromosome 3. For the most part, the image is very good. However, it should be noted that there is some strange grain during the climatic scenes. Also, and I could be entirely wrong here, I noticed some strange framing in the climax. It almost looks pan-and-scanned for some close-ups. I do not know if this is the case, and do not have the new US release to compare, but it is during these scenes that I noticed an increase in grain. Again – this could be entirely in my own mind. Of course this one is widescreen.


Glorious mono! Nothing special here at all – everything is clear, obviously not spectacular. NOTE: This is a French DVD. It comes with two language options, French, and original mono with French subtitles. I have previously been told that it is possible to get rid of the French subs, but I’ll be darned if I can manage it. Apparently there is some trick in the menus; it’s a trick I have been unable to achieve.

Supplemental Material

Well, while at first it appears to have a wealth of extras, in reality things are little more spartan. Here we have a filmography (text), a narrative filmography, a behind the scenes segment (5 minutes), and a 20 minute interview with Howard Shore (composer) and Cronenberg.

Sound good? Well, all but the 20-minute interview is entirely in French, with no subs. The interview itself is in both French and English (all answers are in English). It is a very nice interview – but it’s a pity the other extras are lost on me.

Image Quality - B
Sound – C+
Supplements - C
Region 2
1:1.85 Widescreen
Glorious Mono!

09-26-2003, 10:08 AM
Final Thoughts

At the time Cronenberg sat to write The Brood, he was not the heralded Director we all know today. This was early in his career, and he was moving from project to project, getting financing due to the tax-shelter games of those who can afford to play them. In one interview Cronenberg recalls how he had to wear gloves as he typed the script, cutting the fingers off so he could get at the typewriter. Clearly, this was not some millionaire Director lazing in the Californian sun.

Of course, that’s not really too important – what is definitely more important is what inspired the story of The Brood.

Cronenberg has stated that this film is his most “autobiographical”. If you have sat through the film, you might well be wondering what such a statement could possibly mean. Women giving birth from outside her body, maniacal dwarfs rampaging through the streets killing innocent people?

In fact, The Brood is a reaction – and quite a violent one – against Cronenbergs own divorce. At the time in his life when this story was written and filmed, Cronenberg was breaking up with his first wife. They had a child, a little girl. One day, Cronenberg received a phone call from his wife saying she was taking their child to go live in a religious community in California, and that David would only have access to his daughter during holidays.

Cronenberg managed to get to his daughter first, and to keep her away from her mother. Eventually, her mother signed over custody of the daughter to Cronenberg, choosing to live in the religious community instead. Apparently, she’s still there.

Once you have seen this film, you will realize that the similarities are startling. However, what The Brood represents is far more grotesque than the reality – or is it?

The secondary inspiration behind The Brood is, surprisingly, the Oscar winning film, Kramer V. Kramer. Cronenberg saw this movie and was repulsed by it. Having just gone through the ordeal portrayed in the film, he found it trite, with none of the real anger he himself, had felt. Cronenberg wanted catharsis, he wanted the real story told – and as we all know, there’s only one way for him to do that.

So what we have are dwarfs (the anger, or RAGE at the situation of being in conflict over his little girl, personified), doing the bidding of a master (his wife who wanted to retreat out of his reach into a strange community), and a father trying to hang on to everything he loved.

In a brilliant move, Dr. Hal Raglan, lovingly played by Oliver Reed as an evil influence, turns out to be innocent of any real crime (preacher, God?). He simply wants to understand what Nola is going through, to actually help her. The ruse of the film is that he’s someone doing something to Nola, making her mother these creatures; instead, he’s trying to control a situation that he can never hope to contain.

The Brood is a very clear example of a real-world situation influencing an artist into extremes, into a form of expression that is representative, yet not confined by the reality it is trying to depict. It’s a beautiful thing, brought to us in an ugly form, repulsive, yet compelling for what it represents – the anger of a man losing the woman he loved, watching how it damages their daughter. It puts on display the very real fear Cronenberg must have felt as events unfolded in his life. Yet he turned this grief over to his creative force, and presented to us an enormous feat – a film embedded in very real emotions, that plays out either as extreme allegory, or even a simple horror film.


If the Brood were only about the destruction of his personal relationship, then that would make it worthy. However, on another level, it also represents something extraordinary.

The Brood was the first meeting of several collaborators who would stay with Cronenberg through his next series of films. First up, and probably most telling, was that The Brood was Cronenbergs first film with composer Howard Shore.

Shore’ resume was a bit scary to this point, at the time they met, he was Music Director for Saturday Night Live. Shore has stuck with Cronenberg throughout his films ever since – bringing his own brand of styling to the movies. To be honest, I find the music in The Brood to be strangely misplaced at times. However, as their collaborations developed, Shore has shown great versatility, for instance listen to his collaborations with Ornette Coleman on the Naked Lunch soundtrack, or the haunting melodies he brought to Crash. They are now at a point when they’re artistically inseparable.

