Dead Ringers is certainly the most accomplished film David Cronenberg has made, with all the themes and motifs he’d been building on for 15 years finally hitting their apex, as well as it being a marvelously cold, clinical and unnerving experience. It’s also the first time his concentration on the medical profession and its practices were the focus of the film, rather than the calamities they produced (i.e. The Fly, The Brood). Videodrome has more ideas overall but the story is all over the map, and there is a significant lack of focus in the conclusion, as Cronenberg can’t decide which target he’s going after (corporations? television? vaginal VCRs?) and the notion of “the new flesh” left maddeningly underdeveloped. It is clear from reading “Cronenberg on Cronenberg” that he wanted to do more with “The new flesh,” but ended up just throwing everything at the screen that he could think of, and the result is literally and figuratively his sloppiest film.
You’ll notice that Dead Ringers is the most sterile movie he’s made, both in terms of how much gore we see, and in how clean everything is and that is probably what makes Jeremy Irons’ performances so unsettling, the twins are the only physical anomaly that we recognize as such (unlike Genvieve Bujold’s odd uterus, which is not something a non-gynecologist would categorize as odd), they almost work on the level of aliens in the world they inhabit, as opposed to Videodrome which is a lot more showy in its visual aberrations, from Debbie Harry’s need to be burned with cigarettes to Brian O’Blivion to the S&M tapes, etc. The less fantastical elements you have in a film, the more disturbing the individual ones are.