Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: James Woods, Deborah Harry & Sonja Smits
Synopsis: A sleazy cable-TV programmer begins to see his life and the future of media spin out of control in a very unusual fashion when he acquires a new kind of programming for his station
Rating: 18 Run time: 89 minutes Release date: 17 August (UK)
Released in 1983, Videodrome was the brainchild of the auteur of strange; David Cronenberg. Mangled together from Cronenberg’s own experiences of late night cable TV while living in Canada, Videodrome is the ultimate “what if” scenario on how TV and the media can influence its viewers and what networks can achieve through subversive messages.
Watching Videodrome now, it’s plain to see how far ahead of its time it really was. Cronenberg’s analysis of the media is as relevant now as it was back in 1983 and possibly even more so given the current climate of people being constantly connected to one form of technology or another.
The state of what we see on TV and how it is consumed is also something Cronenberg managed to foresee. In terms of what we can watch, audiences have become more desensitised to violence and various atrocities, both through the political climate we know live in and how any kind of sensitive material can be accessed through several clicks of a button.
Whether this was Cronenberg’s intention throughout is not necessarily clear, and perhaps he was more concerned with the new technologies on hand at the time. The world was starting to become that little bit smaller and people were both excited and fearful of what could be accomplished; something that, once again, surely draws parallels with today’s society.
If you look at what Cronenberg was trying to achieve with Videodrome, then surely there must be some value in the shock nature of the film. Seeing a man develop a vagina like scar in his stomach and have a pistol literally grow from his hand into his forearm still has the ability to turn the stomach today, and was without doubt a cause for concern for audiences seeing it for the first time in 1983.
An argument could be made, however, that what was really going on here was that Videodrome itself was aiming for being nothing more than shock value horror. Its use of the body horror sub-genre has similarities to the torture porn craze that was all too popular in the early 2000’s and was maybe even a precursor for a phase that now seems to have, thankfully, passed us by.
The visceral images and altogether upsetting effects no doubt would have disturbed viewers upon the film’s release, and as with anything of this nature, it could be seen as a sleazy attempt to get people talking and raise a directors profile for better or worse. But, while Videodrome is shocking, it is also fair to see it as a media allegory in which the viewers have to decide between what is real and what is a figment of the imagination.
In that regard, James Woods’ performance as Max Renn is as innocent as it disturbing. As the president of Civic TV, Renn is looking for something that no other television network is offering. Not content with the lurid programming they already produce, Renn happens across Videodrome after it is picked up by a colleague at Civic TV. Videodrome immediately appeals to Renn, and he believes the snuff footage he is seeing is the next step in the evolution of TV.
In Renn, the audience sees someone who is willing to produce risky television, yet when he is pushed by others willing to go a step further we see a restraint in the character that shows a more timid side. His seduction of radio producer Nicki Brand (Deborah Harry) on live TV is as creepy as it is charming and probably tells you all you need to know about the character.
Woods himself is a little hit and miss here. His commitment to the role, as with any Woods performance, is to be commended and he really does throw himself into the film. Yet there are times when it appears as if some lines are forced and the general delivery seems naive. Where he really succeeds though is letting his character grow one sinister beat at a time.
The supporting cast flesh out the film and compliment Woods while standing out on their own. It is only Deborah Harry who doesn’t quite convince, and it is maybe her look rather than her actual portrayal here that is memorable. Sonja Smits, Peter Dvorsky, Leslie Carlson and Jack Creley all add layers to morally dubious roles and despite a slightly mixed performance, not one of them can outdo Woods.
Videodrome however belong to its director. David Cronenberg created a horrific story of one man’s descent into madness, while at the same time fashioning a bizarre look at a nations obsession with media and the tangible effects it can have on viewers in their pursuit of ever more lurid material.
In summary: Videodrome is as resonant now as it was 32 years ago, and remains a glaring indictment of a generations obsession with media, even if it is a completely insane watch.
As usual, Arrow Films have done excellent work with their transfer of Videodrome. Not only is the picture and sound quality of the highest standard, but the films various extras are a must for fans of the film. Documentaries, interviews, commentaries and rare insights litter the disc and provide careful analysis on various aspects of the film’s production and its standing in society.
A number of documentaries have made their on to the disc including; Cinema of the Extreme, Forging the New Flesh, Samurai Dreams and Why Betamax? Each provides insights into the making and marketing of the film, while highlighting the struggles David Cronenberg had when taking Videodrome to the censorship boards. However, the highlight here is a 25 minute documentary titled Fear on Film.
Fear on Film is a roundtable discussion first shown in 1982. Hosted by Mick Garris, the panel includes David Cronenberg, John Landis and John Carpenter. All three directors have made their own indelible mark on the horror genre, and Fear on Film is a frank and riveting conversation about the trials each director has had with their films and their perception in the eyes of the classification system.
Alongside the documentaries are three separate interviews with Mark Irwin, Pierre David and Dennis Etchison. Cronenberg’s 2000 short film Camera starring Les Carlson makes its way onto the disc, as do a series of deleted and alternate scenes. These scenes are taken from the various TV cuts of Videodrome and present a unique look at how the film had to change for network TV.
Fans of Cronenberg’s work will no doubt take the most joy in his Early Work’s bonus disc. Featured are Transfer (1966), From the Drain (1967), Stereo (1969) and Crimes of the Future (1970). These early works give fans the chance to see how Cronenberg prepared himself for his later efforts and are a rare insight into the mind of a man who would go on to make some of Hollywood’s most bizarre and challenging films.
In summary: A stunning audio/visual transfer and a plethora of extras make this a must for any Cronenberg aficionado.