Main cast: James Woods (Max Renn), Debbie Harry (Nicki Brand), Sonja Smits (Bianca O’Blivion), Peter Dvorsky (Harlan), Les Carlson (Barry Convex), and Jack Creley (Dr Brian O’Blivion)
Director: David Cronenberg
David Cronenberg’s reputation as the master of twisted horror films, especially those involving body horror, is established. and it’s a reputation that is well earned in my opinion. Videodrome was a flop when it was first released in 1983, and perhaps appropriately, it eventually became a cult classic as well as a staple in video rental. After all, this one has a plot in which watching certain gruesome clips can cause you to grow a brain tumor that… turns you into a walking video player. Really, I kid you not.
Max Renn, hotshot and cocky boss of a cable TV station, discovers that his technician Harlan, who supervises the illegal satellite dish of the company that is designed to provide access to any broadcast in most parts of the world, has intercepted a series of short video clips of people getting tortured and even killed. Max’s station specializes in seedy content such as softcore pornography and such, and he is looking for the next best thing to rejuvenate his programming. Aha, these clips are what he is looking for! Are there more?
At first, things seem to be going well. The clips seem to be part of a series called Videodrome, which is broadcast out of Malaysia. I wish my country is that interesting, I tell you. Anyway, he thinks he’s on track to getting the rights of that show for his TV station, and watching the clips together also let him into the pants of Nicki Brand, a psychologist that finds the violence in Videodrome most stimulating indeed.
Alas, Max soon learns that Videodrome is merely a tool weaponized by certain nefarious parties to control the minds of the people who view the show, and he has developed a brain tumor that causes him to hallucinate disturbing things as a result of his own viewing of the show.
This one is arguably one of Mr Cronenberg’s more arty video – don’t expect any clear-cut answers here, just more questions as the movie rolls towards the ending. Critics no doubt lauded this film as an allegory of the power of the media over our perception of reality, which remains a relevant theme even to this day. Me, all the extra pretensions do add to the charm of this movie, but I’m more about the atmosphere, the special effects, and the well-done cinematography.
When it comes to being an increasingly chaotic and bizarre representation of Max’s increasingly volatile state of mind, this movie utilizes the music, the lighting, and the cinematography to great effect. Things become more suffocating and confusing as time passes in this film, and all these are done without the clichéd overuse of strobe lights, how nice. For the most part, the movie focuses on building tension, so scares are actually few and far apart. When the scares do show up, the disconcertingly outlandish and disturbing special effects make these scenes doubly more terrifying, especially because the movie judiciously deliver these scares and hence, the viewer doesn’t become too used to tricks utilized by this movie.
Oh, and despite being on a slow burn for most of its running time, Videodrome does what Mr Cronenberg does best: make some of the most disturbing elements of this movie come off as erotic in a dark and twisted way.
While Mr Cronenberg is well known for some other movies, this one is in my opinion one of his more visceral, disquieting, and even sexy works. Sure, the story is pretty silly, but it does take me to some wonderfully bizarre and frightening places.