(1983) director David Cronenberg
Videodrome is very much a horror film of its era. It’s science fiction for your Betamax. But it’s also Cronenberg, which means it’s pretty far out. And it features some very iconic special effects from Rick Baker, which offers images that linger in the brain.
It stars a very young James Woods as an owner of an independent television channel who defines his brand with edginess and provocation. Fed up with soft-core pornography, he’s on the hunt for something more “out there” and disturbing and finally, a techie who works for him taps into a signal of “Videodrome”, a show that is essentially torture and snuff, though initially Woods thinks it’s a fabrication.
He meets Debbie Harry on a talk show and her kinkiness digs into the torture porn far more deeply than his own does.
But here’s the thing: once you start watching it, you start hallucinating, you develop a brain tumor, and the connection with television becomes physical. This is the Cronenberg of disease and the body and the wacky images that come with that bizarre obsession, such as Woods developing a 6 inch horizontal opening on his stomach into which guns can be lost and found.
There is a campiness to some of the proceedings, but there is a knowing level of humor as well, such as when one of the villain’s tells Woods, “You’ll forgive me if I don’t stay around to watch. I just can’t cope with the freaky stuff. ” That is a laugh out loud moment.
Technology, having changed so dramatically since 1983, has made this film, whose focus is technology, oddly quaint. The giant televisions, the huge VCR, the fact that it’s a cathode ray that delivers the infection really emphasizes the era of which it was made. I don’t know if that is necessarily a criticism, though science fiction usually tends to try to suggest ideas or fears that can carry forward, but this Videodrome is a nightmare of the early 1980’s. A time capsule of sorts, but still a very apt selection from Cronenberg’s oeuvre.
It’s also notable perhaps for the “Celebrity Skin” aspect of Debbie Harry. But maybe that is me dating myself.