Indulge me as the following is both a review of Videodrome as well as my love letter to this fantastic film.
David Cronenberg was one of the first horror directors that I latched onto at an early age. They Came From Within, Rabid, The Brood, Scanners… I get goosebumps just thinking about his early films. The first Cronenberg film I watched was perhaps his most complex and disturbing, Videodrome. I saw this movie in 1985 when I was fourteen years old. When it was over, my fourteen year old self had no friggin’ clue what I just watched, but I rewound the tape (we had to do that back then) and I watched it over again. When the weekend was over, I had watched Videodrome a total of four times.
Now it is 2015 and Videodrome is still one of my top three genre films of all time. Not only that, but I think this is Cronenberg’s best film to date.
After my first few viewings of Videodrome, all I could piece together was that kinky sex and violence stimulated the growth of an organ in your head that would evolve you into “the New Flesh.” Pretty heady stuff for a fourteen year old. But I couldn’t get this film out of my head. There was something so gritty, disturbing, and sleazy about Videodrome, yet there was also something so intelligent about it. I was determined to understand what Cronenberg had to say through this film.
The story: James Woods played, Max Renn, one of the owners of a crappy little cable station, Civic TV (which is named as a tribute after City TV, an actual television station in Toronto that was infamous for showing soft-core sex films as part of its late night programming). In order to compete against bigger stations, Renn knew they needed to offer something viewers couldn’t get on any other station. Soft-core porn was too tame for Renn’s tastes and he knew his viewers wanted something with more teeth.
One night Harlan (Peter Dvorsky), the station’s engineer, who had a knack for video piracy and “breaking into” other broadcaster’s signals, came across a grainy TV showed called Videodrome. The show had no production values and was simply a woman chained up in an empty room getting beaten. This was the kind of show Renn had been looking for. The next day Renn hires Masha (Lynne Gorman), who had ties to the underworld, to track down where Videodrome was made. When she found it, the only thing she offered Renn was a dire warning:
“[Videodrome] has something that you don’t have, Max. It has a philosophy. And that is what makes it dangerous.”
That’s right, Masha found out Videodrome was real snuff TV. After Renn decided to ignore Masha’s warning, he did his own investigation, and what he found was way more than a snuff program. He plunged into the rabbit hole of mind-altered reality, of secret organizations that wanted to change people’s perception of reality, and a lot of other really freaky things.
Videodrome was made for horror fans. Not only is the story fantastic, but the special f/x by Rick Baker are mind-blowing. The f/x were amazing, disgusting, disturbing, and groundbreaking. There were enough show-stopping f/x in this flick to fill four Lucio Fulci films!!
Cronenberg’s body horror theme is stronger here than in his other films, but Videodrome is so much more than just a bunch of gross-out special f/x. The story is layered and at times intricate. Cronenberg wanted to tell us something with Videodrome. This was an early warning in the days before technology became so invasive in our daily lives. It was almost as if Cronenberg saw into the future and wanted to warn society about the dangers of retreating into technology and away from actual interpersonal contact. Videodrome also warned about the connection between technology and violence, which was an essential theme in this film. There was so much violence on TV every day that gets taken for granted and we have essentially become desensitized to it. One shadowy group in Videodrome took advantage of this and exploited it.
Cronenberg also put together an incredible cast of talented people to pull off his vision. James Woods played his typical, trademarked intense character. He started off arrogant and cocky, but as he watched more and more of the videodrome signal and his body began to evolve into something new, he lost his grip on reality and began to question everything. And in a typical Cronenbergian scene, we watched as a character tried to help Woods and put a machine on his head that would record and analyze his hallucinations. That was a truly surreal scene you won’t soon forget.
Some may think that with its high ideals and philosophical views that this movie gets a little pretentious at times. I never got. This was the type of genre movie that challenged the viewers (much like John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness). Videodrome falls into the category of “philosophical horror,” but there were enough scenes of depravity and gore to keep the gore hounds satisfied. Deborah Harry put in a fantastic performance as Nicki Brand. She became obsessed with the Videodrome TV show and tracked it down and … well, I’ll let you find out what happened to her. Harry’s performance was the perfect combination of kink, raw sexuality, and mystery. When she and Woods were fooling around she coyly asked him, “Wanna try a few things.” This will send a shiver down your spine.
A lot of horror fans were unsatisfied with the ending, but I think Cronenberg left it open and vague on purpose. The way Videodrome ended made the viewer feel as though they just went on the same trip as Max Renn did, and now they don’t know what is real and what’s fantasy anymore. If you haven’t seen this film yet, then you need to see and determine the ending for yourself. Don’t miss this one. I loved every second of this movie and every time I watch it I get something new out of it. Videodrome will get under your skin and you’ll think about it long after you turn off your cathode ray box.
LONG LIVE THE NEW FLESH!!!