January 1984 – Page 27
“Videodrome” – cable nightmare from Cronenburg
Written by: Martin Coxhead
From the man who brough you “Shivers” and “Scanners,” the sado-masochistic cable channel where the terror is real and its effect is devastating. Martin Coxhead looks at the high-tech shocker starring Debbie Harry and James Woods.
Previewed in this very magazine last April we can at last see David Cronenberg’s stunning “Videodrome”.
A movie about the cerebal “dangers” of a perverse cable TV station, it crosses the very fine line into a surreal and fascinating story in which we are never sure that what we are watching on the screen is part of the plot or a hallucination by one of the characters.
After all that praise, I must also say that its confused and badly-plotted but remains a brilliant, shocking movie.
James Woods (best known for his roles in “The Onion Field” and “The Janitor”) plays Max Renn, owner of a little cable TV station showing mild sex and violence. Being not too choosy in his material, most of it is pirated from the satellite transmissions of the world by his technician friend Harlan.
Whilst rummaging through the world’s broadcasts they stumble across “Videodrome” a weak signal emanating apparently from Malaysia, showing flagellation and torture. And it isn’t faked.
“Videodrome” starts to obsess Renn; he constantly watches it while indulging in sado masochistic love-making with Nikki Brand (Debbie Harry). Not content with watching the station, he delves deeper and deeper into “Videodrome”, while his life seems to be falling apart and he is having hallucinations. Then comes the truth. “Videodrome” does not come from Malaysia but America and is part of a sinister organisation dedicated to… but I’ve said too much.
Those familiar with Cronenberg’s work will know the physical and visceral excesses the man is capable of and his ideas, coupled with the special effects genius of Rick Baker, makes for some stunning sequences.
Renn starts to believe that he has a slit in his abdomen, into which he can insert video cassettes and be “programmed”, and thanks to the SFX crew we see just that. His hand becomes part of a gun as it drills into his palms and wrist, a TV set “commits suicide”, video cassettes live and breathe. The bizarre images are truly breathtaking.
The core of the plot is that the “Videodrome” signal is causing a tumour in Renn’s brain which is making him hallucinate. But what is real and what is not?
The cast are all excellent, especially Woods as the creepy Max Renn, a man slowly losing control of everything, and Debbie Harry as the perverse Nikki Brand. The love scenes between them are handled with an aura of sadistic eroticism which is very unsettling.
Perhaps the trouble with “Videodrome” is that there are just too many ideas and concepts in it, such is the richness of Cronenberg’s screenplay. There are bizarre ideas such as Professor O’Blivion, a TV “sage” who only communicates by video tape and has set up the “Cathode Ray Mission” where down-and-outs are fed and kept warm in cubicles with a television where they can get their video “fix”.
Many will be baffled by “Videodrome”, some irritated, a few nauseated, but it’s a brilliant and breath-taking movie which needs more than one viewing to be fully appreciated and understood.
“Videodrome” perhaps isn’t Cronenberg’s best film (that’s “The Brood” in my opinion) but it is compulsive, disturbing viewing. M.C.
January 1984 – Page 27