Starring Jeremy Irons, Genevieve Bujold
Directed by David Cronenberg
Distributed by Scream Factory
There have been few directors who are able to blend horrors both visceral and cerebral as well as David Cronenberg – really, no one can do it as he does. Those infamous bursts of hyperviolence are shocking as much for their unexpected arrival as they are for unbridled grotesquerie. Early in his career Cronenberg was more overt with elements of horror, but post-The Fly (1986) his output began to rely less on gut-churning gross out gags and more on the psychological. There has always been a certain elegance to his bloodletting, too, which is why in many ways Dead Ringers (1988) is the quintessential Cronenberg picture. Focusing on twin gynecologists who are as similar as they are different, the movie is underpinned by veritable horror despite being presented as more highbrow fare. The film is loosely based on Bari Wood’s novel Twins, which is based on the true-life story of Stewart and Cyril Marcus, twin gynecologists who lived in New York City and died under mysterious circumstances at the age of 45. Classic Cronenberg elements seep into the picture at unexpected moments – just enough to satisfy his horror fanbase – but the real pearl here is Jeremy Irons who gives an astounding performance as two men living conjoined lives until a woman enters the fray and shatters their perfectly crafted illusions.
Elliot and Beverly Mantle (Jeremy Irons) have shown an intense interest in gynecology from a young age, performing surgery on dolls using bespoke instruments, and that passion has carried them well into adulthood where the two operate a highly successful practice. Elliot is the gregarious showman, while Bev is content to remain in the shadows and do most of the legwork, which includes the design of their patented instrumentation. The two men are identical in every way – physically – and can hardly be told apart. So great is their likeness they often switch roles, with Elliot taking on tasks like accepting awards among peers while Bev gets to enjoy some of his “older” brother’s scraps – i.e. the women in his life. If it wasn’t for Elliot, Bev would almost certainly “still be a virgin”. Their ruse works well enough until they meet Claire (Genevieve Bujold), an actress who has a unique three-headed cervix that fascinates the brothers. Claire falls for Elliot, so much so that she is able to ascertain when Bev has been tagged in to see some action for himself. She confronts them both and vents her frustrations, but eventually decides on forging a relationship with Bev.
Claire is also a functioning drug addict, popping pills with frequency. Bev, too, begins on his own downward spiral of prescription addiction, sending his already fragile state into a darker, lonely place. His delusions cause him to think Claire is having an affair (she isn’t) and that, most concerning, his surgical tools are no longer fit for use on his patients. Frustrated and frazzled, he hires a local artist to construct a series of tools for operating on mutant women. Then, during one of the film’s most frightening sequences, a clearly drugged-up Bev attempts surgery on a woman using his imprecise, bulky surgical steel instruments. Elliot, now more concerned for his brother than ever before, reenters Bev’s life and tries to mend a broken man by breaking himself, leaving the once-promising twins in a highly vulnerable position.
As easy as it is to be entranced by Cronenberg’s filmmaking, the real showstopper here is Jeremy Irons, who delivers an amazing dual performance that will leave viewers wondering whether or not he actually does have a twin. Elliot and Beverly are identical twins, with similar goals and aspirations, but in terms of personality they are night and day. Irons plays each brother with the proper equilibrium, carefully balancing their similarities and differences. His nuanced performance is so dialed in that viewers can often tell who he is playing simply by watching him move and emote, a subtle look or his gait dictating all we need to know. I had seen Dead Ringers years ago prior to popping in this new Blu-ray release and on this viewing it was clear I hadn’t ever fully appreciated Irons’ abilities. He took home a few minor awards for this performance but it is shocking he was overlooked for an Oscar nomination.
Bujold is equally commanding as Claire, the woman who tears down the brothers’ façade. Where the Mantles have order she brings chaos, calling them out on their lies and forcing them to face some harsh truths. As a pill popper, Claire drags the emotionally dependent Bev on a turbulent ride, one from which he has extreme difficulty recovering. Her story, however, feels incomplete since just as it seems this bizarre threesome is going somewhere Claire is thrust out of the spotlight with little effect on the third act. I don’t know how useful she could have been given the ways events play out, but there could have a bit more closure to her storyline.
