I am overall very unfamiliar with the works of David Cronenberg. I’ve seen his remake of The Fly, which is great, and I know he must be awesome as a person because had a cameo in Jason X. That’s about where my knowledge ends. So when I had an opportunity to pick-up the Criterion collection of Videodrome on bluray for a reasonable price, it was an easy sell. I was ready to expand my Cronenberg knowledge since all I really knew beyond The Fly is that his other movies are apparently way more fucked up.
Turns out the people saying those words were spot on.
Videodrome is one of those cool situations where the movie was shot in Toronto, but also takes place in Toronto. The only other example I can think of for this is Scott Pilgrim vs. The World so it’s nice to see Canada front and centre here. Or maybe all of Cronenberg’s movies take place there so it’s not at all exciting? I’m not sure, but I was pumped. Not to mention that apparently this whole movie is based on when CityTV was first starting up in the area and they would show softcore porn at night, something I remember accurately and fondly.
So Videodrome is fucked up. Essentially James Woods plays Max Renn, a producer at Civic TV, a station that runs pornographic and adult programming at night. Remember Bleu Nuit on The Movie Network? Man, that was hands-down the best way to see boobs at a young age. So Renn is looking for some edgier material when a contact intercepts footage from a program titled Videodrome, which is nothing but graphic footage of people being tortured in front of an electrified clay wall, because why not have it happen in front of an electrified clay wall I suppose. The assumption is that the footage is fake, but you and I have been around the block way too many times to believe that. So Renn starts looking into where the footage comes from and what exactly Videodrome is and of course, shit is way more messed up than he ever could have imagined.
Now, that may sound like it has the makings of a fairly straight-forward thriller. However it doesn’t take long before Videodrome makes its intentions clear, with a scene where Renn and his girlfriend Nicki (played by Deborah Harry in one of her first acting gigs) have sex on the floor while he pierces her ears with needles and she is clearly way into it. Then we pull back and see they’re now having sex on the set of Videodrome. And this is one of more down to earth occurrences in this movie.
Videodrome is the kind of movie where you just have to succumb to its craziness and accept that chances are great that you will never get a rational or clear explanation about any of the events that are unfolding. However the movie never ceases from throwing out a barrage of memorable and well executed set pieces so you remain entranced the entire time. A viewer’s thought process may go along the lines of “Man I’m confused about all this. What is this? I don’t know if I like…..wait? Did James Wood’s stomach just grow a vagina? Hold on, is there a gun in that stomach vagina?” The answer is yes, he did just grow a vagina in his stomach and yes, there was totally a gun inside of it. And I don’t even think that’s the craziest thing that happens here!
This is definitely not a straight-forward movie by any means, and much of the plot is left open to interpretation. It’s never explicitly stated what is actually happening or what is just in Renn’s imagination, though I feel there are just enough clues given that you can form your own theories. It has just enough of a balance between being open-ended and delivering answers/clues that you can leave feeling satisfied and not frustrated. Besides the plot itself still works incredibly well as many of the ideas presented are still absolutely relevant today. The idea of television potentially leading to real violent behavior, and the constant quest to find the newest, most shocking piece to put on the air, are still very prevalent and are perhaps even more applicable to today’s society than when the movie was first released in 1983. It helps give it a timeless quality.
Hey James Woods puts in a good performance in this movie. Isn’t that shocking? It’s almost as though the dude is awesome in every single role he ever has ever. So yeah perhaps it’s not all that surprising that Woods is solid here, playing kind of a smarmy asshole who we are still generally rooting for. Then again, once you witness someone develop a gaping hole in their stomach while constantly hallucinating (or is he?!) about torture, it’s hard not to feel a little bad for them regardless.
Oh yeah and because this was the eighties, all of the make-up effects were done practically and it makes the whole thing so much ickier. A lot of the effects are far more disturbing than they are gory, though there’s a good deal of gore dished out as well, especially in the final act. It’s so weird to want horror movies to revert back to older technology, but god do I ever miss practical effects and this movie was another constant reminder of just how much better they really are than digital.
Videodrome has at least gotten this whole marathon back on track after the terrible beginning that was The Human Centipede II. You have yourself an interesting plot that practically demands a second viewing, creepy and effective special effects, and a great central performance from James Woods. Seems I may have to check out more from this Cronenberg fellow.