Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray release of David Croneberg’s Dead Ringers is out now
David Cronenberg doesn’t like to go back in time. The maverick Canadian filmmaker who found fame with a series of visceral and intellectual horror films in the 1970s and ’80s is often asked to discuss his past glories and more often than not, he’ll politely decline. This writer has managed to coax him out on a few rare occasions to riff on what he did — as opposed to what he does now — and you can see the evidence of these chats in the recent Criterion release of his 1979 masterpiece The Brood (an on camera interview recorded after the passing of his mentor, Cinepix founder John Dunning) and in the pages of the magazine I used to edit, Fangoria. You can even hear some of our chats on this very site.
But I have the advantage. David and I both live in Toronto. His son, filmmaker Brandon Cronenberg, and I both played keyboard in the same band. We talk often and have for years. Still, once I was asked to record commentaries with David for a Scanners Blu-ray. He said no. They offered him a lovely chunk of money. He said no. Then, the same company wanted a The Brood commentary. He declined. More money was offered. Nope. Once, a huge horror convention asked for my help in locking DC as their guest of honor. They were ready to pay a staggering guarantee for this. David thought about it. And refused.
Sure, he’ll talk about his side gig as an actor. He’ll discuss current projects. And he really, really wants to talk about his masterful underrated 1993 drama M. Butterfly (“I had to beg Warners to put out the DVD,” David once told me), but no one ever asks him about it. Instead they want words on Shivers, Rabid, Videodrome and The Fly. And since these are intensely personal works and considering he has spoken in-depth about all of these pictures on record in the past, he’s simply just not interested.
And I respect the Hell out of him for this, despite how frustrating it can get for the archivists who want to document and preserve and re-present his thoughts for new generations. And to be honest, his absence from the glut of Cronenberg re-releases can be a bit of a bummer. Case in point, Scream Factory’s recent Blu-ray release of one of DC’s most challenging and emotionally devastating pictures, 1988’s Dead Ringers. Here we have a glorious 2K scan of the film as well as new interviews with peripheral cast members, FX legend Gordon Smith, plus a new commentary with Cronenberg know-it-all William Beard. There’s a few older features ported over from previous releases of the film too, including a commentary with actor Jeremy Irons.
But there’s not a trace of DC anywhere. At least nothing fresh. And really, after the passage of time and seeing that Dead Ringers was such an important transitional film for the director, marking as it did the moment when he shifted gears from straight horror and fantasy filmmaking to a darker, more dangerous and less easy to market kind of cinema, new words and thoughts would be welcome. Essential, even.
But you won’t find them here. And God knows Scream Factory tried.
Luckily Dead Ringers is such a towering, powerful motion picture that it stands on its own. My God, what a movie this is. From the opening credits montage, featuring textbook sketches of the perverse, fantastical gynecological instruments that would figure so prominently later in the film and the delicate strains of Howard Shore‘s swooning score, we’re hooked. The rest of the movie elegantly draws us in and makes us endlessly uncomfortable until it starts rapidly winding down its stomach-churning spiral to its grisly, unforgettable climax.
At the center of the film is a now near-mythical dual performance by Irons, playing identical Toronto-based Twin gynecologists Beverly and Elliot Mantle, visionary doctors whose co-dependence is shattered when one of their patients, the mutant-vagina-sporting Claire (Genevieve Bujold, who is incredible in the film) becomes the object of their shared sexual and professional obsession. Based on authors Bari Wood and Jack Geasland’s fact-inspired novel “Twins” (which was the movie’s original title until former Cronenberg collaborator Ivan Reitman mounted his own movie called Twins starring Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger… a radically different picture, to be sure), Dead Ringers is a horror movie of the mind and yes, true to its director’s leanings, body. But it doesn’t stoop to hoary special FX and shocks to hammer home its frissons. Instead, it slow burns, sucking you into its tender ballet of madness, megalomania and perverse sexuality. And aided by a then-revolutionary digital technology, Irons is unforgettable in his efforts. You really do forget that you’re watching one man play two parts.
Watching Dead Ringers again on Blu-ray allows one to fully appreciate Denise Cronenberg’s stunning costume design and DP Peter Suschitzky’s saturated, crisp cinematography, the two artists working in collusion to create a cold, carefully color-coded fantasy world that feels like an unholy marriage between the clinical and comic book. It’s a perfect movie, both as a purely cinematic experience and a virtual emotional wringer.
It’s just too bad my man David couldn’t have come out of hiding to bless this release and re-appraise what remains a major piece of his creative puzzle.