Directed by David Cronenberg.
After much deliberation and laziness, I recently ordered and watch the early David Croneneberg film Videodrome. It’s something I’ve been told to watch for ages now, as it’s apparently something I’ll like. And needless to say, I was not disappointed and it was in fact quite brilliant.
It tells the story of Max Renn (played very well, with an injection of sleaze and magnetism by James Woods) who begins to go mad after acquiring the eponymous TV show for his cable network. A show that slowly drives him mad. Woods’ performance is in fact excellent, he brings, as well as the aforementioned magnetism, a strange sense of humanity to the role, highlighting that Max Renn is a flawed, not evil individual.
Deborah Harry is surprisingly good as Nicki, who provides a strange love interest for Renn, as their relationship explores deranged dynamics and a strange sense of sexuality. The two of them share excellent screen chemistry, even during the surreal set piece where Nicki is only present in a TV screen.
It’s fairly short at under an hour and a half, and it does admittedly take around an hour for the film to truly step into the surreal, but when it does, it runs into it kicking and screaming, in truly spectacular fashion.
Croneneberg however is not simply creating a gore fest (although the gore effects by the peerless Rick Baker do stand the test of time quite well). Where Videodrome is at is best is through the satirical eye that it casts on modern media, showing TV as being more than capable of brainwashing a man, as it does to devastating effect on Renn. It even goes so far as to proclaim that “television is reality and reality is less than television”, something that arguably carries a great deal more weight in modern time, and one really has to wonder if this theme would be explored, particularly in such a violent fashion.
Cronenberg’s flair for the visceral and psychosexual is on full display in this film, in the odd sex sequences, including a particularly strange scene wherein James Woods whips a TV, to do the mutations that he goes through and the blood and gore that comes with it.
Renn’s descent into madness is truly excellent to behold, it brings out the best in Woods’ performance, and the character is used wonderfully as an unreliable narrator, and the true ‘reality’ of the situation is never established, with reality and fantasy blurring as the film’s final act roars into life.
As Renn does descend into madness, Videodrome takes hold of him. He is brainwashed by the network into believing what may be a government conspiracy to have Videodrome ‘purge’ sections of society that become fixated on sex and violence. This biting commentary is realized in equal parts through, blood, excellent writing, and Croneneberg’s flair for body horror, even having a VCR slot mutate onto Renn’s body, where tapes are literally inserted into him in order to brainwash him and have him carry out Videodrome’s orders.
As mentioned before, the Rick Baker’s effects are truly excellent in this film, and along with John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), it is arugably one of the pioneers in terms of well applied special effects in horror and science fiction. These landmark visuals stand the test of time exceptionally, including the gore, and Renn’s mutations, which remain nauseating and disturbing even when compared to the effects available today.
Arguably of the most visually influential horror films ever made, Cronenberg’s commentary on TV is disturbing, visceral and has more intelligence than most horror films that have been released in the 21st century. A landmark in the genre, and a well told, surreal story of a descent into madness. “Long live the new flesh”.