Canadian horror: David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers

If you ever thought Canadian movies were boring, I’ve got two words for you. Dead. Ringers.

This bizarre psychosexual thriller from legendary Canadian director David Cronenberg has been likened to a woman’s worst nightmare It’s not hard to see why. Like a surgeon’s tool cutting into a warm body, the film penetrates the often taboo subjects of female infertility, genital mutilation and mutation, and all varieties of sexual and emotional betrayal.

Dead Ringers follows Beverly and Elliot Mantle (Jeremey Irons), two brilliant Toronto gynecologists who happen to be identical twins.

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They share everything in life, from a swanky Toronto apartment, to the patients they have affairs with. They’re even rumoured to sleep in the same bed. As Elliot puts it to Beverly, “You haven’t had any experience until I’ve had it, too.”

When Claire Niveau (Geneviève Bujold), a high-profile actress with “mutant” reproductive organs and desperate to have a baby, wanders into the Mantle twins’ perverse saga, things begin to disintegrate. Beverly falls in love with the actress, while simultaneously developing a dangerous prescription-drug addiction. As Beverly spirals downward into an oblivion of pill bottles and medical syringes, Elliot inevitably and uncontrollably drags himself down with his doppelganger.


This uniquely bizarre and disturbing tale is all the more horrifying when you find out it’s loosely based on the real life case of Stewart and Cyril Marcus – twin gynecologists found dead of barbiturate addiction in a squalid New York apartment in 1975.

Dead Ringers is undoubtedly one of the director’s creepiest, most unsettling projects. And when you’re talking about David Cronenberg, that’s saying something.

Aside from the disconcerting ambiguity the identical twins create — sometimes the audience can’t even tell them apart — the gynecologically themed visuals are downright horrifying at times. When Beverly, strung out on drugs and ranting about “mutant women,” creates a set of alien-looking gynecological tools for use in his practice, things truly take a turn for the bizarre. You could see this set of sleek surgical horrors up close at The Toronto Film Festival’s David Cronenberg: Evolution exhibit in Toronto last year.

"Gynecological tools for operating on mutant women"

Heavy on the psychology and less physical than Cronenberg’s earlier movies, Dead Ringers is often considered one of the filmmaker’s greatest works. And if you’re craving more Cronenberg, stay tuned to The ABCs of Canadian film. V is for Videodrome, after all.

A Canadian masterpiece, minus the maple syrup

Dead Ringers is a film that checks all the Cancon boxes.

Written and directed by our home-grown King of Venereal Horror, it was set and shot in Toronto, partially produced by Telefilm Canada, and stars Montreal actress Geneviève Bujold opposite Jeremy Irons.

But there are a few things it doesn’t have. Well-worn stereotypes like hockey, Mounties, or Tim Hortons. With all due respect to those venerable shrines of Canadiana, our home and native land is more than the sum total of so many clichés. And so are our films.

It’s something I had in mind when I first sat down to write this series. I wanted to explore great movies that stay true to their Canadian roots, not travel brochures on celluloid, or films that pigeonhole us into self parody.

I’ve been looking for the best and the essential in Canadian cinema – the good stuff – and this one’s a dead ringer.

You're reading ABCs of Canadian film: A crash course in essential Canadian cinema.

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