September 26, 1988 12:00 PM

In 1975 Stewart and Cyril Marcus, prominent gynecologists and identical twins, were found dead and partially decayed, surrounded by garbage and barbiturates, in their fashionable New York apartment. Convulsions caused by drug withdrawal killed them. But little more is known about the bizarre case except that it inspired headlines, a trashy 1978 novel by Ban’ Wood and Jack Geasland called Twins and now a movie loosely based on that book by horror director David (Scanners, The Fly) Cronenberg. You expect the worst. Instead you get a taut, gripping goose pimpler that steadily gathers force. Freed from factual constraints, Cronenberg and co-screenwriter Norman Snider speculate with abandon. Their premise is that the doctors—one a drone, the other an extrovert (here called the Mantle brothers and both played by Jeremy Irons)—shared careers, women, drugs and a dependence that ended in a suicide pact. The tragedy begins when the shy doc’s affair with a patient, snappily played by a ravaged-looking Genevieve Bujold, goes awry. The film is strangely low on psychological insight. As a detective story, though, it’s a corker bound to stimulate curiosity not only about the Marcuses but also about twins in general. Irons is spectacular in his dual role, both haunted and haunting. While Cronenberg eases off on his usual gore, creepiness seeps into every frame. Women patients, strapped helplessly on the doctors’ table, are subjected to verbal and sometimes physical abuse. (Patients often complained of being insulted by the Marcuses.) Cronenberg enlarges on these fears to make a movie that makes nightmares. Fair warning. (R)

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