Friday, September 04, 2015

Review: Videodrome (1983)

The work of David Cronenberg deserves a place in every film fan's collection, and here Arrow release one of his most intriguing films, Videodrome, along with a package of extras which is guaranteed to set film fans on a high.

First of all, the film. It's a strange beast, and continues Cronenberg's obsession/interest with transformative body horror. In Rabid it was a blood-drinking barb under the armpit, in The Brood it was babies being born outside of the body as extensions of rage, and of course The Fly is all about the change ... but in Videodrome, it's about how television waves can make you develop a brain tumour and give you hallucinations ...  It's poor James Woods who gets the brunt of it. He plays Max Renn who runs a television station and he stumbles across what appears to be a pirate broadcast of a show called Videodrome wherein young women are tortured and killed. He becomes more and more fascinated by the show, and is also intrigued by Nicki Brand (played by Debbie Harry) who he starts a relationship with and discovers has a propensity towards masochism. As the story plays out, so we (and he) discover that Videodrome doesn't really exist, it's been targeted at him by a company called Spectacular Optical run by Barry Convex (Leslie Carlson). He hallucinates his own television coming to life, and a video tape slot opens in his stomach into which tapes can be inserted to 'programme' him ... Convex programmes him to kill all opposition to Videodrome and he murders his own colleagues at the television station. He also tries to kill Bianca O'Blivion (Sonja Smits) (who runs a mission wherein homeless are made to watch television) but she manages to reprogramme him to kill Convex.  It all comes to a head on a deserted boat, where Max finds he must sacrifice himself for the sake of 'the new flesh' ...

It's a rocky ride, and the effects (courtesy of Rick Baker) are quite astonishing. But the film's narrative is hard to follow as you're never sure what is hallucination and what is real. This was also explored in Cronenberg's later eXistenZ, and one ends up wondering if even the Director knew ... or whether it really matters anyway. James Woods is great in the lead, starting as a television executive looking for the next big thing, and ending up as a controlled puppet of those who want to try and spread their own 'religion' via their hypnotic neural network.  Debbie Harry, lead singer with the band Blondie, does well here too, playing a seductive pawn to James. It's not clear whether she is in on it all, or indeed whether she really exists at all ...

In addition to the main film presentation, the package also contains a set of four of Cronenberg's early films. There's Transfer (1966) and From the Drain (1967) which are short films, and Stereo (1969) and Crimes of the Future (1970) which are longer. I'm not a film historian, but I'm sure these are very interesting to those who like to study and look for themes in a director's work. Personally I found them a little raw - they are mostly silent, with narration and sound effects added, and in all cases are fairly impenetrable to understand. I totally understand why they have been included though, and applaud their release.

Overall, it's another great package from Arrow, with lots of love and care on all aspects of the release of one of Cronenberg's most acclaimed films.


  • ·         Restored high-definition digital transfer of the unrated version, approved by director David Cronenberg and cinematographer Mark Irwin
  • ·         Audio commentary by Tim Lucas, the on-set correspondent for Cinefantastique Magazine and author of Videodrome: Studies in the Horror Film
  • ·         David Cronenberg and the Cinema of the Extreme – A documentary programme featuring interviews with Cronenberg, George A. Romero and Alex Cox on Cronenberg’s cinema, censorship and the horror genre
  • ·         Forging the New Flesh – A documentary programme by filmmaker Michael Lennick on Videodrome’s video and prosthetic make up effects
  • ·         Videoblivion: A brand new interview with cinematographer Mark Irwin
  • ·         A brand new interview with producer Pierre David
  • ·         AKA Jack Martin – Dennis Etchison, author of novelizations of Videodrome, Halloween, Halloween II and III and The Fog, discusses Videodrome and his observations of Cronenberg’s script
  • ·         The complete uncensored Samurai Dreams footage with additional Videodrome broadcasts with optional commentary by Michael Lennick
  • ·         Helmet Test and Betamax – Two featurettes by Michael Lennick on effects featured in the film
  • ·         Camera (2000) Cronenberg’s short film starring Videodrome’s Les Carlson
  • ·         Fear on Film: A round table discussion from 1982 with Cronenberg, John Carpenter, John Landis and Mick Garris
  • ·         Promotional featurette with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with Cronenberg, James Woods, Deborah Harry and Rick Baker
  • ·         Original theatrical trailer


  • ·         High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of four Cronenberg films
  • ·         Transfer (1966) & From the Drain (1967), Cronenberg’s previously unavailable short films newly restored by the Toronto International Film Festival [7 & 12 mins]
  • ·         Stereo (1969) & Crimes of the Future (1970): Cronenberg’s early amateur feature films, shot in and around his university campus, prefigure his later work’s concerns with strange institutions (much like Videodrome’s Spectacular Optical) as well as male/female separation (Dead Ringers) and ESP (Scanners). Newly restored from original lab elements [65 & 70 mins]
  • ·         Transfer the Future – Author and critic Kim Newman discusses Cronenberg’s early works


·         An illustrated 100-page hardback book featuring new writing including Justin Humphreys on Videodrome in a modern context, Brad Stevens on the alternate versions, Caelum Vatnsdal on Cronenberg’s early works, extracts from Cronenberg on Cronenberg featuring Cronenberg’s reminiscences of getting started in filmmaking and shooting all the films in this collection, plus more, illustrated with original archive stills

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