Directed by David Cronenberg.
Starring James Woods, Deborah Harry, Sonja Smits, Les Carlson, Peter Dvorsky and Jack Creley.
A cable TV channel owner wants to broadcast ‘Videodrome’, the most extreme programme on the network, but discovers that the show is front for a sinister global conspiracy.
Videodrome was the right film at the right time for director David Cronenberg (The Brood/Rabid). Cronenberg’s previous two movies – 1979’s The Brood and 1981’s Scanners – had seen the director rise above the grimy aesthetic of his early works and the quality of his productions get smoother but still retain his core themes of body horror, mutation and disease, and with the burgeoning home video market bringing all sorts of fears about moral corruption into the media headlines, Cronenberg was at the right place in his career to make a statement in his own unique way.
Max Renn (James Woods – Once Upon A Time in America) is a sleazy, unscrupulous programmer for a cheap cable channel that shows the sorts of programmes that other channels won’t touch. When Max discovers an underground programme called ‘Videodrome’, where subjects are raped and killed for real in front of the camera, he gets obsessed with it and begins a descent into a world of kinky sex, flesh and machine becoming one and a global conspiracy where TV screens are the retina of the mind and ‘Videodrome’ is in control.
Uncannily predicting the state of media entertainment and the effect it has on the consumer, Videodrome is a film that is more relevant now than it was when it was made. In coming up with this idea – and how the hell does he come up with these ideas? – David Cronenberg managed to tap into the zeitgeist of the time about video and the role it was playing – or going to play – in the lives of the public but also managed to throw some insight into where it would all lead. And here we are, in the second decade of the 21st century and most of us have online names and identities so we can communicate with relative anonymity, we’ve gone beyond video cassettes and are on the way to leaving discs behind in favour of instant downloads, we (well, not all of us…) sit in front of a TV screen on a Saturday evening dialling a number to cast a vote on a TV programme that we are under the illusion we control and TV executives come up with new ways to exploit the viewing audience almost weekly. Maybe Cronenberg was on to something…
The film itself is a very tough one to digest on first viewing, especially if you are not attuned to David Cronenberg’s auteuristic methods. James Woods is on top form here, delivering a strong performance that doesn’t need to go over the top as he is prone to do in certain films, and Blondie singer Deborah Harry also plays it cool as the object of Renn’s desires Nicki Brand, keeping it fairly restrained and slightly other-worldly but with a quiet confidence that serves the material. With that material coming from the mind of David Cronenberg then you know that the film is going to contain lots of twisted sex, body modification and not knowing what is real and what is imagined, and with scenes of James Woods inserting video tapes into his torso and his hand melding together with his gun to make a disfigured fleshy weapon then you can bet that a lot of this is hallucinatory. Or is it…?
Of course, what fans really want from this package are some juicy extras that they may not have seen before and, as usual, Arrow Video have delivered. As well as a superb looking HD restoration of the film rich in colour and sharpness, this limited edition package includes David Cronenberg and the Cinema of the Extreme, a 1997 documentary featuring interviews with David Cronenberg and directors George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead) and Alex Cox (Sid & Nancy) that discusses Cronenberg’s career and influence, and also Fear on Film, a round table discussion from 1982 hosted by Mick Garris (Psycho IV: The Beginning) that features Cronenberg, John Carpenter (The Thing) and John Landis (An American Werewolf in London) discussing horror movies. Both great little nuggets for horror fans but for more Videodrome specific extras there is an audio commentary by author Tim Lucas, several featurettes covering the special effects used in the film, a featurette that asks why the characters in the film use Betamax tapes (the answer is quite obvious when you think about it), interviews with key players, trailers plus a collector’s hardback book featuring all sorts of information on Videodrome and Cronenberg plus stills. For the hardcore there is a disc of Cronenberg’s early works, including Transfer, From the Drain, Stereo and Crimes of the Future, plus a featurette with Kim Newman discussing said films. In truth, Newman’s perspective on these films is probably more beneficial than what you’ll actually get from them as they are very underground and subversive, although if you like what Cronenberg was doing in Scanners then Stereo may be worthy of your time.
It goes without saying that if you are a Cronenberg fan then this expansive set is an absolute must as it gives you more of the man and what many consider to be his most challenging film than you can probably handle in one sitting. If, however, you are new to Cronenberg or are only familiar with his more accessible recent works such as A History of Violence or Eastern Promises then it may be best to leave Videodrome until you are more acclimatised to his style; go buy this set of course, as it is a superbly put together package, but it may be best to build up to watching it with some of Cronenberg’s other body horror movies first. Regardless of your position with it, Videodrome still stands as a defining moment in Cronenberg’s career by being an accumulation of everything he had done to that point in one bizarre and defiantly uncommercial film, and although he would go on to make his masterpiece three years later with his remake of The Fly – where his body horror ideas met with commercial success head on – it is this film that is often the most beloved by fans, despite probably being his weirdest.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★