Tag Archives: Tragedy

124. DEAD RINGERS (1988)

“When was the last time a gynecologist was in a movie, even as a figure of fun? There’s something taboo there; something strange and difficult.”–David Cronenberg

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DIRECTED BY: David Cronenberg

FEATURING: , Genevieve Bujold

PLOT: Elliot and Beverly Mantle are brilliant twin gynecologists, specializing in fertility, with a client base of rich women. Elliot, the more outgoing of the pair, will seduce a client, and then Beverly will also romance her, pretending to be his brother. The twins delicately balanced psychological co-dependency is disturbed when Beverly falls in love with one of their conquests, a pill-popping actress with a deformed uterus.

Still from Dead Ringers

BACKGROUND:

  • Dead Ringers is loosely based on a a real-life case involving twin gynecologists. Their story was fictionalized and turned into a best-selling novel (“Twins“) by Bari Wood and Jackie Geasland, which became the basis for the screenplay by Cronenberg and Norman Snider.
  • William Hurt and Robert De Niro each passed on the roles of the Mantle twins.
  • Irons’ performance as twins Beverly and Elliot Mantle nabbed him Best Actor awards from the New York and Chicago film critics associations and a runner-up prize from the LA film critics; but the project was too strange to be endorsed by the Academy Awards, which procrastinated until the following year to recognize the actor for his role as accused murderer Claus von Bulow in Reversal of Fortune (Irons credits Dead Ringers for an “assist” in nabbing him that statuette).
  • Worried that it might not be weird enough, we initially declined to place Dead Ringers on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies—but the public decided this omission was one of our biggest oversights, as the movie won its section in our third readers choice poll.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The blood-red scrubs narrowly beat out the bizarrely barbed “instruments for working on mutant women” as the movie’s most disturbing medical prop—largely because the twins were presumably sane and sober when they chose this surgical garb. Both props appear together onscreen in a scene where Beverly, high on downers, makes a shambles of the operating room, even snatching off the patient’s gas mask to take a whiff of anesthetic himself.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: When the plot synopsis contains the words “twin gynecologists,” you know you’ll be traveling into territory off the beaten path. When it’s David Cronenberg directing a story about twin gynecologists, you can expect something even further out there. While Dead Ringers is a drama, it’s a drama for horror movie fans, one that’s ultimately creepy and unnerving enough to rise to the level of “weird.”


Original trailer for Dead Ringers

COMMENTS: However unlikely Cronenberg’s tale of obsession, drug abuse, and gynecology

Continue reading 124. DEAD RINGERS (1988)

LIST CANDIDATE: DEAD RINGERS (1988)

NOTE: By popular demand, Dead Ringers has been promoted onto the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies ever made! Please read the official Certified Weird entry. Comments are closed on this post; this initial review is left here for archival purposes.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: David Cronenberg

FEATURING: Jeremy Irons, Genevieve Bujold

PLOT: A woman disturbs the delicate psychic balance between twin gynecologists.

Still from Dead Ringers (1988)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: When the plot synopsis contains the words “twin gynecologists,” you know you’ll be traveling into territory off the beaten path.  When it’s David Cronenberg directing a story about twin gynecologists, you can expect something even further out there.  While Dead Ringers is a drama, it’s a drama for horror movie fans, and it’s offbeat and unnerving enough that it might in indeed rise to the level of “weird.”

