David CronenbergThe name has become shorthand for creepy body horror, and many of its films lean into the extremely visceral. But at the same time Dead ringtones tells a story rooted in the medical profession, its shocks are (for the most part) more psychologically distressing than the spinning stomach – with no loss of potency 35 years after its initial release.
You’ve probably seen promos for Prime Video’s upcoming series adaptation of Dead ringtones, which make great use of the original’s blood-red surgical scrubs – a simple color change that proves incredibly effective at injecting unease into an otherwise sterile hospital environment. The 2023 version features Rachel Weisz like the story exceptionally co-dependent twins, and it will be fascinating to see how making the main characters sisters rather than brothers alters the complex themes it explores. Until we see, there’s no better time to revisit the 1988 original, starring Jeremy Irons as Drs. Elliot and Beverly Mantle—Toronto gynecologists specializing in female fertility who have achieved great success despite and because of their quirks. Although they are brilliant separately, the power of their brains working together has made them superstars in their field, as Beverly makes great strides in research and Elliot puts that work into practice.
However, they are also extremely slippery ethically, not thinking about impersonating the other depending on the situation, and this includes taking turns romanticizing their oblivious patients. The viewer has no trouble understanding why this masquerade works so well; The Cloaks’ carefully calibrated relationship allows them both to get exactly what they want, and it’s hard to tell them apart at first. Through the intricacies of Irons’ masterful double performance, however, the distinctions between Elliot and Beverly become more apparent. Elliot, who calls Bev “little brother,” is the strongest and most outgoing personality; Bev is more emotionally fragile, which is made very clear when he falls in love with the Mantles’ latest sexual conquest: Claire (Geneviève Bujold), a famous actress who desperately wants to have children, but has an abnormal cervix. – something that makes her instantly fascinating to both doctors – works against her. Bev’s attachment to Claire upsets the balance between the twins, which only becomes more perilous when he begins to share Claire’s habit of taking pills.
Dead ringtones‘ screenplay (by Cronenberg and Norman Snider) is based on Twins, a novel inspired by real-life gynecologist twins who were discovered dead together in 1975 in a New York City apartment, having perished aged just 45 from apparent drug-related causes. You don’t need more detail to see how this tragedy provided a fascinating setting for Cronenberg’s film, which further heightens the unease by giving Bev a particular fetish for “mutant women.” It’s triggered by Claire’s unusual anatomy, but is taken to extremes when Bev commissions an artist (played by Cronenberg’s star Stephen Lack). Scanners) to make a series of barbaric-looking gynecological tools that – in one of Dead ringtones‘ most shocking and overt horror movie scenes he attempts to use on a real patient.
Even without knowing what happened to the actual coat inspirations, you can see Dead ringtones head full throttle in extreme darkness. It’s all the more remarkable, then, that for all its grossness, it’s a very entertaining film. Irons missed the Oscar thanks to Dustin Hoffman in rain man, a slight that seems impossible when you revisit Irons’ performance – full of nuance and incredible range, spread across two characters whose lives soar to professional heights and plunge into junkie lows, and who are tied to each other with such deep love is undeniably unhealthy. And, true to Cronenberg, the film isn’t without its moments of sly humor, pathetic knife-edge twists and startling visuals – whether it’s a nightmare that reinforces the idea that Elliot and Bev are actually conjoined twins, those sinister crimson surgical scrubs, drug-like Bev’s pitiful desire for ice cream, or Elliot’s emphatic declaration that the yuppie touchstone Lifestyles of the rich and famous is “my favorite fucking program”.
Dead ringtones the film is currently streaming on HBO Max; Dead ringtones the series arrives April 21 on Prime Video.
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