The Brood ★★★★½

The first of several David Cronenberg films that require repeat viewings, instead of hitting you where you live the first time around. It’s his first real attempt to do something serious within the horror genre; when Stephen King saw it, he said that Cronenberg would have been a better director for The Shining, and indeed the themes are similar. It’s essentially Cronenberg’s self-described rewrite of Kramer Vs. Kramer, in which a father deals with the ways his divorce affects his child. Cronenberg wrote it in white heat during his custody battle with his first wife, and as such, it’s intensely personal, a hostile work of art.

Samantha Eggar, an unstable woman abused in childhood, produces “creatures of rage” — hideous dwarves who go around with hammers and pummel anyone who annoys her. Pop psychiatrist Oliver Reed believes that hostility manifests itself physically; he encourages Samantha to generate more of the critters. Meanwhile, her bewildered husband Art Hindle must save their little daughter from Samantha’s annihilating rage. The dwarves, in a word, look silly; Cronenberg’s ideas here are a jump ahead of his technical ability to carry them out — the horror is too literal. But the subtext remains, the theme of rage as an infection passed from parent to child in an unbroken cycle; that’s the movie’s true horror. This would be a more penetrating film to show in a Psych 101 class than the standard Ordinary People.