The David Cronenberg classic gets the Shout Factory treatment!
Following the critical and commercial success of his 1986 remake of The Fly, Canadian provocateur David Cronenberg set his sights on what the marketing team hastily described as ‘a new kind of thriller’, Dead Ringers. Originally entitled Twins before changing the title to avoid confusion with former Cronenberg producer Ivan Reitman’s buddy comedy of the same name, Dead Ringers is a deeply disturbing horror film loosely based on the lives of New York based identical twin gynecologists Stewart and Cyril Marcus who died together in their Manhattan apartment of a drug overdose. For the film, Cronenberg moves the location to native Toronto and embellishes the mercurial nature of the twins’ mad and twisted demise, leaving a wealth of room for the auteur’s penchant for body horror, invasive clinique and the notions of the dangerous lack of individuality. Aided by a still stunning performance by Jeremy Irons as the bipolar medical team, renamed Elliot and Beverly for the film, with still astonishing visual effects allowing the same actor to play twins in the same shot, Dead Ringers is a masterpiece of discomfort, horror and medical malpractice.
Dead Ringers has had something of a checkered past regarding the various home video releases over the years that have come and gone. Shot in 1.33:1 fullscreen with the intention of various theatrical aspect ratios depending on the location, Dead Ringers has seen a litany of releases on VHS, laserdisc and DVD. The first and most sought after release remains the Criterion Collection laserdisc edition which was fully supervised by Cronenberg in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and contained a wealth of extras missing on, well, every edition that followed. For instance, the Criterion included a commentary shared by Cronenberg, Jeremy Irons, editor Ronald Sanders, production designer Carol Spier and director of photography Peter Suschitzsky. In between European releases, the film floated between 1.85:1 widescreen and 1.78:1 before Criterion lost the rights to the film and Warner Brothers released their own DVD edition with a new transfer in 1.78:1 with newly created 5.1 surround audio. In place of the Criterion extras, Warner recorded a new commentary with Jeremy Irons but so far that’s been it in the way of replicating the size of Criterion’s edition. On January 17th, 2012, Dead Ringers saw it’s very first blu-ray edition in a French BD which only used 1080 interlaced video and 2.0 Dolby Surround audio but videophiles swear by the superior image quality to any editions that came before it. A year later in August, Australia saw the second blu-ray release of the film through Umbrella Entertainment although the 1080 interlaced video and 2.0 audio seem to suggest this is a port of the French edition.
All of this brings us to the upcoming Shout Factory blu-ray coming in November 17, 2016. Billed as a collector’s edition with unique new cover art and presales for a limited edition including a collectible poster, the new release promises a new transfer, plentiful extras old and new and hopefully even a port of prior commentaries from the Criterion edition. That said, as much as I love Shout Factory, I wonder whether or not they were the ones who should have tackled this highly requested and much sought after title. Even after all the editions that have come and gone, until this release comes out I’m still likely to point to the older Criterion transfer as the definitive way to watch Cronenberg’s film. Details and specifications of the Shout Factory disc still have yet to be released but in an ideal world, the film should be framed according to Cronenberg’s specifications at 1.66:1 which would result in pillarboxing on the sides of the image for 16:9 televisions. Part of the problem is that there have been so many different transfers of this film over the years, it’s hard to say which one is definitive although the Cronenberg supervised transfer done for Criterion seems to be the proper one. Either way this is a great and deeply disturbing horror film Cronenberg fans should be eager to snatch up once Shout Factory’s edition comes out. With as many different versions that have come out over the years, Shout Factory has their work cut out for them and I can only hope they do this masterpiece of the uncomfortable and unsettling the justice it so deserves. It’s about time modern audiences unfamiliar with what is probably (second to Crash) the darkest film in the director’s filmography finally got a chance to see it in the world of high definition home video viewing.
- Andrew Kotwicki