Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Month of Terror: Videodrome (1983)

Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: James Woods, Deborah Harry

To kick off this Month of Terror, I will be reviewing even more scary movies than before. And it all starts with a bizarre, surrealistic 80s film called Videodrome this time…from the mind of David Cronenberg comes this oddball, visceral and violent social commentary on the state of the media at the time, and it’s quite a trip. James Woods stars as Max, the director of a porn/shock value channel who has come into contact with a strange new development in TV called Videodrome, a proposed ‘next generation’ of TV that is so real that it drives people insane. He slowly gets sucked in himself as he tries to solve the mystery, interacting with characters who are never exactly as they seem.

The movie plays out like a sort of 40s or 50s noir detective film at first, with the main character trying to figure out what’s going on and talking to people shady and derelict alike. It’s a very classical storytelling template that Cronenberg rapes with grotesque imagery, a bombastically over the top and horrific plot involving mind control and bloody murder and all sorts of sick, grisly twists and turns abound. Any movie with a guy’s stomach opening up a giant vagina-like mouth that you can stick demonic video tapes in is worth looking at. If you’re an 80s fanatic, at least. The imagery is just insane, and works in the movie’s favor to create a nightmareish atmosphere that starts out needling and small but grows into an engulfing tide as the movie goes along.

The acting is good, with Woods giving a performance that is cynical and sleazy, but also subtly layered – like when he’s with his girlfriend; you can see the passion in his eyes. That’s not just blind lust. He really cares about her. His slow descent into madness is really well done and he delivers a spot-on performance for the entire movie. Other actors like Deborah Harry and Peter Dvorsky do good jobs, too. Great lighting and coloration make the whole thing look suitably surreal and freakish.

The movie’s message is that TV is taking over our lives, portrayed in a drastically dynamic and unforgettable way that will stick with you. In the 80s this was a big issue, with TV on the rise and media growing more and more expansive, and people asked, is this a good thing? Cronenberg’s response was this movie. It’s not quite perfect – maybe the last half hour moves a little fast – but it’s a thrilling and thought provoking ride that kept me interested the whole way. Recommended.