Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Directed by David Cronenberg.
1983. Rated R, 89 minutes.
James Woods
Deborah Harry
Sonja Smits
Peter Dvorsky
Leslie Carlson
Jack Creley
Lally Cadeau
Lynne Gorman

About 25 years ago, one of my best friends and I were up late. Finally tired of countless hours playing Atari 2600, when most video game characters looked like a collection of rectangles with eyes, we flipped on HBO. We happened upon a movie called Videodrome. The early scenes included nudity, always helpful in capturing a boy’s attention. However, what kept us there were the strange and exciting visuals. This included things coming out of TV sets and VHS tapes that seemed to be alive. We had a vague understanding of the story: watching this particular videotape would seriously screw up your whole world.

Over the next year or so, I watched Videodrome several more times and gave it a warm spot in my heart. I kept it there and remembered it fondly, thereafter. Time causes memories to fade and warp to your liking. When I saw it on the shelf at my local library, I naturally became curious to see if it is the masterpiece I’d come to think of it as, or if it is something I loved as a boy but had no use for in adulthood. I had to investigate.

The plot follows Max (Woods). He runs Channel 83. The station’s niche is perverse programming. In the words of a woman interviewing him, they show “everything from soft-core porn to hardcore violence.” This has made Max something of a pariah in the industry, a focal point in the debate over what should and shouldn’t be on television.

Max comes into possession of a series called “Videodrome.” All of the “episodes” are on grainy pirated tapes and depict hooded figures mercilessly beating some poor soul. Of course, Max is not only intrigued but sets out to find out where this show is coming from and if it is indeed real. The short answer is yes, it is real. Don’t worry, that’s hardly a spoiler. In fact, that’s merely the very tip of a deeply submerged iceberg. What follows is a twisting and twisted tale of betrayal, paranoia and conspiracy all revolving around a fear that’s been around since televisions invaded our homes so many moons ago.

I remember being blown away by the visuals when I first saw them as a youngster. I was most curious to see how these stood up to the test of time. Surprisingly, they are still remarkable. There are a few instances when you can see the seams in the production. However, this is no different than many of the big blockbuster movies of today in which you can easily spot what is cgi and what is not. It’s actually a little better because these effects are all organically created. Even though many of them look a bit more crude than today’s stuff, they feel more real, more unsettling. In this case, prosthetics and tubing work better than a collection of pixels.

Given the current state of television and all forms of media, for that matter, Videodrome is a piece of dark, satirical social commentary that doesn’t feel as dated as its age indicates it should. Sure, it uses the VHS and VCR as impetuses for its action instead of Blu-Rays or downloads but the principle is the same. What appears on the screen is still wildly imaginative and the story still taps into our own fear of what we find entertaining.


  1. That's a simple but effective review. I loved Videodrome for all its peculiarity. Even disregarding the social commentary I found it interesting how it gradually warps your mind to the point where by the end you can't tell the difference between reality and hallucination. I kinda enjoy movies like that.

    1. That's exactly what it does. It's a ridiculously thought provoking movie. Thanks.