DEAD RINGERS. Scream Factory Delivers Cronenberg’s Horror Classic [Blu-Review]

The idea of identical twins has long been used in media to add a horror or nefarious element to proceedings. The possibility of duplicity, in both senses of the word, or the hint of a secret connection between two individuals, an intimacy few can understand. It’s perhaps never been better exploited than in Dead Ringers, unsurprising given it springs from the mind of David Cronenberg (The Fly, Videodrome), and is hauntingly inspired by the real life story of Stewart and Cyril Marcus.

Claire Niveau (Geneviève Bujold) is in love with handsome Beverly. Or does she love Elliot? It’s uncertain because brothers Beverly and Elliot Mantle are identical twins sharing the same medical practice, apartment and women – including unsuspecting Claire. In a role that won the New York Film Critics Circle Best Actor Award, Jeremy Irons plays twin gynecologists whose emotional dependency collapses into mind games, madness and murder. Cronenberg won the Los Angeles Film Critics Awards Best Director honors for melding split-screen techniques, body doubles and Iron’s uncanny acting into an eerie, fact-based tale.

While undoubtedly tinged with a element of body horror, Cronenberg roots the film in psychological drama. Elliot and Beverly Mantle are twins whose bond strengthened in a deeply disturbing way as they matured. Elliot is more confident and dominant, Beverly the subservient one. The former even takes credit for the latter losing his virginity, shared sexual partners being one example of their closeness. The fact that these women are unaware they are taking two men into their beds is one of the more disturbing elements of the film.

It’s another facet to the movie, exploring how they are two halves of a whole, missing a fragment of themselves and being unstable as a result. Their co-dependency is disrupted when Beverly takes a liking to one of the women usually cast aside after Elliot has had his fill. Claire (Geneviève Bujold) is not just a victim however, but another component that feeds into this bizarre, pairing. While she opens up Beverly’s potential, it also unleashes his more more self-destructive traits including addiction and depression, leaving Elliot to try and hold their life together. This ménage à trois offers a fascinating look at the dynamics of the twins, their co-dependency and power play as well as more extreme and disturbing traits.

Much credit for the film’s success goes to Jeremy Irons, using small inflections, nuanced physical changes as well as wider sweeping personality differences to craft these two brothers. A serious approach, very intelligent work to differentiate and connect the pair. While the actor is key to this dual role, Cronenbergs smart technical approach is equally applaudable. Split shots and framing to convince the viewer that twins inhabit the screen. As is his way, Cronenberg brings darker elements to proceedings, twisting the concept of birth into something more macabre. There’s a cold, sterile feel at times, appropriate given the surgical nature of some aspects of the film, often used to heighten the more unnerving elements. This is married to a trashier, more exaggerated element. For some it’s these twisted elements that will standout, but looking deeper they are but woven into a very moving psychological drama.

THE PACKAGEThe release offers up two versions of the film. On disc one is a 1.78.1 transfer, which represents the original theatrical release. This version of the film is of middling quality, looking a little unnatural in terms of digital correction and grain quality. Colors are fine but a little subdued. Disc two hosts the new 2K restoration of the film in a 1.66.1 ratio, apparently Cronenberg’s preferred format. While it loses a little of the sharpness of the alternate version, this one has a more natural looking quality and more vibrant color palette. As usual, Shout/Scream factory deliver a healthy amount of special features:

  • Audio Commentary with writer William Beard, author of The Artist As Monster: The Cinema of David Cronenberg – Quite an in-depth commentary, delving into Cronenberg’s career as well as the themes in the film. Well worth a listen.
  • Audio Commentary with Actor Jeremy Irons – From a previous release. A fascinating listen regarding a lot of the technical approach to creating the twins as well as Iron’s approach as an actor.
  • Carey’s Story – A new interview for this release with Heidi Von Palleske, who discuses her experiences on set. It’s a good length at 19 minutes and gets into some good detail.
  • Working Artist – Another new interview, this time with Cronenberg regular Stephen Lack. One of the more entertaining extras.
  • Connecting Tissues – an interview with special effects artist Gordon Smith – A good feature for those who appreciate the darker elements of the film.
  • Double Vision – an interview with director of photography Peter Suschitzky – Informative look at multiple aspects of production, lighting and more.
  • Vintage interviews with Jeremy Irons, director/co-writer David Cronenberg, producer Marc Boyman and co-writer Norman Snider
  • Vintage Behind the Scenes Featurette
  • Theatrical Trailer

THE BOTTOM LINEDead Ringers is not not only one of Cronenberg’s more well executed films, an alluring study of duality and duplicity, but one that showcases a superb performance from Jeremy Irons. Each version of the film offered here has it’s pros and cons, but both are supported by a great selection of extras including some notable new ones commissioned for this release. There’s enough here to satisfy the biggest fan of this psychological thriller and tempt those who haven’t experienced one of Cronenberg’s finest offerings.

Dead Ringers is available via Shout Factory from November 15th.

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the author

Originally harkening from the British Isles, Jon was exiled to Texas back in 2007 to help conceal his identity as a love child of the Queen. Jon has both embraced and been embraced by the wonderful city of Austin, a place which has only further enhanced his interest in film. A regular at SXSW and Fantastic Fest, Jon is also a member of the Austin Film Critics Association and Online Film Critics Society. By day he is a researcher at UT Austin but he also has an involvement with (and deep appreciation for) the local brewing industry. In short, his passions are cinema, science, craft beer and writing about himself in the third person. Twitter: @Texas_Jon