Videodrome (1983) Movie Review
Written By: Angela DiLella
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
Director: David Cronenberg
Producers: Pierre David, Claude Heroux, and Victor Solnicki
Writers: David Cronenberg
Date Released: February 4, 1983
James Woods as Max Renn
Debbie Harry as Nicki Brand
Sonja Smits as Bianca O’Blivion
Jack Creley as Brian O’Blivion
Rating = 4/5 Graves
***May contain some spoilers***
Max Renn, CEO of a television station, discovers a series of tapes that feature violence and mind control. As he becomes more obsessed with the mystery of the Videodrome tapes, he begins to lose his grip on the world around him, not to mention his own body.
As one would expect from any David Cronenberg movie, Videodrome is just about as gory and disturbing as you can get in terms of body horror imagery. If you’re sensitive to such things at all, this isn’t the movie for you.
The Grave Review
David Cronenberg raises a simple question in Videodrome: what does media—more specifically, television—do to its viewer? He shows us a man actively warping from his perception of the world after viewing mysterious videotapes, where the stationary, inanimate parts of the world become more biological and his own body warps and eventually sprouts its own mechanical apparatus, melding him into an ugly mess of both. Cronenberg is upfront with his message outside of the evolving imagery, characters’ dialogue covers ideas like desensitizing and dehumanizing via media and personal psyche shaping the world outright, but it never feels as if he’s beating the viewer over the head with his ideas. The horrific visuals of bodies and inanimate items transforming, adapting, and becoming more like the other actively illustrates baldly spoken ideas so the reader can absorb the horror in the unusual world Cronenberg has created for his audience. Although many pieces of media have tried to illustrate the themes in this movie, Cronenberg appears to have done a much better job at pinning down the horror inherent than any other.
This bizarre movie has a dreamlike quality. While only a few characters feel like they could be people you could run into anytime, anywhere, even the unusual characters seem to fit. They seem to be operating within their own reality even within the movie, but here, it works, especially as Renn’s (James Woods) mental state slides ever downwards. James Woods does such a convincing job as a man going insane—or perhaps mutating as well—that he’s almost scarier than the visuals or the themes of the movie itself. I kept on having the eerie thought that he was real, or that his spiral downwards would be identical to real cases that culminated in workplace or school shootings if cases were compared.
Although Videodrome (1983) has been on my ‘to watch’ list for many years, this is my first time watching it, and I’m glad I never picked it up for a casual viewing session “just because.” I don’t think you could have a casual viewing of this movie. The theme is laid bare early on, but as I said, Cronenberg brings it home with the visuals in a way that I can’t compare to any other movie, horror or otherwise. If you’re a horror fan, you’ve probably seen clips of scenes where Renn is making out with his animate television whose lips are bulging to meet him or stills of him pulling things in and out of the rather yonic slit that opens in his stomach, but it just doesn’t compare to seeing it play out in front of you in real time. It is completely arresting in its seeming realness (not to mention its fluid marriage of hypersexuality and hyperviolence and biotic and abiotic transformations) and you can’t look away, much as Renn cannot look away from or escape his own television set and the messages it is broadcasting to him. The visuals and ideas presented in this way will stay with you long after the movie has ended.
The only weakness I can imagine with this film is that some of the effects meant to blur reality for the viewer, like CRT fuzziness, may not translate to a younger audience. Early on in the film, these were played with and suggested that Renn was already a little out of touch with the real world. I think for myself and many older viewers, this also paves the way for what we’re about to see—we recognize that look, and at this point, it’s almost nostalgic. It made me more receptive and more trusting of what I was about to see. A younger viewer who doesn’t have that CRT experience won’t go into it with that natural openness, though I don’t think a lack of familiarity will make or break the movie by any means. I would recommend watching it on a CRT television if you still have one (on VHS tape, if you’re really feeling brave), so the overall feeling of the movie doesn’t get muted at all.
For the foregoing reasons, Grave Reviews gives Videodrome (1983) four graves out of five graves.
Do you agree with our review of Videodrome (1983)? Comment below.