"I bambini ci guardano..." The concentrated preamble lays the foundation for the frightful joke on Seventies psychobabble, with therapeutic role-playing on a darkened stage evoking the Bergman of Face to Face until an eruption of skin boils suddenly reveals David Cronenberg’s hand. "This is what you do to me inside," weeps the patient to the glowering analyst (Oliver Reed), whose studies in "psychoplasmics" profess to cleanse the mind’s traumas through physical expulsion. (The Shape of Rage is the title of the Lacanian high priest’s manifesto.) Deep in the institute dwells his pet experiment (Samantha Eggar), rocking with suppressed emotional blisters; her clogged-up wrath whelps monstrous creatures who do her subconscious bidding, and soon her estranged husband (Art Hindle) and tiny daughter (Cindy Hinds) are surrounded by bludgeoned bodies. "Bad and fucked-up mommies," appalling and enthralling, are the heart of this grand fable of repulsion, shot by Cronenberg with frigid vehemence in the midst of his own divorce and child-custody anxieties. Shedding the grindhouse skin of the early films for a cool-clinical sheen, it exhumes the deformed feelings of relationships erected on circles of pain while locating a bruised new dignity in the characters caught in them. (Hitchcock’s overhead "guilt angle" is used to contemplate a feeble paterfamilias caressing the chalk outline where his wife’s corpse once was, an affecting example of the director’s fusion of the abstract and the visceral.) Robert A. Silverman’s jolly turn as a disciple nursing an ornate cancerous growth behind his ascot ("I have a small revolution on my hands"), splotches of milk and blood on the kitchen floor (cf. Cohen’s It’s Alive!), the parka-clad gnomes from Don’t Look Now, a whole ward of them. Above all, there’s Eggar’s bravura matriarch "in the middle of a strange adventure," her gaze quivering defiantly as she lifts her robes to reveal a literally wandering womb, one of Cronenberg’s most unforgettable visions. Zulawski in Possession picks up the line of thought and floors the gas pedal. With Henry Beckman, Nuala Fitzgerald, Susan Hogan, and Gary McKeehan.
--- Fernando F. Croce