Review: Videodrome (1983)

Directed by: David Cronenberg | 87 minutes | horror, thriller, fantasy, science fiction | Actors: James Woods, Debbie Harry, Sonja Smits, Peter Dvorsky, Leslie Carlson, Jack Creley, Lynne Gorman, Julie Khaner, Reiner Schwartz, David Bolt, Lally Cadeau, Henry Gomez

You have cult films and you have David Cronenberg films. Forget everything you know about the more obscure work you know from arthouse films, the productions of this Canadian filmmaker cannot be pigeonholed. “Videodrome” is perhaps Cronenberg’s most complex and inaccessible work to date. Prepare for a hallucinatory trip to the abyss of the human mind.

“Videodrome” is about Max Renn (Woods), an ambitious television channel boss. Because his channel is very small, Renn decides to treat his viewers to soft porn and hardcore violence films. In this way he hopes to be able to profile himself among his competitors. When his collaborator Harlan (Dvorsky) points out a special film in which a woman is tortured, Renn becomes interested in the program. He decides to find out who made the movie, however, the more he learns about the show the deeper he gets into trouble. Renn has ended up in the bizarre world of “Videodrome”, a place from which you can no longer escape.

The story behind “Videodrome” is very complex. Cronenberg presents you with a bizarre story in which flashbacks are alternated at lightning speed with hallucinations and surreal scenes. A strong concentration is certainly required to be able to follow anything of this film at all. Either way, you will have to look at this print several times to understand all the deep layers and plot twists. But despite the unheard of difficult story of the print, you can still enjoy it if you haven’t quite gotten through the plot after just one look. The Canadian filmmaker may not be the best storyteller, but he is a master at creating a chilling atmosphere. A claustrophobic atmosphere surrounds “Videodrome” throughout the film. The unreliability of the main character also creates an oppressive atmosphere, because you never know for sure what is reality and what is not.

James Woods gives shape to Max Renn in a strong way. Woods knows how to portray his character sympathetically, which is very clever considering that Renn is a money-craving TV boss who broadcasts the rancest shows in order to stand out in the TV offering. The protagonist isn’t a bad person either, but it’s not the most respected profession portrayed. Woods adds a nice “panache” to his playing, so that you enjoy watching him and empathize with him as he tries to unravel the truth about “Videodrome”. The other actors are also in good shape. Rock singer Debbie Harry is especially good at her role as Woods’ sadomasochistic friend. When you consider that the front woman of pop group “Blondie” plays her first role, you can’t help but respect her playing.

Cronenberg has managed to get the best out of his actors and that certainly benefits his film. In fact, thanks to the solid cast, you are willing to join the bizarre world of “Videodrome”. A place where the influence of television is undeniable. TV has become so intertwined with the human brain that it represents a new step in human evolution. Meat and metal merge and form the next step to a new unknown world. “Videodrome” is a show that damages the human brain and creates a distorted vision of humanity. The film portrays in an alienating way the depraved influence of TV in society. By indiscriminately copying everything from what the picture tube presents you, your own individuality is suppressed. Television reduces you to a slave of the consumer society that leaves no room for your own interpretation of reality. Humanity’s slavish urge to follow is portrayed in a chilling way in this film. It is easier to go with the crowd and not ask questions than to air your own dissenting opinion. Max Renn is a rebel who does everything he can to stand out in a society where there is no place for loners. However, his role in the world in which he lives is doomed to failure and he ultimately succumbs to his own ambitions and desires. To counteract the blunting effect of “Videodrome”, he must transform himself into what he is fighting against: a willless creature shaped by society. A mindless killer.

The organic fusion of meat and steel is an important part of Cronenberg’s work. It earned the filmmaker a nickname, namely the “master of body horror”. That title also explains the horror content in the Canadian work. Some very nasty special effects late see the fusion of body and metal. Rick Baker provided that metarmorphosis, which despite the film’s datedness is still very shocking. You must have a strong stomach to process everything you see.

It will already have become clear to you that “Videodrome” is not an everyday occurrence. The film is alienating, bizarre and cannot be categorized. You will not immediately notice the social criticism that Cronenberg has put into his work, because of the inaccessibility of the chaotic, futuristic world in which the story takes place. However, if you are willing to immerse yourself in the special world of Cronenberg, you will be presented with a separate print, asking interesting questions about the society in which we live.

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