There are some films that I saw when I was a little younger. thirty-odd years. back that I wondered what the writer/director was on. Then again, my parents were away, I was on holiday, had the loan of a video recorder from a mate and I was working my way through the local video shop’s genre selection, focusing mostly on films that hadn’t reached TV and this was my first experience of a David Cronenberg film. I knew of him from reading ‘Fangoria’ but knew I wouldn’t be seeing much of him on TV at the time.
‘Videodrome’ was amongst them and I guess I was getting a little worn down and then it grabbed me. Right through the stomach. Well, actually, it was more like Nicki Brand (singer/first acting role Debbie Harry from ‘Blondie’) who was into kinky snuff sex and the pursuit of the new Videodrome illicit videos that became compulsive viewing and Max Renn (actor James Wood) wanted to put it on his TV civic channel 83, nor realising that he was being manipulated and well…how much do you want to know? The plot bounces around in your head the more times you get to see it. As a horror film, this film is spoiler all the way with the ultimate twist at the end and how can I not surprise anyone who hasn’t seen it before. Although the medium used looks like videotapes, it is for the most part downloaded off something we might call the Internet today but that didn’t exist outside of universities at the time.
James Wood is very good at playing seedy characters but compulsive watching. Probably something to do with his dead eyes. It was enough for me to watch ‘Best Seller’ in the same week where he played an assassin, so he obviously sank in that he was worth a second look.
At long last, ‘Videodrome’ is out on blu-ray with a load of extras. Watching the film will not allow your gut to open so you can hide a gun or tape in it. Surprisingly, it still holds well together, despite the fact that videos are nearly an obsolete recording device these days. I’m not really sure if it could be re-made today. I mean, ‘DVDdrome’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it but the term ‘video’ is still bandied around. Saying that, ‘Videodrome’ is still effective. It is only the means to an end. Would people become addicted to watching sadistical violent sex? With all the scandals and availability today, maybe. After all, back in the 1980s, there was no such thing as an Internet. Even so, this film holds up remarkably well and if you haven’t sampled Cronenberg, then this will either want you looking for more or warn you to be careful with horror films that don’t have a happy ending, although that is perhaps more the norm these days.
Cronenberg is significant because he contributed big scale to the change in that attitude. If you want to see the special effects work of Rick Baker, then you’re in for a treat from him and the other visual effects crews involved. As ‘Videodrome’ is an urban horror film and it could be happening around the corner, there is always the thought that it could happen to you.
The blu-ray extras are drawn from various sources, including UK’s own BBC channel. I have vague memories of this piece at the time back in the 1990s as I think this was the only time that they did a Cronenberg season. Cronenberg and, indeed, George Romero and Alex Cox, in the same feature, point out that up until the 1980s, horror tended to follow a predictable path and you can anticipate the ending. With ‘Videodrome’, you were never sure how it was going to end and that’s what raised the scariness. Cronenberg also brought horror to the 20th century and it could happen a street away from you. Didn’t I just say that? ‘Videodrome’ will get under your skin enough to make sure you check that your belly isn’t hiding anything.
The extra on special effects covers the three teams involved and how they worked with each other with special effects man Michael Lennick doing the introductions. As Rick Baker points out, it was Frank Corere who made an organ keyboard work with air pumps to make things ripple and saved him a lot of puffing and blowing.
As part of the ‘Take One’ series, Mick Garris interviews together Cronenberg, John Carpenter and John Landis in their approach to horror films and how much they wouldn’t show to juniors back in the 80s. ‘Videodrome’ was still in production at the time and all three of them contemplative, especially about the fact that violence was allowed far more than any sex scene. Cronenberg pointing out how straight-laced Canada had became is especially telling although whether it’s the same today, you will have to tell me. I still find it a little odd that a particular branch of adults want to stop other adults from watching adult content films.
Michael Lennick pops up again with the shorter features. I loved the explanation of why a Betamax tape and not a VHS tape was used but don’t try it at home. There is also the complete viewing of ‘Samurai Dreams’ instead of the part that ended up in the film. No mention is made of the footage done for the ‘Videodrome’ snuff movie but that might just glamorise it.
There is also an audio commentary from Tim Lucas, who wrote a book about the film and was present while it was being filmed and gives insight into what he saw and interviewed. More so, he points out that some cuts were made for TV viewing so you might not have seen it whole anyway until now.
Lest we forget, there are interviews with director of photography Mark Irwin, who has worked a lot with Cronenberg; producer Pierre David and novelisation writer Dennis Etchison who wrote under the name of Jack Martin.
I’ve given ‘Videodrome’ a couple viewings since it came in and it’s still a shocker that put the defining edge on how to make a really scary movie that you will only watch at night or when the curtains are drawn. It’s also out on DVD. You can’t get away from it. Long live the new flesh.
(region B/2: pub: Arrow Films. 1 blu-ray disk. 89 minute film with extras. ASIN: B01555NYG6)
cast: James Wood, Sonja Smith and Deborah Harry
check out website: www.arrowfilms.co.uk