AustinChef Reviews VIDEODROME (1983)

I saw this movie for the first time in 1985 when I was 14. My buddy’s older brother gave me a really crappy, grainy VHS cassette with a horrible sound track; BUT it was the uncut version (and as it goes, watching this flick on a grainy VHS is pretty appropriate). Now it’s 2010 and not only is Videodrome one of my all time favorite movies, but I think its writer-director Cronenberg’s best movie, and I think it’s one of the strongest genre flicks ever made.

I must admit that after I saw this the first time I had no friggin’ idea what the hell was going on. What I could piece together in my still very innocent mind was that kinky sex stimulates the growth of some organ in your head that will help evolve you into “the New Flesh”??? What the FUCK?? By this time I had already seen Cronenberg’s Shivers (1975), Rabid (1977), and The Brood (1979) and was a bona fide huge fan of Cronenberg. I was familiar with his theme of “body horror” found in most of his movies, but Videodrome was just way over my 14 year old head. At first I simply wrote it off as one of his mistakes but noticed that after a few days I couldn’t get it outta my mind. There was something so gritty and disturbing about the story and its’ images that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I really wanted to understand what Cronenberg was trying to tell me. So I rented it (but this time got the R-rated version) and watched it over and over again. And over and over again. Suddenly I realized not only did I absolutely love Videodrome and believe it to be his best movie yet, but I started to understand the story. It’s bizarre, no doubt, but it is “Cronenberg Bizarre.”

The story: James Woods’ character, Max Renn, is one of the owners of a crappy little cable station called Civic TV (which is named as a tribute after City TV, an actual television station which started out in Toronto and was infamous for showing soft-core sex films as part of its late night programming line-up). In order to compete against bigger stations, Renn knows they need to offer something viewers can’t get on any other station. So they air some soft-core porn late at night. But Renn is getting bored by the soft-core porn; it’s too tame for his tastes and he believes his viewers want something with more teeth (pun intended). In one scene an Asian porn producer, played by David Tsubôchi, tries to sell Renn some porn for the station, but Renn turns him down telling him how boring and predictable it is. Tsubôchi went on to become a Minister in the Ontario provincial government, and his role here as a pornographer was exploited by the opposition. Ya gotta love politics; the opposition was trying to use Tsubôchi’s ROLE as an ACTOR from a FICTIONAL movie as a true representation of how he really is. Pathetic. And people wonder why I submerge myself in horror movies. Anyway …

One night the station’s engineer, who has a knack for video piracy and “breaking into’ other broadcaster’s signals, comes across a grainy TV showed called “Videodrome.” The production values are practically nothing (a woman is chained up in a bare room getting beaten), but best of all it’s the kind of program “with teeth” that Renn has been looking for. So he hires the local “strange lady,” Masha, who has ties to the underworld to track down “Videodrome” for him. She finds it and tells him to leave it alone:

Masha: Videodrome. What you see on that show, it’s for real. It’s not acting. It’s snuff TV.
Max Renn: I don’t believe it.
Masha: So, don’t believe.
Max Renn: Why do it for real? It’s easier and safer to fake it.
Masha: Because it has something that you don’t have, Max. It has a philosophy. And that is what makes it dangerous.

I’m not sure about this fact 100%, but this might just be the first big-studio genre flick (it was distributed by Universal Films) to talk about snuff films!! From here on out the film gets very bizarre, very gory, and very “I can’t take my eyes off of this.” I don’t wanna get into much more of the plot, but it’s a crazy ride for sure folks. This is the kind of film that divides audiences: Either ya love it or hate it!!

Any horror fan worth their weight in gore needs to see this flick; if nothing else for the special f/x by Rick Baker. These are some truly amazing, disgusting, disturbing, and groundbreaking f/x: We see a TV come to life and watch James Woods “make out” with it; we get to see a living, breathing “vagina” in Woods’ stomach (in which he sticks a gun into); we see a TV screen explode into a mess of blood and guts; and we get to see a man shot by a “tumor gun” and whose body erupts into a ton of tumors as he dies horribly. These are just a few examples of some of the amazing work Baker does here.

