Directed by: David Cronenberg || Produced by: Claude Heroux
Screenplay by: David Cronenberg || Starring: James Woods, Sonja Smits, Deborah Harry, Peter Dvorsky, Leslie Carlson, Jack Creley, Reiner Schwarz
Music by: Howard Shore || Cinematography: Mark Irwin || Edited by: Ronald Sanders || Country: Canada || Language: English
Running Time: 87 minutes
One of the seminal works by the original body horror filmmaker, David Cronenburg, Videodrome is one of those weird, psychologically mind-bending films that academics love to dissect for its endless questioning of imagery and reality. Half the time when you watch Videodrome, you don’t know if what you’re seeing is part of the film’s reality or inside a character’s mind. The film revels in illusions, psychedelic hallucinations, and unreliable point-of-view sequences that turn the principles of narrative progression and character psyche on their head.
A complete box office flop when released in 1983, it’s easy understand how Videodrome (VD) turned off many viewers and even disinterested a sizable minority of critics who tired of its constant grim, creepy mood and confusing story. I myself didn’t fully understand what was going on in the film until I discussed it at length with classmates who’d also seen it after the fact. However, if you give VD the time of day and pay attention to its vivid, if unsettling imagery, the film can be captivating and its themes, meaningful.
The film’s story is so cryptic that summarizing it is difficult. In short, the movie follows a Canadian television executive who stumbles across a disturbing broadcast channel that features nothing but nonsensical programs of extreme violence, sexuality, and torture. As the executive (James Woods) digs deeper behind the origins and purpose of the broadcast, he uncovers a larger sinister conspiracy that seeks to control peoples’ minds through hallucinogenic technology. As Woods uncovers more about the creepy enterprises around him, the film dives further into the contemplation of the meaning of film violence, sexuality, and censorship.
VD’s greatest selling points are its multilayered thriller narrative and Cronenberg’s signature body-horror special FX. The former plot mechanics can confuse and frustrate when one doesn’t pay close attention to the story’s progression and minute details, but its constant raising of narrative stakes make the film’s conclusion as gripping as it is ambiguous. As for the latter point on grisly psycho-physiological transformations, Cronenberg twists the human body with as much nerve as he would three years later in his most famous work, The Fly (1986). While somewhat jarring, Cronenberg’s amazing practical FX and hallucinogenic imagery make the story’s concepts incredibly memorable. Unforgettable, dare I say.
A failing point with films like these that play fast and loose with cinematic reality is how their stories can confuse or overwhelm as much as they impress. In addition, I myself would’ve loved to see the movie go on for another hour to dig further into the mystery surrounding the central Videodrome plot-device, as I felt the ending was rather abrupt. However, wishing for a movie to continue is indicative of watching a quality motion picture, and that’s how I’d describe Videodrome at the end of the day. It’s not quite as quotable nor as funny as Cronenberg’s far more popular Fly remake, but on its own terms, it delivers more than enough cinematic thrills and chills.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Cronenberg guides us down a labyrinth of acid-tripping imagery and sequences that bend the mind’s perception of reality. Though abbreviated, the story’s premise is intriguing and its thematic symbolism is potent. Videodrome features some great body horror FX and melds them with a haunting electronic orchestral score.
— However… the story itself feels truncated for questionable reasons (funds?) and can be hard to follow at times regardless of the most dedicated viewer’s rapt attention.
? Long live the new flesh!