Dead Ringers (1988)

dead ringers poster 1988 movie david cronenberg jeremy irons
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 8/10

Jeremy Irons, horrific

Slow paced, not as visuals as some of Cronenberg's other films

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Dead Ringers

Studio:   Morgan Creek Productions

Genre(s):   Horror/Drama

Release Date(s):   September 8, 1988 (Toronto International Film Festival)/September 23, 1988 (US)

MPAA Rating:   R

dead ringers conjoined twin nightmare genevieve bujold jeremy irons

Elliot and Beverly have separation anxieties…

Beverly and Elliot Mantle (Jeremy Irons) are identical twins that do everything together.  They went to school together, live together, and both became famed gynecologists.  While Beverly is an introvert who excels at the job, Elliot is an extrovert that handles the business and public side of the work.  Beverly and Elliot also share everything personally.  Elliot sets up his brother for women and allows Beverly to take them.  When a famous actress named Claire Niveau (Geneviève Bujold) with a strange mutation in her reproductive system becomes a target, Beverly finds himself in a new problem:  love, but Claire’s use of drugs could be his downfall.

Written and directed by David Cronenberg (with additional scripting by Norman Snider), Dead Ringers is a “body-horror” suspense thriller.  The film is loosely based on the lives of gynecologists Stewart and Cyril Marcus who died together in 1975 but also the 1977 novel Twins by Ban Wood and Jack Gleasland.  This film received critical praise (primarily for Irons performance), and the Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film which is now out-of-print (Criterion #21).

dead ringers beverly gynecologist surgery red cloaks jeremy irons

Nope…nothing horrific about this…

Cronenberg always pushes the limits and in the ’80s he went from grindhouse to more art house style films.  Dead Ringers came out in the middle of this transformation and features aspects of his older style films and his more modern films.  The result is a movie that is both great and tough to watch.

The story for Dead Ringers is highly fictionalized.  Yes, there were twin gynecologists who struggled with drugs and died together, but the tools, the actress, and the mutations were almost all typical Cronenberg additions.  It becomes this psychological battle between two people who both want the closeness but also like the individuality.  I can’t say I love the Claire character much who I feel doesn’t take enough responsibility for her role in the action since Beverly is obviously unstable, but then you have to factor in that in a way Claire’s character was raped through Beverly and Elliot misleading her about their existence.

dead ringers ending elliot beverly dead jeremy irons

Got you, Beverly! I was just joshing you…I’m fine!

Jeremy Irons is great as the very different Beverly and Elliot.  He has to diversify the characters in the beginning enough to give them their own personalities and then merge them enough at the end to show what is happening to their psyche.  This is added to the fact that he generally had to act alone since he had to shoot all his scenes with “his brother” twice.  Geneviève Bujold is kind of irritating as Claire, but the role is also very honest in that Bujold deals with the real idea that she’s growing older as an actress in an industry that’s not good to older women in addition to her storyline of trying to have kids.

Cronenberg brings his touch to Dead Ringers in the visuals.  The skill of shooting Irons together in scenes (before much help from computers) has some challenges, but he pulls it off.  He adds to that the creepy Cronenberg body horror like Beverly and Elliot being chewed apart by Claire, the creepy red operating cloaks, and the horrible tools to deal with “mutated” women.

Dead Ringers is The Parent Trap…but scary.  It isn’t Cronenberg’s most shocking film nor is it his best film, but it does show him as a growing director at the time.  Dead Ringers is a transition film for the director who continued to change his craft into the ’90s and beyond.  I sometimes wish that Cronenberg would return to a grittier and creepier style of film from the ’70s but Dead Ringers feels closer to his newer pictures than his older ones.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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