tue 13/04/2021

DVD: Videodrome | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Videodrome

DVD: Videodrome

David Cronenberg's vision of body horror and video sleaze retains its power

On the box: Max Renn (James Woods) and Nikki Brand (Debbie Harry)

I walked out of Videodrome into Soho’s neon in 1983, and felt the film’s hallucinatory visions had infected the street. It’s one of a handful of times a film has shifted my mind. David Cronenberg’s crowning achievement before, as critic Kim Newman notes in a documentary extra, he diluted his work by adapting others’, it retains a cohesive, grubby surreality.

I walked out of Videodrome into Soho’s neon in 1983, and felt the film’s hallucinatory visions had infected the street. It’s one of a handful of times a film has shifted my mind. David Cronenberg’s crowning achievement before, as critic Kim Newman notes in a documentary extra, he diluted his work by adapting others’, it retains a cohesive, grubby surreality.

We are in the early days of VCRs, clandestine cable networks and easily transmitted, contraband imagery. Max Renn (James Woods) is on the hunt for filth to get ratings for his low-budget channel, and is passed a sadomasochist snuff tape. His new lover, radio relationship-counsellor Nikki Brand (Debbie Harry), disappears to Pittsburgh hoping to participate, and Max, slipping in and out of hallucinations since viewing the tape, inserts a gun into a vaginal slit in his stomach, taking sides as video puritans and evangelists battle over secret, cancerous transmissions.

Max, slipping in and out of hallucinations, inserts a gun into a vaginal slit in his stomach

James Woods is feral, wired and wisecracking in Cronenberg’s most hiply funny film. Debbie Harry, hoping to fulfil childhood dreams of film stardom as Blondie faded, became gamely notorious for stubbing a cigarette on her breast, and adds the seductiveness Cronenberg wanted his extreme ideas to have. Documentaries taken from a previous Criterion release recall this as a golden age of mechanical and make-up effects, physically constructing the alarming new sights of Videodrome, its exact contemporary The Thing, and An American Werewolf in London. Like Clive Barker, just starting as a short story writer, Cronenberg felt his “new, unimagined imagery” had to be shown. It represents TV and video as “a giant hallucination machine” cracking open “the neural floodgates”. Our digitised reality’s clean, bodiless surface completes the Videodrome project.

Arrow’s dual format reissue also digitally remasters a disc of Cronenberg’s first four short films. They contain the seeds of more famous work, though mostly lacking the visceral, dirty power of the body horror films which climaxed with Videodrome. All are worth seeing, and the latest early work, Crimes of the Future, is already gripping and transgressive.

James Woods is feral, wired and wisecracking in Cronenberg’s most hiply funny film

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters