Dead Ringers (1988) – WTF Really Happened to This Horror Movie?

The new episode of the WTF Really Happened to This Horror Movie video series looks back at David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers

The Dead Ringers episode of WTF Really Happened to This Horror Movie was Written and Narrated by Andrew Hatfield, Edited by Mike Conway, Produced by Lance Vlcek and John Fallon, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.

“There’s nothing the matter with the instrument, it’s the body. The woman’s body is all wrong!”

We’ve discussed how vulnerable it can be to be under the bright lights of the dentist’s chair but how about the doctor, particularly a specialty doctor that’s job is to deal with our most private of parts. David Cronenberg is the master of turning our bodies into horrible things that seek to hurt us, perfecting the use of the term “body horror”. So, what happens when Cronenberg makes a movie about twin gynecologists that begin to lose their grip on reality, and did you know that this is actually based on true events? Just lie back in the chair as we look at what the fuck REALLY happened to Dead Ringers (watch it HERE).

David Cronenberg, Canada’s favorite horror son, has been in the business since he was making short movies in the mid 60’s but the first movie that really put him on the map was Shivers in 1975. He would go on to craft a catalogue that includes other body horror like Scanners and The Brood, classic remakes like The Fly, Stephen King adaptations with The Dead Zone, and prestige movies like M. Butterfly and Eastern Promises. While he may be shoehorned into the horror genre at times, he truly is a man of many talents, even if his horror films tend to stand out more with fans. Dead Ringers dances between the line of prestige and horror and has now been stretched into a series at Amazon with Oscar winner Rachael Weiz in the title role, or roles in this case.

The movie sits in a strange spot in his catalogue as it is bookended by two TV shows with his two episodes of Scales of Justice and an episode of the anthology TV show Friday the 13th: The Series, and two very different movies with smash success The Fly and cult classic Naked Lunch based on William S Burroughs life and stories. The movie is based on a true story but also a book that fictionalized the real-life account by authors Jack Geasland and Bari Wood. The screenplay would be penned by Cronenberg and Norman Snider. Snider doesn’t have a lot to his name but also helped write the screenplay for Body Parts which was directed by Eric Red. The movie came out in September of 1988 and made 14 million on a budget of 13 million. While it wasn’t a smash success in terms of profit, it won several awards and was a critical darling, even being considered one of the best Canadian films of all time.

Dead Ringers (1988) – WTF Really Happened to This Horror Movie?

It stars Jeremy Irons in the starring role of the twin gynecologists Beverly and Elliot Mantle. He wasn’t the first choice for the role as that went out to both William Hurt and Robert DeNiro before coming back to Irons. He does a great job in the roles and while they are identical twins, he gives them distinct personalities and flaws. After winning his only Oscar for Reversal of Fortune, Irons would come back to work with Cronenberg in his film M. Butterfly. While Irons has had a hell of a career, I think its safe to say he will always be Scar from the Lion King for some. While Irons is the biggest star in the movie, it also has supporting turns from Oscar nominee Genevieve Bujold and Heide Von Palleske. Bujold has been working since the mid 50’s and also showed up in the Clint Eastwood vehicle Tightrope. This was Palleske’s first big movie and while she has a lengthy career, the only big-name movies that she showed up in were Red from 2010 and the remake of Cronenberg’s Rabid.

The movie opens with some medieval looking tools and art over pensive music before we open in Toronto Canada in 1954 where we are introduced to our twins Beverly and Elliot as they talk about sexuality, though not in a dirty way, more of a clinical one. They proposition a neighbor girl for a sex experiment which she adamantly refuses before we jump ahead 13 years to the boys in Cambridge, Massachusetts where they not only graduate at the top of their class, but also invent a new type of device that has swept the industry. Twenty-one years later the two have one of the most lucrative practices in Toronto and treat fertility in women. An actress comes in to get checked out and she has unique body parts that intrigue both the men. Beverly begins the treatment, but Elliot wants to have a look and switches places where he goes to look and sends Beverly to meet with clients for a grant.

(FACTOMETER: 25%) well the story is about twins, though if they were identical is up for debate even if they acted very similarly. We don’t have any strange actions of the two as young kids, but we do know that they graduated Syracuse University first followed by the state Upstate Medical Center after. The movie opens and ends in Canada with a stop at Cambridge while the real-life brothers grew up, graduated, and practiced in New York. Other differences here include the names being changed from Stewart and Cyril Marcus to Beverly and Elliot Mantle. Also, while they did write many papers and textbooks that were used withing the medical industry, they never invented a special tool that put them and their college on the map. They may have treated celebrities but there wasn’t a specific one that was central to their story either. Finally, they were on the list of highly respected doctors in their field in New York State just as the twins are in Toronto in Cronenberg’s movie version.

