Videodrome (1983)

Review #1,274

Director:  David Cronenberg
Cast:  James Woods, Debbie Harry, Sonja Smits
Plot:  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.

Genre:  Horror / Sci-Fi
Awards:  -
Runtime:  87min
Rating:  Not rated (likely to be R21 for perverse sexual content, violence and gore)
Distributor: Universal Pictures
International Sales:  Hollywood Classics

“Television is reality, and reality is less than television.”

Possibly David Cronenberg's defining work of the '80s, and to some, albeit in retrospect, his finest achievement, Videodrome remains a polarizing work, but perhaps not for the same reason now as it was then. 

Back then, Cronenberg was a serial provocateur, a master of body horror movies such as The Brood (1979) and Scanners (1981) that made audiences squirm.  Like them or not, they were ingenious in their use of practical special effects and makeup to advance the narrative.  The Fly (1986) would be the best example of this, a film I feel is arguably Cronenberg's masterpiece. 

In this day and age, Videodrome feels too bizarre and inconsistent as a film.  It is not very entertaining and doesn't quite pull you into its ghastly world, even if the imageries are frightening and surreal.  The film starts out well though, but the fascination wears thinner as it moves along, until a point when what transpires on the screen becomes perfunctory to sustain the plot, backed by rather weak screenwriting that tries to make things tick. 

However, what has it going is its overt if prescient commentary on our obsession with the screen.  Made during the VCR era, when home video heightened our desires to see and voyeurize, Videodrome draws parallels with our screen enslavement with depictions of sadomasochism on screen. 

With James Wood in the lead as Max Renn, who runs a sleazy cable channel out for more exploitative and sensational content, the film brings him into the fold as a victim of his own desires and actions.  His performance carries the bulk of the film, and his physical body (through astonishing special effects) becomes a conduit for the troubling mind. 

"Long live the new flesh!", shouted with gusto by Max, suggests a melding of the mutated body and corrupt mind, under control of a metaphysical entity, which is not unlike the current world that is eerily similar to what Cronenberg prophesied three decades earlier – we seek pleasure from the screen, in whatever modern manifestation, enslaved by something we can't see – the videodrome as it were.

With a salacious mixture of sex, torture and gore, Cronenberg's film promises to blur the lines between reality and realities.  At best, it is a hallucinatory Freudian journey.  At worst, it is a meandering Freudian journey.

Verdict:  A sci-fi body horror movie that stands out in Cronenberg’s ‘80s oeuvre for its special effects and just-as-relevant-today commentary on our obsession with the screen, but is ultimately too inconsistent and bizarre to entertain.  


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