Long Live the New Flesh: Videodrome
Videodrome is a film I first ran into in the mid 90’s on the BBC’s excellent and now sadly defunct Moviedrome show- where Alex Cox (of Repo Man fame) introduced a double bill of thematically similar cult movies. I miss this, actually, as it introduced me to many films that I now consider to be some of my favourites (The Warriors, La Haine, The Fly, Darkness over Tallinn which I need to rewatch if I can ever find the damned thing again), and so forth). However, I have to say that few of them have had the lasting impact on me that Cronenberg’s 1983 masterpiece of body horror had.
James Woods plays Max Renn, a disgustingly sleazy low rent cable channel executive. He’s decided that the future is to show as much filth as he possibly can get away with, and to carve out a niche in a market clearly oversaturated with filth (even in 1983) he needs to find the most extreme “hard” filth that he can. He wades through hours of soft-core smut only to discard it. His TV nerd, Harlan, discovers something that he believes is from Malaysia and gives Renn a tape. That something: Videodrome.
In the meantime, Woods has hooked up with Debbie Harry’s radio psychologist Nicki Brand. She comes back to his place, and decides that she wants to watch some filth- on goes the tape and let the perversion begin. After this point, it becomes difficult to tell reality from Woods growing psychosis, as he follows the trail to the makers of Videodrome (in Pittsburgh) talks to the daughter of the shady Brian O’Blivion, suffers weird and grotesque mutations, and goes on a kill frenzy.
This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, light viewing. It deals with heavy themes and has seriously grotesque (not to mention painful) imagery in it. While Videodrome is an unarguable classic, and it is getting a maximum, it is also not a film that I feel any compelling urge to come back to (I shied away from watching it again before writing this, but as I’ve seen it more times than I care to count, I should be alright). Videodrome contains arguably Cronenberg’s definitive image- James Woods probing at the vagina-type opening on his own stomach with a gun. Actually, much like a Guy Richie film, vaginae appear all over the place- there’s also a VCR vagina for example. If there’s one film that truly defines body horror then this one is it. Videodrome is also as strong in the writing as it is visually. Renn is a marvellously drawn filth merchant, the concept of Brian O’Blivion (I’m trying not to spoil here) is an extremely good one, and the idea of warring factions playing out some sort of techno-sociological battlefield using an unaware Woods as a pawn is also a good one. I suppose that Cronenberg was ahead of the field with the idea of TV being used as a medium of mass control, and if anything Videodrome was probably a touch ahead of its time.
The acting in this film is top-notch. Woods in particular (aside from being brilliantly cast) is superb as the sleazy Renn. He’s a man in touch with his perversions, and as Videodrome draws him in the confusion and psychosis that he manages to convincingly portray is both chilling and unsettling. He had to be good, mind, because the film is shot from his point of view. Sonja Smits, as O’Blivion’s daughter is solid, and Debbie Harry is good as Nikki (whether or not Nikki actually exists is open to question).
Which brings me on to the effects. Rick Baker was the man charged with bringing the nightmare to life, and he does a superb job. These are, again, all practical effects and they are all stomach turning, effective and downright disgusting. Woods mutant “New Flesh” hand in particular is a stunning prop, a gross pustule ridden appendage that resembles neither a gun nor a hand, but instead is some kind of revolting fleshy combination of the two. Baker, it has to be noted, didn’t have as much prep time as he wanted and so the effects are a touch rougher than he wished, but in a film where the line between psychosis and reality is as blurred as this one, that doesn’t matter. This, along with the Thing, represents some truly outstanding effects work.
I’ve said that Videodrome is a film that I don’t feel any particular need to come back to, and I don’t. However, it is a film that I will be watching again in the next few months. It’s a powerful film, and it’s a depressing one but what I find truly depressing is that some idiotic suit has greenlit a remake of it. Videodrome is a film of its time, a remake of it is both artistically and commercially pointless. Fans of it, such as me, will avoid the remake like the plague, and the subject matter is far too extreme to attract a mass following. Furthermore, with the dawn of the internet, the idea of a cable porn show controlling your mind is completely redundant (does anyone even watch cable porn any more?) and as such has dated Videodrome quite badly.
Videodrome is a masterpiece of Body Horror, while also being a masterclass of psychological horror. It’s a disturbing and heavy film, and one that I wholeheartedly recommend that everyone sees once. Because that will be enough. I give it a maximum 4 Changs.