Cronenberg definitely has his “body horror” theme here (stronger than ever, in fact) but he also adds the dimension of a very layered and detailed story. This movie is so much more than the sum of its (amazing) f/x; it’s trying to tell us something. It’s an early warning in the days before personal computers became so invasive in our daily lives and about the dangers of technology and retreating into that technology and away from actual interpersonal contact. It also predicts and tries to warn us about the connection between technology and violence (this in fact is the point of the movie, I believe). There’s so much violence on TV every day that it’s taken for granted and we have essentially become desensitized to it. A certain group in the movie takes advantage of this fact and exploits it:

Harlan: North America’s getting soft, patron, and the rest of the world is getting tough. Very, very tough. We’re entering savage new times, and we’re going to have to be pure and direct and strong if we’re going to survive them. Now, you and this cesspool you call a television station and your people who wallow around in it, your viewers who watch you do it, they’re rotting us away from the inside. We intend to stop that rot.

All the performances here are top notch. This is actually one of my favorite performances by James Woods (Woods’ even refers to his role in Videodrome in an episode of Family Guy). Woods plays his typical, trademarked really intense character. He starts off very arrogant and cocky, but as he watches more and more of the “videodrome” signal and his body begins to evolve into something new, he loses his grip on reality and begins to question everything.

Some may think that with its high ideals and philosophical views that this movie gets a little pretentious at times. I never got that feeling. This is a brilliantly written, “deep” genre movie that challenges you to understand what’s going on. I do categorize this as “philosophical horror”, but I give this movie that label with respect. Plus there are so many scenes of absolute depravity and gore that it’ll knock your socks off and remind you that you’re watching a genre flick … and a damn good one at that!! Deborah Harry, the singer Blondie, also puts in a fantastic performance as Nicki Brand. She becomes aware of “videodrome” through Woods and not only becomes obsessed with it, but tracks it down, appears on it, and becomes one of its victims!! She adds the perfect amount of kink and depravity here. When she and Woods are fooling around she coyly asks, “Wanna try a few things.” This’ll send a shiver down your spine. It seems to me that Cronenberg left the ending wide open for a sequel, and I for one am really upset he never continued this story. I’d love to see the new world inhabited by “The New Flesh.” Don’t miss this one. I love every second of this movie. This one will get under your skin and you’ll think about it long after you turn off your cathode ray box.

Director: David Cronenberg
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Gore: 9 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains

7 Responses to “AustinChef Reviews VIDEODROME (1983)”

  1. Great choice!! David Cronenberg is one of my favourite directors of all time…horror or otherwise! AND he is Canadian! James Woods is perfectly cast…I can’t imagine anyone who would have been better in this role. Debbie Harry too…she was so sexy and super-cool. Great review! We need more Cronenberg in the dungeon!!

  2. austinchef08 Says:

    Couldn’t agree more … MORE Cronenberg!! Videodrome is one of his over-looked films, but I think its one of his (if not THE) best. Like you said, its perfectly casted, has an amazing story that is even more relevant now than back when it was made, and it has some bad ass f/x!!!

    Can you just imagine the re-make? Probably cast one of the faggy vampires from the Twilight series as Max Renn and Mylie Cyrus stepping into the Debbie Harry role. Just put a knife in my heart now!!!

  3. Oh man, City TV! I used to love watching late night TV on that channel. It’s just not the same anymore, of course TV itself isn’t the same anymore.

    I did not get this film at all when I watched it. Can’t remember how long ago that was now but it’s certainly full of great effects. It is stuck in my head because of that Family Guy episode though! HAHA!

  4. Austinchef08 Says:

    Its definitely a challenging movie. Check it out again; I’m sure you’ll fall in love with it all over again.

  5. […] Videodrome is one of the most interesting and original horror films from the 1980′s. Cronenberg’s bizarre, surreal, and disturbing images are simply amazing. The effects in this film are truly outstanding. There is an intriguing plot and great performances from James Woods and Debbie Harry. Videodrome is a fascinating, sexy, sleazy, and violent masterpiece. To read the review click here. […]

  6. too much perfection is a mistake

  7. […] review you’ll find in the Dungeon is Scott Shoyer’s excellent guest review for Videodrome. It only seemed right to review at least one Cronenberg flick during this trek through Canadian […]

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