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The following two releases from Scream Factory represent very different eras of Cronenberg’s career. The first, Rabid, was only his second feature-length effort and a rough version of his earliest ideas. The second, Dead Ringers, is a bridge between his careers as both a purveyor of body horror and a prestige filmmaker.

Scream Factory Cronenberg Releases

Rabid

(1977)
After undergoing radical emergency surgery, Rose (Marilyn Chambers) develops an insatiable desire for blood. She searches out victims to satisfy her incurable craving, infecting them with an unknown disease, which, in turn, swiftly drives them insane and makes them equally bloodthirsty. Follow the lovely but deadly Rose through her terrifying ordeal as victim by victim, the spreading circle of casualties grows, until no one can escape their grisly fate of becoming... rabid. (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)

Rabid (aka: Rage) is very much a companion piece to Cronenberg’s first film and surprise hit, Shivers (aka: They Came From Within and The Parasite Murders, 1975). Both movies revolve around grotesque physical manifestations of sexually transmitted diseases that drive victims to psychotic mania. Rabid is the more polished movie (the director had a slightly larger budget at his disposal and additional practice behind the camera), as well as the more refined version of Cronenberg’s then-developing cinematic ethos, because it gets him closer to the total body transmutations of Videodrome (1983) and The Fly (1986). However, like so many sophomore efforts, it tends to get lost in the larger discussion of the director’s career. It doesn’t have the incendiary originality of Shivers, nor the intense emotional component of Cronenberg’s third body-horror opus, The Brood (1979). This ‘middle child’ status makes Rabid ripe for revisiting on Blu-ray, especially considering that I haven’t seen it in more than a decade.

My first reaction is to its more serious horror element. Throughout Shivers, Cronenberg often appears to be poking fun at the idea of scariness. The infected are violent, sure, but their threat is subverted in the end, when the protagonist gives into madness. It’s almost a happy ending. That film’s mad scientist character and his motivations are also defined in such broad terms that they rarely feel ‘real.’ Rabid is still over-the-top, but its horror goes deeper than its shocks and its scary concepts aren’t muted by the director’s sense of humour. Cronenberg uses hospital locations and surgical sequences to establish a sense of banality in the terror and, with an anti-protagonist like Rose, he comes closer to the kind of sympathetic monster he’d later achieve with Seth Brundle in The Fly. Credit is due to Marilyn Chambers’ morose portrayal and framing vampirism as a type of drug addiction (a common idea for vampire fiction these days, but still rare in 1977). Fans of our modern glut of zombie movies and television shows may also want to note that Rabid is one of the first movies to depict contagious violence on an epidemic level, along with George Romero’s The Crazies (1973). Romero’s own Dawn of the Dead didn’t firmly established the zombie apocalypse until a year after Cronenberg’s film was released. In the end, the fact that Rabid has so much in common with the more original Shivers and the generally better The Brood does hurt its long-term entertainment value, but it still has a lot to offer.

 Rabid: Scream Factory
 Rabid: Arrow
Rabid has been available on R1/North American DVD for some time, thanks to New Concorde Home Entertainment and Somerville House. Unfortunately, New Concorde’s barebones disc was cropped to 1.33:1 and, though Somerville’s special edition was widescreen, but not anamorphically enhanced. Meanwhile, Arrow Video released a Blu-ray version in the UK. Their 1.78:1 transfer was scanned by Lionsgate in the states, restored in Canada, and cleaned-up by Arrow. This brings us to Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray, which was created from a 2K scan of the original negative and presented in Cronenberg’s preferred aspect ratio of 1.66:1. I’ve taken the full-sized screen-caps from Chris’ review of the Arrow disc and included them here for comparison and, as you can see, the new transfer is a big improvement. First off, the 1.66:1 framing doesn’t feature any more or less information on the sides, because Arrow’s 1.78:1 transfer was actually a slightly stretched version of the 1.66:1 original, so that’s one point to Scream Factory. The overall detail levels are pretty similar, but the 2K remaster comes out way ahead, because the older transfer is way too contrasty, leading to crush and white overload. Scream’s disc is more even-handed with surprisingly subtle gradations and natural grain levels. Above even this, the remaster has a much, much more eclectic palette. Skin tones are pink, neutral tones are cooler, and the warmer highlights pop beautifully.

Rabid is presented in its original mono, in 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. Despite the flatness of the single channel production and the fact that it’s a largely dialogue-driven movie, this is a relatively lively mix. The sound floor is low, distortion is limited to a couple of hard consonants, and only a handful of scenes feature an underlying buzz. There is no credited composer, though producer Ivan Reitman is credited as ‘music supervisor.’ Considering how much music there is in the movie, I assume Reitman and Cronenberg were raiding library vaults for appropriately eerie and sorrowful themes.

