Videodrome (1983)

I think I’d love to get into the mind of David Cronenberg. He, the writer-director of Videodrome, must have some wonderful ideas bouncing around inside there. And by “wonderful,” I mean “wonderfully deranged,” because that is the best way I can describe Videodrome. Oh, it has actual thoughts and themes, but it’s mostly going to be remembered and appreciated for being incredibly bizarre, surreal, and really creepy. It’s not particularly scary, mind you, but it might make you feel like you, yourself, are hallucinating, and that it’s not just the protagonist undergoing such an effect.

Our lead is Max Renn (James Woods), the president of Channel 83, which is an independent channel dedicated to providing its viewers with the most violent and pornographic content that it can find and get away with—as long as it’s “safe.” One day, his pirate satellite intercepts a show called “Videodrome.” He wants to broadcast it, and sends someone to find out how to get it. She returns, only to tell him it’s dangerous and he shouldn’t bother. What do you think happens?

This intrigues him more. So do the hallucinations he’s started to have. Soon enough, it’s not just about finding the creators of Videodrome to find out if he can broadcast it; he wants to know what it did to him, how it did it, and why. As the film progresses, his visions become more violent and insane. How much of Videodrome actually happens, and how much is in his head, is one of the running themes. You’re never quite sure exactly what has actually happened; the television has had its impact on his mind.

The effect of television and media on an audience is one of the central ideas about which Videodrome muses. And, given that the main character begins suffering hallucinations which may or may not drive him to violent behavior as a result, I figure you can determine what it has to say about that. I mean, there’s a point at which Max becomes “programmed” by other people, which is represented by inserting a video tape into his stomach. This is just one of its lovely and disturbing images by which I was captivated.

Videodrome is a truly bizarre movie. It overwhelms your senses with its weirdness.

There are some truly great shots in Videodrome. Some of them involve visual effects, which are stunning by themselves, while others just manage to frame things in such a way as to make them creepier than they should be. Someone watching a television set shouldn’t be that engaging of an experience, but because of the way that Cronenberg sets it up and shoots it, it is. And that’s before the TV starts to morph into a monstrosity. Then it does that, and you’re going to be creeped out and impressed by what you see.

You have to wonder how acting in a film like this would work. James Woods does a good job as our protagonist, although a “good job” consists of looking at the same creepy things that we see, and reacting the same way we would. He really is our conduit into this world. I wouldn’t put it past Cronenberg to not show some of the effects that he and his creative team put together, only to then release them upon his actors and capture their genuine reactions—which often involves a lot of confusion and shuddering.

Many people are not going to like Videodrome. It’s built around its images, and even though they have a point to make—they aren’t just an artist showing off, although I honestly think that would be okay here, too—they’ll turn a bunch of people away. Videodrome is too weird for a lot of the population. They’ll be turned off and won’t even begin to meditate on what the whole point is. And once that happens, the film will have lost them. That’ll be too bad, but this isn’t mainstream cinema.

Videodrome is a truly bizarre movie. Whether you want to accept its ideas about televisions effects on its viewers or not, it’s hard to overlook the completely insane effects that this film contains. By the midway point, you’ll begin to wonder if you’re hallucinating what you’re seeing, or if it is all just a movie. And maybe that’s the whole point. Maybe not. It overwhelms your senses with its weirdness. You should see it if you’re okay with being creeped out.

Conclusion: Videodrome is almost too weird to be believed.

Recommendation: If you want a trippy movie, Videodrome is a must-see.

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