Thursday, April 21, 2011

30 Day Horror Challenge Day 21 - Your favorite medical horror film

I’ve always been kinda dubious about doctors. To tell you the truth, they freak me out a little. It’s kind of the same concept as why some people find clowns so creepy. After all, laughter is the best medicine, right? Wait, I didn’t mean for that comparison to go into metaphorical territory. What I’m saying is that both of their outward personas are something that’s supposed to be good and beneficial. Who they are behind the facade, however, could be anything, and that’s what is so scary. We put our physical well being, even our lives, in the hands of people we really know nothing about. We’re told from childhood to trust doctors. For all we know, our lives could be in the hands of a sicko, pervert, or lunatic. Never is this trust more important, and never is someone more vulnerable, than in the relationship a woman has with her gynecologist. It is that trust that David Cronenberg twists and exploits in Dead Ringers and believe me, it’s disturbing.

It’s the story of a pair of twins, Elliot and Beverly Mantle. Beverly is the shy, scholarly one. Elliot is the confident ladies man. They have a gynecology practice where they specialize in infertility. As many twins do, have a very strong bond; sharing an apartment, the practice, and even their women. Yes, Elliot seduces them, and then they pull the switch. Enter Claire, a pill addicted actress. They try to pull the switch on her, but she can tell them apart. When Beverly falls in love with her, it threatens their enmeshed bond as twins. This sends the brothers spiraling downwards into a nightmare of drugs and madness. In the end one last surgery must be performed. That’s all I’m gonna say.

This being a Cronenberg movie, I could, like with every other Cronenberg movie, go on and on about metaphor and symbolism and subtext for hours. I’m not going to, however. I’m just going to say that this movie is creepy. Straight up creepy. Really f’n creepy! Cronenbergs films up to this point in his career had been pretty gory. He wisely decided to keep the on screen bloodletting subdued in this flick, however. This is a sophisticated, literate, and methodical type of horror. He knew that just the suggestion of certain medical procedures would send shivers up audience’s spines. This is never more apparent than when he shows the bizarre gynecological instruments that Beverly has invented. They look like alien medieval torture devices. The thought of what they do, and more importantly where they go, is only hinted at, but it’s an image you won’t soon forget. His restraint paid off, building the creep factor and the suspense psychologically until the very end, giving the final bloody scene a much more visceral impact. Even the little details are top notch. For example, the red robes and masks the doctors and assistants wear give the surgical scenes the feel of some sort of bizarre arcane ritual. Not the kind of thing you want to think about in conjunction with medical procedures.

The single most important factor in the success of this film is a mind blowing performance by Jeremy Irons. He plays both Elliot and Beverly. He manages to give two amazing performances in one movie. Being twins, they are obviously very much alike, but he gives each one such subtle physical, conversational, and emotional differences that for most of the movie you immediately know which brother he is playing. In the scenes where they are trying to fool someone and near the end when the brothers seem to share the same madness, however, he blends the two characterizations so seamlessly that it’s almost impossible to tell which one he is playing. It’s almost three distinct characters; Elliot, Beverly, and the hybrid of the two. Credit for the illusion is shared by Cronenberg for his (at the time) groundbreaking split-screen wizardry, but without Irons, it could never have been pulled off. I don’t have any more adjectives to tell you how great he is in this movie. How the hell did he not even get nominated for an Oscar for this? Dustin Hoffman won that year for Rain Man. I’m calling bullshit. Irons blew that performance away. It’s not even a competition. One thing though; am I the only one that can’t hear Irons’ voice without thinking of Scar?

As I said, I found this movie creepy as hell. I can only imagine how creepy it is for a woman. I don’t possess the right parts to truly comprehend how terrifying those instruments, or the concept itself, are. I’ve only watched this one with a woman once. She never spoke to me again. I’m sure a lot of the effectiveness of a psycho gynecologist movie is obviously lost on anyone with testicles, but man, does this flick succeed on every level. In less capable hands, this could have turned into a genetaliatic rendition of The Dentist or Dr. Giggles. In the hands of Cronenberg and Irons (and, to be fair, Genevieve Bujold as Claire, who is also awesome), it is a twisted character study of depravity and desperation that will leave its mark on your psyche. Two severed thumbs up. Dr. Nathan says take two of these, check it out, and call me in the morning.


Cash Wampum said...

You've just inspired me to watch this again ;)

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