In a time and age when the pressures of an unseen future weighs heavy on the minds of many, it can occasionally be propitious to pause for a dose of retrospective. When it comes to David Cronenberg’s 1983 film “Videodrome,” modern-day audiences will definitely get a kick out of the plot’s incredibly dated anxieties over the social influence of television. The theme of insidious TV signals may be couched too far in the past for certain audiences today to even care, but for all “Videodrome’s” screwiness there’s still something rather illuminating about a cautionary tale warning against the dangers of desensitization at the hands of the media.
The great James Woods stars as Max Renn, a shrewd exec of a UHF television station (don’t worry, I had to look up “UHF,” too) in the 1980s version of Toronto. In the interest of earning high ratings, Renn has no problem airing pretty much any and every show of filth he can get his hands on so long as it is guaranteed to snatch the viewers’ attention. While on the hunt for the next big sensation, he stumbles upon a pirated signal coming out of Malaysia dubbed Videodrome, which endlessly broadcasts extremely realistic and disturbing snuff footage. Unable to look away, Renn becomes obsessed with everything having to do with the origin of Videodrome, and inevitably finds himself entrenched in the truth behind its dark and surreal world.
“Long live the New Flesh!”
As far as sci-fi horror goes, this movie has a tendency to twist and turn its way completely out of any conventional audience’s comfort zone, both visually and within its narrative. In other words, it’s one hell of a mindfuck and certainly not for everyone. David Cronenberg is world-famous for his fixation on physical transformations and widely considered to be the granddaddy of the body horror genre. While Renn’s metamorphosis is not nearly as graphic when compared to those undergone in other Cronenberg flicks such as “The Brood” (1979) or “The Fly” (1986), one can never be completely settled after watching a man literally reach inside of himself. Shiny plasticized special effects aside, the intense subject matter alone is more than enough to make you want to switch off your screen. But that’s the thing about “Videodrome,” you’ll keep watching, no matter how upsetting things get.
“Why would anybody watch a scum show like Videodrome?”
It’s not easy to watch anything having to do with the reenactment of snuff entertainment, but then, this is a Cronenberg film; the horror here is based in science and society, rather than the supernatural. It is meant to unveil a side of our human selves we would most likely prefer to remain permanently dormant. The way we view content has evolved since the 1980s but the underlying questions “Videodrome” asks remain significant: at what point does simply watching violence become an actual act of violence? How will the transmission of violence onto our living-room screens affect our society? And even more importantly, how will it affect our own personal consciousness, or dare I say, our spiritual nature?
“Videodrome” is the perfect example of how Cronenberg brings such pressing inquiries to the table, while still entertaining hardened audiences with ridiculously over-the-top horror movie gimmicks and widely contrived metaphors. Despite being heavily drenched in 1980s atmosphere the film is highly relevant today and makes for a smooth introduction into his body of work, no puns intended. Some of the images may be shocking, but don’t worry, they won’t reach through the screen and bite you…probably.
Overall Rating: 8/10