David Cronenberg is no stranger to the horror genre and fans definitely know who he is. Having delivered a string of brilliant genre films steeped with gory practical effects and biting social commentary, Cronenberg decided to next tackle a story about the potential danger of TV taking over people’s lives. This film would be called Videodrome. Starring a young James Woods, it would get released to horrendous reviews from critics and ultimately become a box office bomb. But as fate would have, years would pass and appreciation for this film would grow to the point of its current status today, which is being considered one of the most iconic Cronenberg films, one of the best horror films, and a classic of cinema in general. Got to be a little impressed considering the whole stomach vagina thing in this movie.
This film works because of three key things: story, practical effects, and social commentary. Starting with the first, the movie deals with a television studio executive looking for something extreme to put on his network. It’s a simple, engaging story which quickly spirals out of control. Keeping us anchored through this wild, hallucinatory journey is an outstanding performance by James Woods. He is utterly captivating and helps keep you invested. Now, the commentary. Unlike what I’ve been seeing in more recent films, Cronenberg does a tremendous job of mixing the story evenly with his commentary. The commentary in this case being the potential effects of people constantly watching media which is becoming increasingly more violent and sexual. Something which was both relevant in the time it came out and to this very day. Best part, instead of providing the audience with answers, the film asks you to make you own decision on where you stand on this issue. Finally, the practical effects. This film is possibly filled with some of the most iconic of Cronenberg’s career. From the aforementioned stomach vagina to the bad guy’s exploding tumors and gross looking gun infused hand; the effects still hold up and look great.
Personally, like many other horror fans, I find this to be one of Cronenberg’s best. Filled with iconic imagery, anchored by a great performance in our leading man, and a story which keeps you guessing; Videodrome is a horror classic. And if there’s one thing you must remember by film’s end: “Death to Videodrome. Long live the new flesh.”
Videodrome is an odd watch, that's for sure. It's a biting satire about the desensitization of the video age and uses body horror as a metaphor for video and TV literally taking over our lives. But it's also difficult to follow and highly anticlimactic, and it if it wasn't for David Cronenberg's mind-bending makeup effects, I think my score for this film might've been lower. James Woods's performance is stellar, but no other characters really stand out. Frankly, I expected far more from this 80's cult favorite.
So far as I can tell, Videodrome is about a sleazy TV exec who is trying to find the next big shocking thing he can put on his controversial TV channel. When he discovers a pirated torture porn show called Videodrome, he begins to hallucinate violent, gruesome things as his mind unravels. As the film progresses, we come to realize that Videodrome is actually a coded signal from a government project to create assassins by brainwashing people who survive the initial viewing. Huh? That's where the film lost me. It's really the effects that save the film, and those have always been Cronenberg's bread and butter anyway. The vaginal slit that opens up on Max's (Woods) stomach, the explosion of tumors that decimates the bad guy, and the fleshy TV screen are just a few that stand out as some of the weirdest, most unsettling images I've seen in a horror movie.
Videodrome isn't terrible, but it's far from perfect. It's just a bit confusing and falls away from the satirical element in the second half, almost going full Manchurian Candidate. For horror aficionados, it's a must-see for its cult status alone. For casual film fans, this might be one to skip. Death to Videodrome. Long live the new flesh.