 Rabid: Scream Factory
 Rabid: Arrow
Extras include:
  • Commentary with David Cronenberg – This is an older track that, I believe, made its first appearance on Somerville’s DVD. Like every other one of the director’s tracks, this one is well-prepped, personable, and full of behind-the-scenes facts. Cronenberg rarely pauses for more than a few moments and keeps the discussion moving throughout the film’s entire runtime.
  • Commentary with writer William Beard – The author of The Artist as Monster: The Cinema Of David Cronenberg explores the director’s career and the making-of Rabid in this commentary was originally produced for Arrow’s Blu-ray release. There is surprisingly little overlap with Cronenberg’s track, as well as a nice mix of intellectual analysis and historical context.
  • Commentary with writer Jill C. Nelson and Marilyn Chambers' manager, Ken Leicht – The author of Golden Goddesses: 25 Legendary Women Of Classic Erotic Cinema, 1968-1985 and Chambers’ public manager discuss Chambers’ career in this audio interview, which Scream has included as a third commentary track. It runs just over 58:00.
  • Young and Rabid (33:05, HD) – A new interview with actress Susan Roman, who plays Rose’s ill-fated friend Mindy. Roman talks about her first film role, Cronenberg’s direction, working with Chambers, and her character’s ugly glasses.
  • Archival interview with David Cronenberg (20:36, SD) – This is another holdover from the Somerville DVD and sees the director covering the fallout from Shivers (which was partially funded with Canadian tax money), developing Rabid, shooting on a tiny budget, and casting Chambers.
  • Interview with executive producer Ivan Reitman (12:28, HD) – The second Arrow-made extra features the Stripes and Ghostbusters director discussing his early work as a producer on low-budget Canadian horror movies, including Shivers, Rabid, William Fruet’s Death Weekend (1976), and, much to his chagrin, Don Edmonds’ Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1975).
  • Interview with co-producer Don Carmody (15:37, HD) – The next extra borrowed from Arrow’s BD features Reitman’s sometimes-partner explaining the development of the Canadian Film Development Corporation (CFDC) and how it ended up blossoming into an ongoing industry. From Stereo To Video (26:23, HD) – The final Arrow extra (though it was actually produced for their Shivers BD) is a clever and entertaining video essay by Caelum Vatnsdal, the author of They Came From Within: A History Of Canadian Horror Cinema. Vatnsdal covers the early part of Cronenberg’s career ( Transfer through Videodrome), including footage from his 8mm shorts and feature/near-feature length movies from that era.
  • Trailer and TV spot
  • US and UK radio spots
  • Still gallery


 Rabid: Scream Factory
 Rabid: Arrow

 Rabid: Scream Factory
 Rabid: Arrow

 Rabid: Scream Factory
 Rabid: Arrow

 Rabid: Scream Factory
 Rabid: Arrow

 Rabid: Scream Factory
 Rabid: Arrow


Scream Factory Cronenberg Releases

Dead Ringers


Claire Niveau (Geneviève Bujold) is in love with handsome Beverly (Jeremy Irons). Or does she love Elliot (also Jeremy Irons)? It's uncertain, because brothers Beverly and Elliot Mantle are identical twins sharing the same medical practice, apartment, and women – including unsuspecting Claire. (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)

As I said in the intro, Dead Ringers is a centerpiece of Cronenberg’s two career paths as an ameliorator of exploitation horror and a degrader of distinguished dramatic material. While he did make steps back into surrealistic, effects-driven grotesquery for Naked Lunch (1991) and eXistenZ (2000), you have to dig deep to find commonalities between them and the director’s more recent dramas, such as A History of Violence and A Dangerous Method. The fact that Dead Ringers is even considered a horror movie at all speaks volumes about Cronenberg’s reputation at the time, because almost all of the ‘horror’ is either internalized or implied. Instead of gory effects and stomach-churning transformations, he riles the audience’s hackles with the colder terror of clinical descriptions, creepy surgical utensils (that we never really see used), and frayed emotions. Cronenberg and co-writer Norman Snider’s script is based on the book Twins (1978) by Bari Wood & Jack Geasland, itself a fictionalized version of the true story of twin gynecologists named Stewart and Cyril Marcus, who died within days of each other under suspicious circumstances. Like many of Cronenberg’s films (particularly his post- Fly movies), Dead Ringers is event and character-driven, rather than plot-driven. He and editor Ronald Sanders cuts the exposition to the bone, often leaving us to catch up with what has occurred between scenes (the concept of time is often irrelevant), but never leaving us completely in the dark. In this regard, it may be the most efficient movie in Cronenberg’s already very efficient canon, despite also being one of his most challenging and richly layered stories. And, of course, the whole thing hinges on Jeremy Irons’ dual performance as two men, who have everything and nothing in common at the same time.

