Videodrome (1983)

Videodrome (1983)

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VHS tapes - built to last.
VHS tapes – built to last.

Twitter Plot Summary: James Woods goes a bit mad after encountering Videodrome. He has a gaping hole in his stomach too.

Five Point Summary:

1. It couldn’t be any more 80s if it tried – VHS tapes and CRT televisions are just the tip of the iceberg.
2. Ear piercing with a dirty needle? She’ll get an ear infection.
3. An interesting place to hide a weapon, at least.
4. I may be wrong, but I think there’s something wrong with that VHS tape.
5. It’s become a part of him. Gnarly.

In Videodrome James Woods plays Max, a sleazy television executive who is interested in acquiring some gnarly snuff tapes for his own enjoyment. That is, when he’s not using a gun to rape his own stomach through the vagina shaped hole that appears there. But that’s getting ahead of the plot a little, so like a VHS cassette tape let’s rewind a little bit. Max is a perverted chap, but then it also seems that most of the other people in this world are too. His paramour, Nicki Brand (a mostly wooden Deborah Harry), is equally as twisted and perverse, and proves to be Max’s downfall and descent into the world of Videodrome.

Cronenberg is renowned for his obsession with body horror, and Videodrome is a worthy addition to his canon. In most of his films the lead character is either afraid of the changes that they are almost powerless to prevent (see the likes of Shivers or Scanners), or in this case afraid of what they themselves will end up doing. Whilst much of his work lacks polish and, usually, a budget, Cronenberg succeeds as an ideas man, taking notable aspects of modern existence and putting his own twist on them. The infiltration of media into everyday existence, television in particular, is parodied and satirised. In Max we have a representation of our own indoctrination into this world, depicting a growing reliance on technology that foreshadowed the rise of the internet and the world we find ourselves living in today.

Not something you do every day.
Not something you do every day.

Is Max going insane, or is his VHS collection and television actually talking to him? The concept of mind control and indoctrination to a cause wasn’t a new one in 1983, but then few other films of a similar ilk would make a gun become a physical part of the lead character’s hand. Woods is suitably disturbed as Max, his bewilderment on par with the audience’s.

Whilst the body horror element is often the main focus – for good reason too – Videodrome also boasts some powerful and innovative special effects which are even more impressive given the relatively low budget Cronenberg was working with and the time at which it was made. The white noise from the television spreading out from the screen is one scene in particular that is markedly impressive and has a tangible quality to it, as if you could just as easily reach through your own television and touch objects within the world of Videodrome. Obviously you can’t do that, but it’s testament to the effects department on this film that it may just be possible.

Looking at it with a modern eye Videodrome is terribly dated, afflicted by references to VHS tapes and typical 80s fashion. Despite this, it remains one of Cronenberg’s best works and perhaps his most confusing – the reality of the situation is that despite finishing on quite a definitive note it’s still not entirely clear what has actually happened. This ambiguity leaves the audience to make up its own mind, and given the head trip that has preceded it, is perhaps the only way to end the film. Long live the new flesh!

Score: 4/5

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