Next up, it’s the slightly lesser, but still effective, The Dead Zone.
The order so far:
- The Scanners- 3.5 Changs
- The Brood- 3 Changs
- Shivers- 2 Changs
- Rabid- 1 Chang
- Fast Company- Orangutan of Doom
Until next time,
I really struggled with this one. Hope it doesn’t suck ass.
It doesn’t suck. In fact it’s well written and interesting.
Personally this movie didn’t really strike a chord with me but then again I have not seen it in a very very long time so maybe I should revisit it sometime soon..
I think the problem is that you are not really a stomach vagina man. It’s an acquired taste.
And I fervently hope that never changes.
You’re not a talking-sphincter-on-a-bug-typewriter man are you?
Can’t say that I am.
Pah. Naked Lunch.
Yuck. Not looking forward to that one, and I do need to rewatch it because it’s been so long.
I’d cut a lot out of it where I was droning on and on about things, and just completely lost all sense ofwhat I was trying to say.
It’s worth a revisit- it knocked me back when I saw it with Mrs. Jarv having not seen it in years
I don’t care what anyone says, this is the best
stomach vagina movie ever made.
Can’t think of a better one.
Well, not until TWILIGHT: BREAKING DAWN comes out, anyway. The bit where Edward gives Bella an emergency C-section WITH HIS FUCKING TEETH is gonna make Cronenberg piss himself in envy…
I have always called this the Raging Bull of sci-fi horror and stand by that claim. This is a movie that you can watch multiple times, and each time come away with a different interpretation.
This is without a doubt my favorite Cronenberg – the one that spoke to me. This, along with Taxi Driver, Rear Window, Dawn of the Dead, Road Warrior and Warriors, were the defining films of my youth.
I figured the films of your youth would have been Popeye, New York New York, West Side Story and Herbie the Love Bug.
Do I seem like a song and dance/musical kind of guy?
And I always preferred the Apple Dumpling Gang to Herbie the Love Bug for favorite Disney movie. That and the ones that Kurt Russell made for them (The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, The World’s Strongest Man, etc.).
There are moments…
I agree the apple Dumpling Gang is much better and the Kurt Russell movies are better then The Apple Dumpling movies
I miss Cox’s Moviedrome too. Introduced me to a lot of old films, like Dead Of Night which I reviewed here.
I feel the same way about Videodrome in that it’s a classic (and I don’t just mean a ‘horror’ classic), but one that I don’t return to as often as I should – I’ve seen it twice back when the VHS came out. Because it does make for genuinely uncomfortable viewing. I believe there’s a storming Criterion DVD edition on R1.
I can’t fathom the reason for remake. Who’s doing it?
Do like the last picture – visual pun, ‘hand gun’. Clever.
Nice one, Jarv. Should’ve been a longer review!
I thnk the BBC should hire us to do it. We’d be fucking aces.
That review was 1000+ words, man! and I know people like Droid haven’t seen it so I was trying not to spoil.
If they’ve absolutely got to remake – give it to Natali. He needs a quick recovery from Splice.
No remake of Videodrome will be acceptable. How the hell are they going to update it, and setting it in the 80’s is an exercise in futility.
Yeah how do you fucking pass that along to executives and financiers. Not even bring up the original. Just the concept.
Well it involves VHS that are inserted into the stomach.
What executives is going to see that as making any money? Unless they go to DVDs but then it just seems stupid. I DVD isn’t as messy and big and clunky like a VHS.
I bet it never happens. I just don’t see how they could get money for it.
The whole thing is so completely redundant:
“So it’s about this porn exec who wants this thing called video drome for his cable company”
“Philibrick! Who let this cunt in here. What cunt watches porn on TV now”
They’ll change it to sticking an ipad into the stomach.
Oh, I agree completely, there should be NO remake. I only mentioned Natali in trying to make the best out of a bad, BAD idea.
4 Changs is exactly right Jarv.
Stomachcunt = professional.
What about VHScunt?
VHSCunt, BetaCunt, or LaserdiscCunt.
I’ll take ’em all.
But not HDVDCunt.
Fucker’s obsolete already.
The first time I saw this film was about a year after it came out. They were playing it in a bar. Weirdest movie experience of my life, sitting there, getting drunk, looking at stomach vaj.
