Dir. David Cronenberg. Run Time: 87 mins. MA15+
David Cronenber’s high-camp rumination on sex, violence, politics, and media-culture is a strange journey through the realms of low-sci-fi, high-horror, gross-out, and a myriad of other sensational modes of film making. James Woods somewhat woodenly plays Max Renn, a sleazy cable television station manager who unwittingly becomes embroiled in one of the most ludicrous plots to ever be brought to the screen.
It is, apparently, the near future and a certain section of society has become hopelessly addicted to the omnipresent television cathode rays, but one company has taken things a step further and is using video cassettes of torture footage to cause hallucinations and control the minds of the world. Yes, this film makes about as much sense as that sentence.
The ostensible plot, however, is not what you’re really meant to focus on with Videodrome. The politics and doom and gloom prophecies are the real impetus for the film, but they too come across as about a ridiculous as the story that they fit within. I mean, desensitisation and dehumanisation are both good topics and they have been explored very well by some of the great directors (notably Kubrick with Full Metal Jacket (1987)), but Cronenberg handles these themes with about as much subtlety and tact as he handles his body-horror. The film is rife with proselytising, strange plot leaps, and unjustifiable character reactions not made any better the pathos-drenched acting by the main cast.
The horror aspects of the movie, however, are spot on when one wants a piece of schlock cinema to really have some fun with. Beta-max tapes inserted into abdominal wounds, S&M brutality, hands turning into living guns: Cronenberg delivers all of the body-horror that one could want and the special effects a stunning in their grotesque realism. There is no defining moment of absolutely delicious brutality like the head explosion of Scanners (1981), but Videodrome manages to deliver a steady stream of cover-your-eyes moments.
I think, this is where the real charm of a film like this lies. It is objectively a bad film in terms of plot and narrative structure, but one doesn’t watch it for great art; one watches it precisely because it is bad. A great film to load up on popcorn and friends and kick back on the couch one midnight and watch in the darkness and good-humour that only awful horror can allow. It’s funny in how serious it takes itself and it delivers a constant stream of gut-churning gore which somehow also become hilarious in their cartoonish caricature of real violence.
This, dear readers, is one of the great video nasties of our time, and it is one which continues to hold onto its reputation as a pretentious piece of schlock long after the bar for violence was set much higher by the ensuing wave of horror films, and that, to my mind, makes it well worth watching. It is for this reason that I’ve decided to go ahead and rate this film twice: one rating for the criteria of what goes into making an actually good film, and another for the enjoyability of complete ludicrousness. On the first it must be said that Videodrome is complete tripe, but on the second… well, you’ll just have to watch it for yourself and make up your own mind.
SIDENOTE: Videodrome is listed at #695 on the list of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
SCHLOCK METER: 87%
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