Videodrome (1983)

2015 #38
David Cronenberg | 84 mins | streaming (HD) | 1.85:1 | Canada / English | 18 / R

Videodrome UK posterJames Woods is the owner of a trash TV station who’ll do pretty much anything for ratings. His hunt for the next ‘big’ thing leads him to come across the signal for a channel that shows just one bizarre, disturbing programme. Obsessed with finding out the truth behind it, he gets suckered in to a conspiracy that blurs the line between reality and imagination.

To look at things ass-backwards, my first exposure to the work of writer-director David Cronenberg was his 1999 movie eXistenZ, a thriller about people in a virtual reality video-game where the line between what’s real-life and what’s the game gets blurred. It’s fair to say that both that and Videodrome play on similar ideas at times. Both are also ultra prescient, in their way: for eXistenZ, immersive virtual reality games are now starting to become reality, with the Oculus Rift ‘n’ all that (there endeth my knowledge of such things); for Videodrome, even though it’s 32 years old and the tech being depicted is similarly dated, its fears about the influence of the media and the changes it brings to society could’ve been shot yesterday.

These thought-provoking themes are in part conveyed through Cronenberg’s familiar stomping ground of body horror, with top-drawer prosthetics giving tangible visual life to nightmarish ideas. OK, they’re clearly rubber and silicone and plastic and whatever, but the fact they’re there on set, that they’re genuinely one with the actors, not painted over the top later by a computer, that they’re pliable and squidging for real… it’s much more effective, more unsettling, more horrific than computer effects have yet managed.

3D TVI guess for some people the “ew”-inducing effects are the primary delight of the film. These are the kind of people who complain about the UK version being cut. In truth, this is actually the originally-released R-rated version; the so-called Director’s Cut adds just over a minute. Having read about what’s added (all of a few seconds here and there), it sounds like no great shakes, to be honest. I’m all for releasing movies uncut and as intended by the director, but really, some people get too hung up on some of these details. (For what it’s worth, Arrow’s new UK Blu-ray is the longer cut.)

Trims or not, the movie’s themes remain intact. They gave me the sense that Cronenberg wasn’t entirely sure where to go with them — the film descends into a kind of dream logic, fumbling around for a way forward and coming to a somewhat inconclusive ending. That, too, is likely part of the charm for some people. I wasn’t wholly sold.

At worst, though, Videodrome is certainly an experience; one that, over three decades on, still has plenty to say about our consumption of and reliance on the media.

4 out of 5

Videodrome is released as a limited edition dual-format Blu-ray by Arrow Video on Monday.

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11 thoughts on “Videodrome (1983)

  1. Love this film, its the perfect Philip K Dick movie even though its got nothing to do with any of PKDs stories. It captures his shifting-realities paranoid anti-hero themes wonderfully. I’ve got Arrows impending blu-ray ordered so will be rewatching it before months end. Certainly one of those films to raise the argument that they don’t make them like they used to. Indeed did they ever? Both this and Lucas’ THX 1138 feel like they slipped in from some other reality.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Which makes the idea they were (are?) planning to remake it all the odder. It’s tough to imagine an original film getting to be this out-there today, never mind an inevitably-sanitised studio remake.

      I’m also awaiting the Arrow Blu, though as I’ve only recently watched the main feature it’s more for the supporting ones. I’ve wound up on a bit of a Cronenberg kick this year for some reason: I re-watched eXistenZ (didn’t quite live up to my memories), have Scanners waiting to be reviewed (really enjoyed it), and recorded Shivers off Horror t’other night.

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      • Ugh. Remakes of films that don’t need them. Its the one thing that’s worse than sequels of films that don’t need them. Its the horrible trend of the franchisation (is that even a word?) of the movies. Poltergeist didn’t need remaking (haven’t seen that remake yet and not sure I ever want to) and shudder at the prospect of a Jacobs Ladder remake that is repeatedly threatened. Hollywood is so averse to the risk of original properties, its the saddest thing about being a movie fan and why I’m so inclined to watch older movies.

        There ARE great movies being made these days but the overall picture (sic) is pretty dismal. Which is such a shame considering what is possible these days with the technologies available to film-makers. Imagine what a 1970s John Carpenter movie like Escape From New York would be like if he had available to him then the tools available today. What might have been artistic possibilities in another era are nullified by the business restrictions of today. Its all pretty much blockbusters or remakes now.

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        • I don’t disagree, though the fact there are a handful of filmmakers who can push through new ‘properties’ (though, admittedly, they still have to work within the world of blockbusters) does make me wonder if, one day, when all of those films are being remade, some people will look back on this as a golden age (or maybe silver age) of original filmmaking, as all the current pointless remakes and never-ending sequels fade into obscurity.

          More hearteningly, maybe, is an observation I read from some film historian fairly recently that all these things are cyclical — this isn’t the first time the movies have seen an explosion in studio-driven mega-budget movies, which eventually went too far and resulted in the post-studio-system auteur-driven Hollywood (until that eventually went awry too, of course). Maybe we’ll have a ’70s again in the next decade or two? I mean, how much bigger can the grosses of Marvel & co’s movies get? Surely we’re only a couple of flops away from everyone abandoning the “shared universe” craze as quickly as they jumped on its bandwagon?

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