COMMENTS:  Twins can be mildly eerie.  Male gynecologists are slightly creepy.  Put twins and gynecologists together, though, and the ick factor increases exponentially; especially when the twin gynecologists’ dating practices are, to say the least, highly unethical.  As shy Beverly and suave Elliot, the Mantle twins, Jeremy Irons gives a fascinating and multifaceted performance.  By utilizing differing mannerisms and energy levels (Bev is jittery where Elliot is detached), Irons makes it so the viewer can immediately differentiate which twin is which about 80% of the time.  That 20% uncertainty about who you are looking at on the screen adds an extra uneasy edge to a picture that’s already morally queasy.  Bev and Elliot, you see, share their women—who are also their patients—and the ladies may be bedding Bev while believing they’re receiving Elliot.  When Beverly, the more sensitive of the pair, becomes enamored with a French-Canadian actress/patient, he decides he wants to keep her for himself and pursue a normal male/female relationship.  But these psychic Siamese twins have become accustomed to share every experience, professional and erotic, since childhood, and asserting his independence proves traumatic for Beverly.  He slides into drug abuse and professional disgrace, and drags codependent Elliot down into the sewer with him.  Cronenberg keeps the explicitly weird elements to a minimum.  There’s a dream sequence, but perhaps the film’s oddest feature is the fact that, rather than using the traditional reassuring white scrubs, the twins perversely outfit their surgical staff in uniforms of blood red—the color of alarm.  Though it’s played straight (for a Cronenberg film), there’s a murky psychological undertone to the incidents that makes Ringers unsettling even beyond its unsavory subject matter.  Cronenberg directs crisply, with sharp cinematography on elegant sets that ironically underscore the seediness of the proceedings.  Stiff Brit Irons lends a touch of class and even manages to make the unsavory twins sympathetic as they spiral to a professional and personal nadir of barbiturate withdrawal psychosis.  Irons performance nabbed Best Actor awards from the New York and Chicago film critics associations and a runner-up prize from the LA film critics, but the project was too strange to be endorsed by the Academy Awards, which procrastinated until the following year to recognize the actor for his role as accused murderer Claus von Bulow in Reversal of Fortune (Irons credits Dead Ringers for an “assist” in nabbing him that statuette).  Despite the paucity of plaudits, this may be the greatest portrayal of twins by a single actor in movie history, making this unusual and extremely dark film worth a look even for conventional cinephiles.

As strange and implausible as Dead Ringers scenario might seem, it’s actually loosely based on a real-life case.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Who, then, will be drawn to this spectacle? Anyone with a taste for the macabre wit, the weird poignancy and the shifting notions of identity that lend ‘Dead Ringers’ such fascination.”–Janet Maslin, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Mighty Utar.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

39. COWARDS BEND THE KNEE, OR, THE BLUE HANDS (2003)

“I only include things that are psychologically true in my stories, no matter how bizarre, stupid, silly or gratuitous the episodes in them may seem… I can only hope that the spectacle of me trying to inflict pain on hard-to-reach places on my own body is amusing to some people.”–Guy Maddin

Must SeeWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Guy Maddin

FEATURING: , Melissa Dionisio,

PLOT: Amateur hockey player Guy Maddin falls in love with the proprietor’s daughter when he takes his current girlfriend to a hair salon/brothel for an abortion. The daughter, Meta, will not give herself to a man until her father’s death at the hands of her mother is avenged. To accomplish this, she wants to transplant her dead father’s hands onto Guy, so that it will be her father’s hands that strangle her mother.

Still from Cowards Bend the Knee (2003)

BACKGROUND:

  • Commissioned by the Power Plant Art Gallery of Toronto.
  • On its debut at the International Film Festival in Rotterdam, viewers watched the ten chapters of Cowards Bend the Knee through ten peepholes in a wall. Spectators had to kneel to put the peepholes at eye level.
  • Maddin issued a companion book to Cowards Bend the Knee (now a collector’s item) containing an expanded screenplay of the film and an interview with Maddin where he discusses Coward‘s autobiographical elements and gives his personal interpretations of the film.
  • Autobiographical elements abound in Cowards Bend the Knee. Maddin’s real life Aunt Lil owned a beauty parlor similar to the one that appears in the film. Maddin’s father coached the Winnipeg Maroons, a pre-NHL professional hockey team; the actual Allan Cup championship ring his father won appears in the film.
  • Maddin’s mother, Herdis, a non-actress, played Meta’s grandmother in the film.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: As Veronica lies on the operating table undergoing a clandestine abortion, the blood streaming between her legs forms itself into a Canadian maple leaf.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Cowards features Maddin’s trademark in-your-face style (a mix of silent film artifacts and glitchy hypermodern editing); crazed, dreamlike narrative (incorporating hockey matches, beauty salons, murder, infidelity, ghosts, and a hand transplant); and a wildly veering, yet somehow coherent tone that moves from melodrama to slapstick to absurdist vintage pornography to Greek tragedy in the space of a few frames. If that’s not enough, there’s the fact that the entire story is observed by a scientist, who witnesses it being played out while looking through a microscope at a dab of semen on a slide. Weird enough for you?

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Clip from Cowards Bend the Knee

COMMENTS: Maddin’s Cowards Bend the Knee is a dream, and like all dreams it is at the Continue reading 39. COWARDS BEND THE KNEE, OR, THE BLUE HANDS (2003)