Michael Bergeron
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Cronenberg: Master of Mad Doctors

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When you watch a David Cronenberg film, you get the impression he never met a medical doctor that he didn’t think was a mad scientist. Two of Cronenberg’s coolest films come out for the first time in Blu-ray Collector’s Editions this week (and next) and each ties into Cronenberg’s shape of rage.

Speaking of rage, “The Shape of Rage: The Films of David Cronenberg” a 1983 critical essay of Cronenberg’s early films that was published in 1983 in softback just sold on eBay for forty bucks. And when you think about it, Cronenberg was just getting started in 1983, a year that saw the release of two of his most revered films, Videodrome and the apocryphal The Dead Zone.

Scream Factory releases Dead Ringers (11/15) and Rabid (11/22), each printed from a 2K scan and packed with new and old interviews and bonus features. Thematically these films show doctors as brilliant, but also diabolical. As recently as 2011, Cronenberg made A Dangerous Method, a portrayal of the bizarre relationships that form the spine of the most conflicted physician of all time, Carl Jung.

Rabid (1977) stars Marilyn Chambers, not the first actress who appeared in porn films and advanced to regular feature films, as a kind of patient zero who infects increasingly large amounts of the population with her particular disease. [Note: 1970s porn sucks.] An earlier Cronenberg film, Shivers (1975), told a similar story but with a stronger sexual infection angle. Compare the whole sexual transmission sub-genre of horror films to recent acclaimed movies like It Follows (2014).

Rabid begins with a messed-up road accident, spectacularly filmed and edited, involving a car and a couple on a motorcycle. Chambers is one of the survivors and as such is rushed to a hospital. Once there the surgeon operates using experimental plastic surgery techniques of his own invention. Unfortunately for Chambers, the procedure results in a freakish condition where a parasite lives in an orifice under her arm. Various encounters with male victims results in a viral disease where people start eating flesh like living zombies. That’s how events accelerate in the Cronenberg world.

I had seen this film decades ago and remembered something about Santa Claus. There’s a scene in the last part where the Montreal police have been given orders to kill anybody resembling a zombie. A guard starts shooting in a shopping mall and kills everybody in his range, including the Santa Claus on display. There’s also a character, a detective, named Claude LaPointe who comments on the flesh eating action during a network interview. This was obviously the genesis of the Johnny Depp character (Guy LaPointe) in Kevin Smith’s 2014 Tusk.

Rabid also includes commentary by Cronenberg, with an additional commentary by Cronenberg scholar William Beard; a short visual essay, Stereo to Video, by Caelum Vatnsdal, another Cronenberg scholar; and various archival interviews with Cronenberg, producer Ivan Reitman and others.

Dead Ringers (1988) marked a quantum shift in Cronenberg’s career. Perhaps not oddly, this psychological thriller has a deck of cards that may suggest horror, but once the film has unwound you know you’re strictly in Cronenberg weird psychological territory. Dead Ringers tells the story of twins, both played by Jeremy Irons, who each become gynecologists. Based on a true story, the twins were discovered dead, an overdose and a suicide maybe, together in 1975.

Dead Ringers takes the premise that they were very precious and had a special relation with their various patients, most notably an actress Claire Niveau (Genevieve Bujold in top form). There are some spectacular sex scenes that appear uncomfortable to watch accompanied by the technical achievement of having Irons appear in the frame as both characters. Dead Ringers utilized a computerized camera program the movement of which could be exactly replicated, which was originally developed by George Lucas.

The narrative revolves around the symbiotic relationship of the brothers mixed with their mutual attraction to various women. An operation sequence has the staff dressed in bright red medical clothing to great effect. The transfer for Dead Ringers provides sharp visuals and exact colors. One of the many exotic elements of the film includes a series of twisted instruments the brothers invent to be used for surgical examination.

A few of the many featurettes cover the technicality of the special effects. Others offer vintage clips or commentary, like a newly recorded interview with often Cronenberg cinematographer Peter Suschitsky. Irons has a commentary track where among other things he talks about other actors who turned down the role (Robert De Niro, William Hurt), as well as how he originally had two dressing rooms, one for each character. Then he nailed the part where he looks the same and yet acts different and moved into one dressing room.

Also Now On Blu-ray:

  • Bob Hope: Hope For the Holiday – Hope starred in television Christmas specials from the early 1950s through the 1990s. This disc contains long segments from two shows in 1950 and 1993, as well as montages from other specials.
  • Bad Moms – One of the best parts of this uproarious comedy was a sequence over the credit roll where the actresses (Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Katherine Hahn, et al.) were being interviewed in tandem with their biological mothers. The extras include the complete version of those interviews.
  • Game of Thrones: The Complete Sixth Season – Goes overboard on the extras with multiple commentary tracks for the episodes and eighteen featurettes on the mythology of Westertos and Essos.
  • The Midnight Swim – A fantasy revolving around three sisters trying to solve the mystery of a deep lake next to their property. More of a psychodrama than a horror narrative, much of the action is seen from the perspective of one of the sisters videotaping everything.