(1983, David Cronenberg)
“It’s just torture and murder. No plot, no characters.”
OK, I’m going to just straight up say it. I always add a quote to these reviews, something that sums up something with the review and/or film. In this case, the quote may as well be my review. Because that’s pretty much all I have to say about it. That and the fact that I came away from Videodrome feeling completely lost and confused.
This head trip of a movie stars James Woods as Max Renn, a sleazy executive at Channel 83, a backwater satellite channel devoted to showing softcore pornography and hardcore violence, the kind of gritty stuff the mainstream channels wouldn’t touch with a ten foot bargepole. One day, he intercepts a pirate broadcast of a TV show depicting mindless torture, and he is determined to get it placed onto his channel, and seeks to locate its source. However, as he gets closer, he begins to experience strange hallucinations and a gaping vaginal hole appears in his torso. And that’s round about the time I lose track of what the hell is happening.
You see, Videodrome has a fantastic concept, and in these days of increased media manipulation (the Leveson Inquiry has been a big factor of raising the issue in the UK) a film like this could have seemed prophetic, as well as offering up a debate of where we draw the line with censorship. Except in practice, it’s a concept that’s poorly executed. Round about the halfway mark, the film loses all sense of coherence and devolves into weird special effects and obtuse nonsensical dialogue and events.
Films don’t necessarily need to lead you by the hand to be entertaining and watchable, but there still needs to be something to cling to in order to help you put the pieces together. Videodrome seems to lack this entirely. At the halfway point, everything stops making sense. It’s possible the entire movie from this point on is merely another of Max’s hallucinations, but the fact it does reveal a few sensible plot twists throws this theory into question too. It feels, largely, like Cronenberg was making it up as he went along.
The effects, it must be said, are effective. They’re suitably gory and creepy, but ultimately they’re used for nothing in particular. Max gets a giant vagina in his abdomen that can receive videotapes. A hand comes out of a TV holding a gun. Another gun fuses gruesomely to Max’s hand through spikes driven through his fingers. But ultimately these scenes are meaningless. They don’t seem to achieve anything in the grand scheme of things. There doesn’t even seem to be a grand scheme of things. I have no objection to ambiguous, seemingly nonsensical movies (I’m a big fan of David Lynch, for example), but when the film doesn’t seem to be able to make up its mind about what it wants to be representing, it feels frustrating.
Overall, it feels like the movie was made to elicit the same shock value that Channel 83’s critics within the movie object to, but rather than doing this cleverly in a satirical or knowing style, the whole movie just feels like a dumb b-movie but without the requisite hammy acting to make it watchable. In fact, James Woods is just that – wooden. As previously stated, there’s a good message in here somewhere, it just got lost along the way.
After how much I enjoyed The Fly, I was genuinely expecting something good here from Cronenberg, but I was massively disappointed.
Starring James Woods, Debbie Harry, Les Carlson, Jack Creley, Sonja Smits & Peter Dvorsky
Written by David Cronenberg
Produced by Claude Heroux
Music score by Howard Shore
Cinematography by Mark Irwin
Edited by Ronald Sanders
Favourite Scene: I didn’t have one, sorry. I suppose Debbie Harry’s attractive enough to make her scenes watchable, but then again if that’s my reason, I may as well be watching a Blondie video. And the lyrics of “Rapture” make a lot more sense anyway.
Scene That Bugged Me: As soon as Max has a videotape inserted into his stomach vagina (seriously, I’m struggling to make it not sound ridiculously stupid) all sense of coherency flies out of the movie and never returns.
Watch it if: You’re now curious as to what I mean by a “stomach vagina”
Avoid it if: You’re baffled by the unexplained concept of “the new flesh”
Originally posted Thursday 15 December 2011