 Dead Ringers: Scream Factory
 Dead Ringers: Scream Factory
Dead Ringers has had a good life on North American DVD, including releases from The Criterion Collection, Warner Bros, TVA Films (in Canada), but took a long time to make it to Blu-ray (I’m sure Criterion would’ve been happy to release one, had they maintained the release rights). Until now, the only options (as far as I know) were a 1080p disc from ITV Global in France and a 1080i disc from Umbrella Entertainment in Australia. Had Scream Factory merely recycled the same 1.78:1 scan what Warner Bros. supplied to those companies (in 1080p, obviously), most fans would’ve been perfectly happy. It is a strong, sharp transfer with some noise issues, but nothing worse that we’ve endured from similar releases. Yet, Scream knew this was going to be one of their more ‘important’ releases, so they’ve also included a brand new 2K scan transfer at Cronenberg’s preferred 1.66:1 aspect ratio. The press materials do not specify if the scan was an interpositive or printed source. I’ve include comparison caps from each (2K/1.66:1 on top, 1.78:1 on the bottom, obviously) so that readers can decide which one they like the best. Personally, I’m torn. On the one hand, this is the first time the film has been presented in 1.66:1 since Criterion’s disc, which was approved by Cronenberg and cinematographer Peter Suschitzky. The 2K image features stronger colours, a brighter tint, and a notably cleaner image. On the other hand, the otherwise gritty/noisy 1.78:1 transfer’s cooler, darker palette is closer to what Cronenberg and Suschitzky told Criterion they preferred. The older scan is sharper, but also, at times, much too sharp, leaving us with the choice between a relatively fuzzy cleanliness and tight edges with halo effects. Obviously, the ‘perfect’ transfer is somewhere between the two, which is why I assume Scream Factory has included both of them. In the end, I prefer the new scan, but would not begrudge any viewer that prefers the older one.

Scream Factory has included the original stereo 2.0 soundtrack and WB’s 5.1 remix in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio with each of the two transfers. As per usual, I’d encourage new viewers to listen to the film as the filmmakers intended, but there’s little reason to shun this particular remix. Dead Ringers isn’t a particularly aggressive aural experience and the 5.1 track respects the basic design and opts mostly to simply move dialogue into the center channel. There are a few instances where the dialogue volume is inconsistent, though, probably due to issues separating the elements. Howard Shore’s sometimes creepy, sometimes smooth woodwind and string score sounds lovely on both tracks, but the remix does have a slight edge with its discrete LFE option.

 Dead Ringers: Scream Factory
 Dead Ringers: Scream Factory
Extras include:
Disc 1 (1.78:1 version):
  • Commentary with writer William Beard – The first track is a new one with the author of The Artist As Monster: The Cinema Of David Cronenberg and professor of film studies at Alberta University and was recorded exclusively for this release. Not surprisingly, this is a largely intellectual track, which explores many of the film’s metaphysical and metaphorical aspects, but is consistently accessible and entertaining, as well. My only critique is that he spends a little too much energy describing the story and character motivations.
  • Commentary with Jeremy Irons – It appears that Criterion was not going to give up their exclusive commentary tracks anytime soon (even for OOP discs), so Scream borrowed this actor-sans-director track from WB’s DVD. Irons can’t quite fill the entire track all by himself (few actors ever do), but pipes in with loads of vital information on a regular intervals and brings an interesting perspective to the discussion.

Disc 2 (1.66:1 version):
  • Carey's Story (19:04, HD) – The first of Scream Factory’s exclusive interviews is with actress Heidi Von Palleske, who discusses being cast, her character, acting with Irons in a dual role, and Dead Ringers’ place in Cronenberg’s filmography.
  • Working Artist (23:56, HD) – A new and pretty strange interview with artist Stephen Lack, who appears as an artist in Dead Ringers and who was also the miscast lead of Scanners (1981). Lack takes us on a tour of his studio and talks about his working relationship with Cronenberg.
  • Connecting Tissues (19:16, HD) – Special make-up effects artist Gordon Smith breaks down his career and helping Cronenberg out on Dead Ringers when his normal effects crew was unable to participate.
  • Double Vision (12:41, HD) – The final exclusive/new extra is an interview with director of photography Peter Suschitzky, who discusses his process, connecting with Cronenberg on Dead Ringers, and their continuing relationship through every one of the director’s movies since.
  • Vintage interviews (originally seen on WB’s DVD, 17:03, SD)
    • Jeremy Irons
    • David Cronenberg
    • Producer Marc Boyman
    • Co-writer Norman Snider
  • Vintage behind-the-scenes featurette (originally seen on WB’s DVD, 7:13, SD)
  • Trailer


 Dead Ringers: Scream Factory
 Dead Ringers: Scream Factory

 Dead Ringers: Scream Factory
 Dead Ringers: Scream Factory

 Dead Ringers: Scream Factory
 Dead Ringers: Scream Factory

 Dead Ringers: Scream Factory
 Dead Ringers: Scream Factory

 Dead Ringers: Scream Factory
 Dead Ringers: Scream Factory

* Note: The above images are taken from the Scream Factory and Arrow Blu-rays and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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