Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Frank Review of "Videodrome" (1983)

The Short Version? Too much television rots your brain.
What Is It? Horror/Sci-Fi
Who Is In It? James Woods, Blondie
Should I See It? Yes.

I first saw Videodrome at a young age on basic television, and if I was normal before (doubtful,) I certainly haven't been right since. This movie introduced me to his scummy majesty, James Woods, and the very concepts of body horror, sadomasochism and snuff. At a time when Playboy and Penthouse magazines were formulating my perception of human sexuality while violence was defined by Stallone and Schwarzenegger action fests, this David Cronenberg masterpiece was like an atomic explosion of incomprehensible depravity within my developing brain.

In that sense, I'm not unlike the film's protagonist, small time television broadcaster Max Renn. His Civic-TV is known for its controversial softcore pornography and hardcore violence, but even Renn is blown away by a pirate broadcast he picks up of seemingly real sadistic torture. Renn is drawn further into this "videodrome" by his new ladyfriend, played by Debbie Harry of the band Blondie, who gets off on the kink of it all. It should be clear from the onset that Videodrome is sinister in nature, which might explain why my Jesus loving father made me turn it off after fifteen minutes during a recent viewing attempt, and why my left-brain girlfriend was dissatisfied by the affair's end. As the story becomes increasingly hallucinatory, the mysterious conspiracy surrounding Videodrome deteriorates into dream logic, but who needs rational explanations when Renn's belly sprouts vagina dentata that swallows the nearest phallic symbol?

It's true though, that the technology dates the production. References to cathode rays, enormous television units built into furniture, Betamax libraries, and the sometimes clunky early work of Oscar-winning special effects master Rick Baker come off more quaint than one might hope. The once edgy sexual violence is now quite tame
by internet standards, and the once disorienting narrative is fairly linear after years of exposure to David Lynch and his successors. Still, the threat of Videodrome remains, and some of the practical effects are still mind boggling and stomach churning. Videodrome has been influential to the point of plagiarism (I'm looking especially at The Matrix, and I'm saying long live the new flesh.) Woods is as great as ever, Harry's stiffness suits her affected character, and the supporting cast is solid. Over a quarter-century later, Videodrome still manifests the predictions of McLuhan and Warhol that ring ever truer in our increasingly media-obsessed and deviancy inclined culture. Come to Videodrome. It wants you.

Finally, here's a more revealing trailer for the film, though after the swank '70s/'80s cheese above, I can't imagine you're bothering to keep reading before hitting your Netflix queue...

1 comment:

wiec? said...

definitely not the flick to watch with the rigorously religious.

thanks for the review. it re-reminded me that i need to rewatch it again.


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