Director: David Cronenberg
Staring: James Woods, Deborah Harry, Sonja Smitts and Peter Dvorsky
David Cronenberg is a master of body horror and gore. His films from The Fly to Scanners and The Brood all feature extreme body horror effects, with interesting characters and situations. Something like The Fly can be seen as just a gross-out horror film, but there is also something underneath that where it can be seen as a love story where Jeff Goldblum’s character is suffering from an incurable disease, and his partner must watch him suffer or choose to euthanise him. It’s done it a gross way, but there is a relatable and horrific story beyond that as well.
Inspired by American broadcasts that would come across statically after Canadian TV had switched off for the day Videodrome is one of Cronenberg’s most well known and loved films. As a child Cronenberg was always worried about finding something he shouldn’t from the American broadcasts. This tiny spark grew into the story of Videodrome, where Max Renn (James Woods, Once upon a Time in America, Casino) stumbles across a broadcast of extreme violence and torture while looking for new shows for his small time TV station. His search for the source of the transmission leads his down a road of hallucinogenic horror.
Cronenberg has a reputation for making extreme body horror and with effects legend Rick Baker (An American Warewolf in London) Videodrome lives up to that with some literally stomach-churning moments. From a pulsating TV to a slit opening in Max’s stomach where he can store a gun, there are moments in this film that are both puzzling in how they achieved it and sickly in watching it. The effects are the best part of the entire film.
The performances, which come from a wide cast including Woods, Deborah Harry (Singer of Blondie, Hairspray, Cop Land), Sonja Smitts and Peter Dvorsky to name a few, are all good enough for the story, but there isn’t amazing acting on display here, but it’s believable enough to keep the story going. The characters don’t really stand out. Deborah Harry as the sadomasochistic radio host, Nicki Brand is the most interesting, but we don’t get that much time with her to really understand her character.
Videodrome is a film that will mess with your mind. As Max follows the trail the world around him becomes trippier and more hallucinogenic. You’re never completely sure what is reality and what is in his head, blurring the lines between TV and the reality of the world we live in. Through this Cronenberg explores the idea about people’s desensitisation to violence and sex and the world’s obsession with extreme violence and torture. It plays on a fear in the 1980s that TV and film was becoming too violent and extreme.
Videodrome is an interesting film, it’s just nothing spectacular. The effects, for the time, are great. The performances are fine. The story is still relevant today, with the way in which horrific events are filmed and shared online. There are striking moments in the film, but other than the effects it’s not that memorable.