The brothers switch places, and we get the feeling that this is a rather normal occurrence for the two as they agree to switch back in regard to who will see the movie star tomorrow. Beverly, playing Elliot playing Beverly goes back to see her after a night of sex. Beverly is not as aggressive as Elliot and decides against taking action but goes back and sleeps with her. He doesn’t tell Elliot, and this makes him angry and a little bit jealous, again making us believe that this is a regular occurrence. We can also tell that Elliot seems to be the more alpha of the two while Beverly is more of a follower. The next day a patient is refused as the problem with their fertility rests in her husband. We see more of their personal and professional lives and Beverly ends up starting to take drugs with his actress girlfriend.

Dead Ringers (1988) – WTF Really Happened to This Horror Movie?

(FACTOMETER: 25%) This is a very fictionalized account of the story of the Marcus twins and could have more taken from the novel Twins that was published a couple years after their deaths. That’s a different Joblo Horror Originals show, and I didn’t read the book for this as we are focusing on as much of the real account as possible. The movie adds the relationship element to the story to not only have another main character to follow but also to introduce the drug element which is important in both mediums. The movie portrays the doctors in a very posh, high-class environment which simply didn’t exist in New York at the time they lived and practiced. While there is no account of the twins’ sharing lovers, Cyril was married and divorced with two children and Stewart had no spouse. Another real-life allusion in the film is that colleagues, staff, and patients had a hard time telling the two brothers apart. Some would remark one having a thicker neck or different sense of humor, but they were often confused for one another.

Claire, our actress between the two men, finds out that it is a well-known secret that the men share lovers and patients alike and confronts them in a very crowded restaurant. Elliot really shows his teeth here while Beverly is utterly lost and sad at the thought of losing her. The twins accept an award, but Beverly comes in absolutely wasted and makes an ass out of both of them. they decide that Elliot will be the face of the Mantles while Beverly will be in clinic and see more patients before Beverly runs into Claire again and we get the most Cronenberg dream sequence to ever Cronenberg. It’s a body horror sequence where the twins are actually conjoined and Claire bites them apart. Bev starts to slip at work and Elliot meets with Claire. She goes away on another movie shoot and Bev spirals even deeper, so Ele tries to snap him out of it.

(FACTOMETER: 25%) Really not much here is anything more than the movie’s fictionalized account of making these twins into an even more dramatic story than they already were. It does seem that one of the brothers was more into drugs than the other but there isn’t any evidence of anything happening in real life that resembles what we see on screen. The brothers did trade patients and jobs though and some patients were even able to tell the difference.

Bev collapses and Elliot tries to hide the drugs in bevs system, but he continues to struggle at work. He uses the wrong tools during an examination and has an artist make new tools for him to use that are, well, less than safe. He starts doing drugs at work and proceeds to use the new tools on a patient. The procedure almost kills her, and the brothers are asked to step down from their position. At a deposition, Elliot tries to stand in for Bev, but he thinks they new and they aren’t allowed to practice medicine on doctors anymore. Elliot tries to get Bev clean by getting rid of all the drugs but comes to the sad and very dark conclusion that he has to be on the same level, with the same drugs. Bev escapes by having the apartment super come let him out and goes to see Claire where he continues to lose his grip.

Dead Ringers (1988) – WTF Really Happened to This Horror Movie?

(FACTOMETER: 50%) This section is actually a little but closer to reality as drugs became a problem for both twins and during a procedure, one of them took the oxygen mask on themselves before being removed for the other twin. The supposed fresh one came in very groggy and there was concern about their ability to perform their tasks any longer. They were asked to step down from their tenure and tried to fight the decision.

Bev tries to blame the drug problem on Elliot while with Claire and eventually goes back to the apartment which is now in shackles and has Elliot suffering from the same drug problem as Bev. He finds his brother and shows him the tools. With their practice and fame gone, the drug upped brothers perform a procedure they believe is going to separate them but of course it just graphically kills Elliot. Bev leaves the apartment for an undetermined amount of time before coming back to die next to his brother.

(FACTOMETER: 50%) while the details may differ, the outcome was the same, an apartment super found the brothers dead in separate rooms and the entire place was absolutely covered in trash. While there wasn’t any kind of operation performed, the brothers died at different times, possibly as far as 5 days apart. Murder and suicide were suspected with even the possible beginnings of a note written on a typewriter but it was eventually confirmed that they passed from barbiturate withdrawal and possibly, a broken heart.

The tale of the twins was just an outline of what Cronenberg turned into his movie. If you are interested in the full story and the fiction I suggest you look up the articles, read the novelization, and watch the movie that’s available on streaming as well as a nice Scream Factory blu-ray. It will be interesting to see how much the new amazon takes from the truth, the novel, and the first movie.

A couple of the previous episodes of WTF Really Happened to This Horror Movie? can be seen below. To check out the other shows we have on the JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel, head over to the channel – and subscribe while you’re there!

Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

Cody is a news editor and film critic, focused on the horror arm of, and writes scripts for videos that are released through the JoBlo Originals and JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channels. In his spare time, he's a globe-trotting digital nomad, runs a personal blog called Life Between Frames, and writes novels and screenplays.