Dead Ringers may not be straight-up horror but that doesn’t mean Cronenberg’s horror devotees will find viewing it any less satisfying. Between a strange story filled with some unexpected twists, stellar performances, freakish gynecological instruments, perverse slices of biology, and yet another winning score from Howard Shore this is a film that has it all for the true Cronenberg fan. Criterion previously issued a DVD for Dead Ringers with a handful of bonus features (sadly, not ported over here) but Scream Factory has upped the ante with this new Blu-ray, sporting several new extras, alternate aspect ratios, and slick new cover art.
Cinephiles get their choice of two aspect ratios here – Cronenberg’s preferred framing of 1.66:1 or a slightly opened-up 1.78:1 matting. Either 1080p image is a solid effort, though my money is always on the director’s preference, plus the 1.66:1 image touts a new 2K scan whereas the alternative does not. Without getting into niggling details over framing and variances between each version, I’ll simply state that the 1.66:1 ratio appears solid, with a pleasing, natural color palette, smooth film grain, and average definition. Contrast is a touch on the lighter side, leaving some blacks looking a shade lighter than usual. There are few moments when the image appears crisp and razor sharp, though I would chalk that up to the photography more than a lack of effort here.
Whichever disc you choose, both feature the same audio options: English DTS-HD MA in either 2.0 stereo or 5.1 surround sound. I opted for the multi-channel track since it allows for greater depth and range, as well as giving Howard Shore’s melancholy score lots of room to stretch out and envelope the viewer. Dialogue levels fluctuate ever so slightly in a few scenes, though overall the sound quality is great. Subtitles are available in English SDH.
Scream Factory has included a handful of new bonus features here, as well as a couple of legacy extras, but nearly all of the supplements found on Criterion’s OOP DVD have not been ported over, so if you’re “that guy” who can’t bear to part with anything of merit then I would suggest you hang on to that old disc.
DISC ONE: 1.78:1 VERSION
The only extras found here are a pair of commentaries – one with author William Beard (who penned a Cronenberg tome), the other with actor Jeremy Irons – and for the life of me I can’t understand why they weren’t made available on the other disc, too.
DISC TWO: 1.66:1 VERSION
“Cary’s Story” – Actress Heidi Von Palleske recounts a few stories from her time on set.
“Working Artist” – Actor Stephen Lack spends most of the time showing off his art collection and proving he is one eccentric dude.
“Connecting Tissue” – Make-up effects artist Gordon Smith discusses the pieces he produced for the film’s brief moments of horror.
“Double Vision” – Renowned Director of Photography Peter Suschitsky sits down to talk about his lighting process and the look he and Cronenberg sought to achieve for this film.
“Vintage Interviews”, featuring some face time with Jeremy Irons, David Cronenberg, producer Mark Boyman, and co-writer Norman Snider.
A theatrical trailer can also be found here.
- High-Definition Transfer Of The Film (1.78:1 Aspect Ratio)
- NEW Audio Commentary With Writer William Beard, Author Of The Artist As Monster: The Cinema Of David Cronenberg
- Audio Commentary With Actor Jeremy Irons
- NEW 2K Scan At The Director’s Preferred Aspect Ratio (1.66:1)
- NEW Carey’s Story – An Interview With Heidi Von Palleske
- NEW Working Artist – An Interview With Stephen Lack
- NEW Connecting Tissues – An Interview With Special Effects Artist Gordon Smith
- NEW Double Vision – An Interview With Director Of Photography Peter Suschitzky
- Vintage interviews With Jeremy Irons, Director/Co-writer David Cronenberg, Producer Marc Boyman And Co-writer Norman Snider
- Vintage Behind-The-Scenes Featurette
- Original Theatrical Trailer