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The Test of Time: Videodrome (1983)

12.01.2016by: Ryan Doom

We all have certain movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? Do they remain must see? So…the point of this column is to determine how a film holds up for a modern horror audience, to see if it stands the Test of Time.

Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: James Woods, Sonja Smits, and Debbie Harry

Psychological horror isn’t anything new. In fact, probably all horror films have psychological elements lurking within, but some obviously push that elements more than others do. Case in point: David Cronenberg, a filmmaker who truly seems to love diving into the crazy. While the new film INCARNATE (opening this weekend) no doubt hopes to recapture a little of the Cronenberg nuttiness, I somehow doubt it’ll come close …especially compared to one of his strangest mindf*cks ever. But does it still hold up against the Test of Time?

Under the examination: VIDEODROME.

That's a true TV fetish.

THE STORY: Max Renn (James Woods) is quite a guy. He’s got a good gig as the head of a TV channel called Civic TV, but he’s also a complete sleaze since he seeks to push the boundaries of television with extreme sex and violence. He ends up finding something called Videodrome, which at first he thinks is snuff until things start to get…weird. After digging around, he learns that Videodrome can change reality with video hallucinations. At the same time, he meets a new woman in masochist Nicki (rock icon Debbie Harris) who is turned on by Videodrome and wants to audition for a role. Will she get a part? Or will she end up dead? And can Max just start showing COLUMBO reruns instead? It seems like that would be a lot easier.

She's probably watching a Blondie video. Or The Thompson Twins.

WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: You know, people bitch a lot about how there’s a serious lack of original ideas in films. That’s something that no one can claim about VIDEODROME. Written and directed by David Cronenberg as his follow-up to SCANNERS, this could be one of his most bizarrely surreal and original films.

What’s great about VIDEODROME is the forward thinking ideas within it. The idea that we would all live through TV, that we would want to become lost in virtual reality. Sure, things look a bit dated (like the use of Betamax tapes or when Max puts on that special helmet), but the theme ends up being about the dangers of the content that we consume, and there is nothing dated about that.

A normal couple.

I have to admit I didn’t always track with the plot as reality gets bent A LOT. However, at least Cronenberg introduces character Professor Brian O'Blivion, the creator of Videodrome, who gives a good explanation: “The battle for the mind of North America will be fought in the video arena: the Videodrome. The television screen is the retina of the mind's eye. Therefore, the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain. Therefore, whatever appears on the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore, television is reality, and reality is less than television.” Got that?

Oh, and then there’s the absolutely fantastic gore and special effects by legendary Rick Baker. Filmmakers might be able to create whatever they want today with CGI, but there’s something special about practical effects, and no one did them better than Baker (I especially love the sequences with Max’s stomach vagina and his flesh gun hand).

James Woods sure looks hungry.

WHAT BLOWS NOW: One thing is for sure: Either folks dig Cronenberg or they don’t. His brand of darkness and gore isn’t for everyone, and neither is his plot structure. I have to admit there were more than a few times that I didn’t have a clue what was happening or why. For example, toward the end when a character inserts a new video into Max’s stomach vagina, Max somehow hyper focuses to turn his stomach into a bomb to blow up the character. Say what?

And like any film that bends reality and fantasy, it’s often difficult to figure out which is which. Usually, I never have a problem rolling with surreal ideas as long as the film keeps moving and the characters remain interesting. But I don’t think the character of Max remains compelling by the third act when under the full control of the Videodrome. What’s real? What’s not? Which character do we believe? Which one’s shouldn’t we? Even more so, do we give a shit by the end whether Max can escape this altered reality? I sure didn’t.

Walking Dead ain't got shit on that.

THE VERDICT: VIDEODROME isn’t Cronenberg’s best, but it’s a damn fine example of what the man was able to do so well throughout the 1980s. He found ways to shove the boundaries of sex and violence, to make viewers uncomfortable while still pushing a social theme. It might not be something I’d watch every Sunday with my folks, but thanks to Cronenberg’s ballsy writing and directing, great performances by Woods and Harris, and special special effects by Baker, it still holds up just fine.

GET VIDEODROME BLU RAY HERE

GET VIDEODROME DVD HERE

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