David Cronenberg | 84 mins | streaming (HD) | 1.85:1 | Canada / English | 18 / R
James 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.
I 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.
Videodrome is released as a limited edition dual-format Blu-ray by Arrow Video on Monday.