Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #316
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: February 4, 1983
Sub-Genre: Sci-Fi/Body Horror
Country of Origin: Canada
Box Office: $2,120,439
Running Time: 87 minutes
Director: David Cronenberg
Producer: Claude Héroux
Screenplay: David Cronenberg
Special Effects: Rick Baker
Visual Effects: Michael Lennick
Cinematography: Mark Irwin
Score: Howard Shore
Editing: Ronald Sanders
Studio: Canadian Film Development Corporation
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Stars: James Woods, Sonja Smits, Deborah Harry, Peter Dvorsky, Les Carlson, Jack Creley, Lynne Gorman, Julie Khaner, Reiner Schwarz, David Bolt, Lally Cadeau, Henry Gomez
Suggested Audio Candy
 Howard Shore “Videodrome”
 Blondie “One Way or Another”
 Howard Shore “Videodrome (Reprise)”
If there was one forehead in the world that I wish to lick then it would belong to Canadian tour-de-force David Cronenberg. In my humble opinion, no film-maker during my lifetime has been so effortlessly ahead of the game. If you look at the trajectory he has followed, there is a very distinct path and I believe that is largely pre-meditated. His early works focused largely on body modification and by the close of the seventies he began to explore this a little more intimately. The Brood and Scanners allowed us closer to his grey matter than ever before but it was in 1983, with the revolutionary Videodrome, that he slid that throbbing phallic video cassette into our personal players and gave us the first of many true mindfucks. And this guy has some stamina let me tell you.
This is, without doubt, one of his more outré films but, as much as it masquerades with madness, it’s far more accessible than works such as Spider and Naked Lunch, both of which are also bravo, as Cronenberg couldn’t come a cropper even if you replaced his peepers with 8-balls, span him repeatedly on the spot, and slid on a pair of banana skin plimsolls. I haven’t had the dubious pleasure of prodding one of his daily stools but, if I did, I’d wager that they would be plutonium. For me his masterpiece, and it’s like pinpointing Jesus at a Dodgers game, is Crash. However, Videodrome isn’t a country mile behind, even as the crow flies. One chief reason for this is a certain Max Renn.
“Well, there’s some good and there’s some bad news. The good news is you’re right – I’m a cop and I’ve gotta take you in. The bad news is I’ve been suspended and I don’t give a fuck”
From the very moment those words were spoken defiantly and three spent shotgun shells hit the gymnasium floor in James B. Harris’ superior 1988 thriller Cop, James Howard Woods became something of a personal hero to me. He was superb in Best Seller, The Boost, The Hard Way, Salvador and too many others to list. Fuck, he is superb… period! However, my all-time favorite Woods performance is as Dick Morrison in the marvelous Quitters Inc. from Lewis Teague’s Cat’s Eye anthology. It’s no coincidence that his characters are often edgy as nobody does uptight like he does. I would imagine it was his turn as mildly arrogant cable-TV programmer Renn in Videodrome that bagged him that gig. There’s just no more compelling an addict.
The premise is relatively simple if truth be known. It’s the themes explored which boast any complexities. He would later elaborate further on these ideas with the massively undervalued eXistenZ but this is the first time he applies lube to the concept and feeds us a length of its grotesque girth. Renn gets himself caught up in all manner of shady shenanigans upon primary introduction to Videodrome, a new broadcasting craze looking to push the envelope further than ever previously. Renn isn’t afraid to test boundaries and soon becomes seduced by its nightmarish appeal. But not before grabbing himself some pristine pussy.
Being something of a servant of rap during my adolescence, Blondie’s groundbreaking Rapture played a significant part in my musical youth. Sassy lead vocalist Deborah Harry, real name Angela Tremble, was a true innovator particularly through the eighties and it was Cronenberg who had the minerals within that glorious elongated cranium of his to offer her a new comfort zone to operate within. Videodrome wasn’t her first but, three decades on after a career spanning over fifty motion pictures (not bad for a second string profession), it is Nicki Brand who still makes my trouser pleats bunch. Ingenious casting is one of many Cronenberg trademarks. This is one such masterstroke.
That whole pussy line from the paragraph before last, it wasn’t just to be crude you know. Alright, perhaps a little. More critically, that risqué session signifies the loss of his manhood. For the remainder of the film it is he being shafted, as attested by the mangina which opens up in his naval pleading to be nourished. It’s all metaphorical you see; once Renn gets that baby batter on the brain the formerly alluring videotape begins to resemble a coarsely veined member of sorts. I have one such schlong in my own possession and while, admittedly more purty than anything in seventies erotica, it still ain’t what I would call handsome. I blame the testicles; although I am a huge Alien fan so they get by on Sci-Fi charm but they’re little more than fleshy bean bags.
I’m digressing but there seems no better place to veer off course than when appraising a Cronenberg film. It’s what he wants you see; to lead us down that murky passageway to the darkest recesses of the human imagination, spin us around until soundly discombobulated, and throw discarded monkey nut shells at us as we meander further into beautiful darkness. Sexuality and violence often overlap during his films and the debate as to whether TV makes us violent or violence simply makes good TV is also on his lengthy agenda. By the time he shoots his load and we are ejected from Videodrome wonderfully dazed and confused, his seed has been planted and that just leaves the gestation period. My favorite part and, again, I believe Ridley Scott’s film is culpable.
Cronenberg’s revolutionary head trip has stood the test of time astonishingly well and we have Rick Baker’s rightly celebrated contorted effects to thank, fused with the director’s exclusive vision of course. I could so easily double this appraisal in length and wax lyrical on its abundant themeology but I’ll leave the boners to Cronenberg and remain flaccid out of respect for the great man. I will say this however and do so with great conviction. This film converted me into something of a mind whore; taught me the joy of receiving over giving, gave my head chamber a thorough blasting, and for that I will forever pant and pout. I guess that makes me a nympho. Death to the new flesh… long live Videodrome.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: There are instances of delectable grue and Baker’s SFX are truly ahead of their time but the thing that Cronenberg manages so effortlessly is to punctuate rather than pummel. When necessitated, his eye for gruesome detail and Baker’s deft hand make a most formidable pairing. But he prefers to restock his reserves before plundering our fraying senses once more. The moment when one of Renn’s foes learns why toploaders make more sense and draws back a wrist-mounted frag is ingenious, while Scanners devotees will be aware of my other standout without me even needing mention it. Oh and, in case you wondered, Harry gives us a brief glimpse of those wondrous mammaries as a token gesture.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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