Genre: Horror, Mystery, Sci-Fi
Director/Writer: David Cronenberg
Music: Howard Shore
Cinematography: Mark Irwin
Cronenberg’s body horror presciently burrows into the hallucinatory immersion of virtual reality more than 30 years ago, VIDEODROME, its title refers to a series of video images with contents of mondo exploitation, torture and murder, which entice our protagonist Max Renn (Woods) into an almost involuntary addiction to its subversiveness and perverse sexual gratifications.
Renn is the president of a Toronto-based television station, which specializes in producing subterranean programs consist of violence and soft-core pornography to a niche market. So, the discovery of Videodrome thrills him to the core, after shares it with his new acquaintance, a luscious radio host Nicki Brand (Harry, in her iconic filmic bravura), whose masochistic proclivity surprises him, Max begins to trace down the original source of Videodrome, which leads him to Bianca (Smits), the daughter of Professor Brian O’Blivion (Creley), one of the in-crowds, but only gets further befuddled by the video cassettes he is offered to watch, which elicit the eeriest hallucination starting from a suddenly animated cassette and a throbbing TV set, into which he can submerge his face, then he rips his own abdomen open and puts a pistol inside. This is a high water-mark for special effects and makeup work, under the supervision of the now legendary Rick Baker, before things turn into more conventional bloodbath and repugnant viscous mutations (quite Cronenberg’s trademark) during Max’s killing spree when he is brainwashed into slaughtering his colleagues, until he is rescued by Bianca, and enlightened into a “leave the old flesh”rebellion towards those who are behind this largely unspecified conspiracy theory, and finally accepts his predestined fate, to embrace his new flash in a nihilistic finale.
By my lights, Videodrome is designed to eliminate those who are easily subjected to what it offers by fostering a certain brain tumor into the addicted viewers, so as to cull the deprived-minded from the mass and make North America strong again, which is an ingenious idea, but under the film’s succinct length and Cronenberg’s preference of stimulating our ocular sense, it doesn’t hit the mark.
The cast is utilitarian, James Woods can be very arresting on top of his everyman appearance, emblazoned by his maniac detachment; Debbie Harry, the leading singer of Blondie, is purely designed as a beacon of lust and self-destruction, heightened by the gratuitous nudity, and Peter Dvorsky, as Max’s tech-savvy sidekick Harlan, serves as a key conspirator as a well-conceived game-changer.
As an analog-era surreal horror, VIDEODROME bears the trappings of the epoch with the now obsolete video cassettes, cathode ray tubes and shoulder-padding garments, but what still remains as a hot-button topic is its savvy forewarning of the televised stimuli on individuals (amplified by Howard Shore’s perturbing score), now predominantly in the form of ubiquitous computer, laptop, pad, cell-phone screens, a trend seems to be unstoppable, it deeply shifts our way of assimilating information and communicating with others, not to mention, in the movie, there is also a prototype of VR helmet, as unwieldy and intimidating as it should be, we are expected to feel scary about it, but now, in 2017, many of us would take that gizmo immediately to luxuriate in a state of euphoria and get a kick into an unmapped un-reality so damning enthralling but also potentially perilous, yet, this is the future, and it is coming, which makes Cronenberg’s vintage horror a more reflective and trenchantly ironic fable.