“Television is reality, and reality is less than television.”
In a compulsive effort to expand by Blu-Ray collection, I was intrigued by the Criterion release of Cronenberg’s Videodrome. I think body horror is exciting in a niche sort of way, and I’ve been meaning to get more into Cronenberg, so I dived into the film with high hopes. I was pleasantly surprised by what I found in Videodrome: a strange tale of psychosexual obsession and the postmodern horror of mass media.
Max Renn (James Woods) is a sleazy TV executive who specializes in softcore pornography and shock value entertainment. He finds a mysterious signal, seemingly from Malaysia, transmitting a transfixing program known as Videodrome: a program where torturous sex dominates the screen. Renn becomes transfixed by the program, and he falls down an unsettling rabbit hole of delusion and deception while trying to discover the truth behind what might be a sinister psychological conspiracy.
Renn’s delusions are the meat of the film, where Cronenberg really shines. His trademark body horror takes on a technological spin. The most memorable image is Renn’s chest splitting apart to receive and eject VCR tapes. I get tiresome of movies where the central question is whether or not the events are just psychological, and Videodrome sort of carries this same issue, but I like that it owns up to this trope and lets you know early on that delusions are central to the story and should be expected. Cronenberg’s talent in photographing these delusions is unquestionable, and if you prefer your horror to be twisted and surreal as opposed to the conventional “suspenseful and chilling,” Cronenberg is certainly your man.
I like the deterministic vibe that the movie gives off. Especially once you start to piece together the mystery of the film, the events seem perfectly suited to follow each other, and everything builds into a horrifying mess. I appreciate when horror is clean, as in You’re Next where every loose end is tied and every beat crafted to perfection, but I also have a soft spot for big messy train wrecks, and Cronenberg pulls off a wondrous train wreck with this movie. Horror comes from moments: from twisted imagery. The story clearly only serves to support those moments, but it works nonetheless, and I’m also a sucker for movies about conspiracies, so my interest was always firmly held.
The movie also stuck with me in a very personal way as body horror aims to do. Something about seeing the human form disfigured and twisted where the soul loses all control- it’s unsettling in a long-lasting way. I found myself most uncomfortable as the credits rolled and the home screen of the Blu-Ray flashed back into view. The horror behind Videodrome is the television, the media itself. I feel like the movie begs to be watched not on the big screen but on a television in your comfortable space for this reason. Not only does Cronenberg frighten you through fear of your body, but also through fear of your cable box (or Netflix account, I suppose).
Videodrome isn’t a perfect movie, and it never felt like conventionally awesome horror to me, but I feel that’s not how Cronenberg cares to be described. The movie delights in its sloppy construction and demented images, and those are the things that will stick with me the most.
Films Left to Watch: 845