The cast here also does a wonderful job, with the big name male character (though not the lead) being portrayed by Oliver Reed. Reed often comes across as a little elitist, aloof even – despite his off-screen habit of drunken debauchery. In this case, it works for the benefit of the film, and he does a wonderful job.

Other members of the cast are also of interest, and not always for the usual types of reasons. The male lead, Frank Carveth, is played by Art Hindle. Art went on to make a career in Television, including such diverse works as Dallas, Porky’s, Porky’s II and Clive Barkers Saint Sinner.

And how can you not feel pity for Samantha Eggar, portraying Nola Carveth, the sick wife manifesting evil from her body – yet never once does she actually get to move! She spends the whole time either sitting, or crouched on her knees. She does her work through facial expression, displays of anger and screaming monologues. Her role was wrapped with three days of filming, but it must have been one hell of a three days!

Also keep your eyes out for Robert Silverman, this time playing Jan Hartog with a huge growth on his throat – Cronenberg stalwart. And special kudos to Cindy Hinds for her excellent portrayal as Candice, the daughter.

Another name to conjure with is Mark Irwin. Irwin is the Cinematographer here, taking over the reigns first for Fast Company, and then sticking with Cronenberg through The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome, Dead Zone and The Fly – before handing off to Peter Suschitzky on Dead Ringers. The best way to describe Irwin’s work is “fluid”, with great, if not spectacular, transitions. He helped visualize a huge part of Cronenbergs filmography, and it’s to be applauded. Genre fans would have also enjoyed his work, post Cronenberg, on the 1988 remake of The Blob, Fright Night II and more recently in Me, Myself & Irene and Scary Movie 3.

I am of course leaving out all kinds of names in this brief review. I really don’t mean to neglect Bryan Day (sound) or Carol Spier (Production Design). The fact is, Cronenberg is not a single man bringing us these visions, he’s part of a team – a creative force that together present us with morbid, but compelling tales.


All in all then, The Brood turns out to be a great ride both on, and off, the screen. It is great for what it is, and for what it represents. Both in context, and out of context, it has much to offer us.

And lest we forget that climatic scene, with Frank and his daughter driving away, with the camera zooming to the two welts on the arm of his little girl, we get to experience the long-felt grief and pain of a child caught in the middle of a violent breakup – expressed as a warning. As a story on the plight of the broken family, perhaps the violence and brutality of this movie can be forgiven.

One can only wonder at the joy Cronenberg must have gotten, being able – if not in real life, at least in the fiction - to have his ex-wife throttled until she was dead. There is not a little perverse humor in The Brood. With a tagline of “The Ultimate Experience Of Inner Terror” – I hope this brief review has helped you understand from whence it came. The Brood is momentous, wrenching, and frightening.

09-26-2003, 09:35 PM
Fabulous review Dwatts!

I also tend to love almost everything that Cronenberg gives us. He is simply one of my favorite directors ever.

I recently watched The Brood (the MGM DVD release) and found it to be far better than I remembered. I had read something shortly before watching it about Cronenberg going thru a divorce at the time, which I thought made the film much better and more personal. Hearing the additional things that you have said make me simply want to go back and watch it again soon.

09-26-2003, 09:48 PM
Well, I have slagged The Brood on this very site!!! Shame on me, I was won over on subsequent viewings. Thanks for reading :)

09-27-2003, 07:51 AM
Is this French DVD 16:9 enhanced?

09-27-2003, 10:41 AM
I have no idea wo the French mark their discs. This one says: "16/9 compatible 4/3". If that means 16/9 enhanced, I don't know. Stupid french ;)

09-28-2003, 02:05 AM
WOW,you made me want to see this movie.
I've seen the dvd @ BB.but am weary because it is a 70's movie.Naked Lunch I remember seeing a long time ago and I loved it.Naked Lunch had the actor from The Greatest American Superhero correct?
I have heard a lot of praise for David Cronenberg,but I dont really know what he is about.I will definately be picking up Naked Lunch and the Brood (only because of this review).What are some other good ones?

09-28-2003, 04:16 AM
Originally posted by dwatts
I have no idea wo the French mark their discs. This one says: "16/9 compatible 4/3". If that means 16/9 enhanced, I don't know. Stupid french ;)

Yes, it does mean it is 16/9 enhanced. I have this edition and like the look of it quite a bit.

This is Cronenberg's anti-pop-sych/new age film, years before it became trendy to critique the excesses of that milieu. One of Cronenberg's best films.

09-28-2003, 07:14 AM
Perhaps you can tell me, in detail, how to turn the subs off?

10-05-2003, 01:49 AM
i'm not a Cronenberg fan, but I think i'll pick this one up and give it a shot. and if i don't like it, its all your fault!

10-05-2003, 12:24 PM