Combustible Celluloid
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With: James Woods, Deborah Harry, Sonja Smits, Peter Dvorsky, Leslie Carlson, Jack Creley, Lynne Gorman, Julie Khaner, Reiner Schwartz, David Bolt, Lally Cadeau, Henry Gomez
Written by: David Cronenberg
Directed by: David Cronenberg
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 89
Date: 02/03/1983

Videodrome (1983)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Tape Heads

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Released in 1983, David Cronenberg's Videodrome now seems, with hindsight, one of his best and most prophetic films. A small-time cable channel programmer, Max Renn (James Woods) is a kind of sleaze merchant who plays porn on the airwaves. He's on the lookout for the next big thing, and he thinks he finds it in a program called "Videodrome," that features realistic whipping and torture. It turns out that the show doesn't exist and the tape that Max watched actually sends out a signal that causes brain tumors and hallucinations.

A woman he's just begun dating, a radio talk show host named Nicki (Deborah Harry), features prominently in his visions. Of course, once we find out about the hallucinations, we can't believe anything that we see. But the evil company that developed the program now has Max in its control. By inserting tapes into a slot in his stomach, they can control him and get him to assassinate certain competitors.

Videodrome depends heavily on its creepy visual effects to effectively transport us into its world. Artisan Rick Baker did a miraculous job on the pulsating tapes, the hole in Max's stomach, etc. Some of these effects may have dated a bit, but I far prefer the actual reality of latex and rubber to the cold, distant nature of computer graphics. True to Cronenberg's obsession with relationships between machinery and flesh, the director captures the worst-case scenario of what might happen at the dawn of the video era, going all the way back to our parents' warning us not to sit too close to the television.

In 2004, The Criterion Collection put the film back into its proper perspective with this landmark two-disc set, their third Cronenberg title after the now out-of-print Dead Ringers and last year's Naked Lunch. The film is presented in its 89-minute uncut version, which is the same version presented on Universal's previous DVD release, though this version is much cleaner. James Woods and Deborah Harry provide one commentary track, while Cronenberg and cinematographer Mark Irwin contribute a second.

Disc One also includes Cronenberg's phenomenal short film Camera, which was prepared for the 2000 Toronto Film Festival and has an uncanny relevance to Videodrome. Disc Two includes a new making-of featurette (27 minutes), an audio interview with Rick Baker, complete "Videodrome" footage, plus the other "bootleg" footage Max shows on his cable channel in the film, a roundtable discussion on horror films from 1982 featuring John Landis, John Carpenter and Cronenberg, trailers and promotional featurettes and an enormous still gallery.

In 2010, Criterion released Videodrome on a Blu-Ray, with all of these extras plus a gorgeous new picture and uncompressed mono soundtrack. A liner notes booklet has essays by Carrie Rickey, Tim Lucas, and Gary Indiana.

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