Review: Videodrome (1983)

Videodrome (1983)
Director: David Cronenberg

“Long live the new flesh.” James Woods (Vampires) plays a sleazy television executive – as if there’s any other kind – looking for the next big thing when he stumbles upon a pirated broadcast, the eponymous Videodrome. Featuring torture and murder, Videodrome instantly begins to fascinate him and his new masochistic girlfriend, played by Deborah Harry of Blondie (Super 8). As Woods begins to investigate the source of the signal, he stumbles onto a man who lives only on video tape, a church that treats the homeless with endless hours of television, and the fact that Videodrome produces a brain tumor that causes violent hallucinations.

Finding that the signal originates in Pittsburgh (is that really such a surprise?) Woods begins to investigate the reality of these broadcasts and disappearance of Harry. Eventually, he becomes a pawn in an ongoing war for control of the future, with much delightfully disgusting Cronenberg body-horror along the way. Highlights include a vagina in Woods’ stomach, a literal hand grenade, and death by cancer-causing flesh bullet (I think it was Freud who said a flesh bullet is never just a flesh bullet). Warning: personal enjoyment of this kind of thing may vary.

It’s not hard to see the way Cronenberg predicted our modern media landscape, from reality television to YouTube. What else is the “new flesh” but our modern lives lived anonymously over the computer? As people give more and more of their lives over to technology, so much so, that even in the poorest towns in third world countries you can find people with cell phones, it’s reasonable to wonder what this all means for the future and to feel a certain fear for our humanity. It’s this part of the movie that feels the most relevant and engaging. Not to mention the always enjoyable Woods and those special effects provided by master Rick Baker (The Howling) mentioned before.

However, there’s always something about stories emphasizing the dangers of technology that comes across as a little silly and retrograde. Were there plays about the dangers of radio when it was first introduced? Did people tap out stories where telegraphs merge with humans, one dot and dash at a time? Anytime new technology is invented, someone is going to write a story showing the dark side of said technology, and it will always wind up looking a little dated and goofy (I’m looking at youThe Net.) It’s kinda hard here not to laugh when several scenes involve evil, pulsating Betamax tapes.

The story also gets a little too bogged down in its philosophies. There doesn’t need to be clear delineations of good and evil but the differences between various factions in this movie is hard to parse. One wants to use the Videodrome signal as a weapon (I think), the other wants to welcome members into a new reality of life-everlasting on video (or something like that). No movie needs to spoon feed morals and lessons, or even clarity, but it’s hard to see a point other than “too much television is bad.” Sex and violence aren’t the future of entertainment, they’re as old as humanity itself.

Still, the power and seduction of Videodrome is undeniable. All you have to do is walk down the street and watch people unable to put down their smartphones to wonder if the future predicted in this movie is already here. Cronenberg has style and talent to spare and it’s easy to get sucked in, kinda like Woods pushing his face into an undulating television screen. If a brain tumor is the result, then long live the new flesh.

- David Kempski

1 comment:

  1. I have to agree. Videodrome is dated but it is campy, good fun! You can't look away. Woods really excels at playing the smarmy execs.