Yeah, I was underage, it was a local pub.
back in my youth, and by youth I mean I was 6 yrs old (wetf?) channel 54 ran a series of messed-up movies one week. Sure they were edited, but they weren’t THAT edited. In the span of a week I saw this, From Beyond, Demon Seed and Lifeforce.
Note to current and future parents: Don’t let your kids learn about the birds and the bees from th elikes of mr.s cronenberg, hooper and gordon.
I tmakes me wonder if I had a period of time where I had no parents or soemthing. I think it was the idea that ‘its on tv, how bad could it be’.
Yikes! Crappy parenting
to be perfectly honest, I had great parents, who were good about talking everything through with me, and not leaving me unattended. I saw all this stuff with them, but I think at the time, they learned trial by fire with me, that covering my eyes wasn’t gonna cut it during a movie, or everytime I ‘fell’ asleep on the couch, it didnt mean I was asleep.
Having survived my childhood without anything other than an absurd love for b movies, I was pretty much o.k. Again, my parents were prepared for the lseepless nights and questions and everything else that came along, and to be honest, I don’t recall being a fearful kid w or a particularly dark kid.
Strangely, most of my friends who were’nt allowed to watch anything other than Davey and Goliath or Bibleman were the ones who grew upo with a penchant for torture porn. That being said, Im not showing my kids anything like this when they are young.
Theres too much quality film out there that’s age appropriate (you have to a few years back but still) that it doesn’t make sense to insist on showing a kid something that is excessively mature for them.
Sir Jarv: I think you did this particular movie justice-I particularly like the shoutout to not even touch this thing for a remake.
I was surprised about how well it ages, and how good James Woods was in this movie.
It still looks good cinematrographically. Which is to say the production work is still top notch, and a re-issue on theaters would look as good as any of the C.G.I. work crapola we have been watching this crappy summer.
If there was one movie that should be slowly and painfully recreated in 3-D, which shock the bejesus out of an entire new generation of younglings-I cast my vote for this one.
Let me be clear:
A Twentieth Anniversary re-issue in 3-D.
I vote for that.
That’s my vote.
I don’t think society is ready for a stomach-vag in 3-D…
I respectfully submit my proposal for the future of 3-D.
Cronenberg 3-D Re-issue of Videodrome.
I’m sorry, The Descent just plain bored me to tears.
I love British people, I love Neal Marshal but the teenagers don’t respect our old movies.
Neal Marshal movies will be viewed in my house until the end of time, but:
Cronenberg knocked one out of the park.
I think the snot-nosed bastards ought to watch Videodrome in 3-D.
I am just saying.
Have you seen the state of society recently. I’m telling you, they aren’t ready.
X-Factor in 3-D – yes. Stomach-vag – no. Psychiatry wouldn’t be able to cope with the influx.
Spot on review Jarv. This is one of my favorites of Cronenburg’s work. The stomach vag scene is altogether appalling and sexy (just kidding).
I will second Jonah’s remarks. My parents never censored what I was able to watch (except for the Exorcist) but always reminded me that it was just fiction, so I didn’t have any crazy outbursts.
The first time I saw THE EXORCIST I was 10, and my parents agreed to le me watch the MOVIE except for the crucifixion masturbation scene – they fast-forwarded the movie through that point. For the next 8 years (until I saw it in the cinema) I thought Regan came blood in about 8 seconds flat.
Fucked up, I know. But my Dad got me into movies, and my Mum backed him up giving me the grounded, secure childhood I needed to enjoy these fucked-up movies without getting psychologically disturbed or anything.
VIDEODROME is something I saw in my early 20s, and even having read pretty much what happened in the entire movie, nothing prepares you for it. Cronenberg was on fire, totally on top of his game here – this is a VISUAL movie that needed to shock you visually. You can’t explain to someone WHY it’s so shocking – they have to see it for themselves. How many movies can you say that about these days?? And I love how EXISTENZ in places appears to be a pseudo-sequel to this movie.
The world needs more Cronenberg. It may be too fucking sumb to get what he’s saying or where he’s coming from, but we fucking need him nonetheless. Who else pushes the horror envelope as intelligently yet viscerally as he does??
Another gem of a review, Jarv. I’d hire you over the Winkleman any day. Then I’d keep the Winkleman very busy indeed…
You know how she got that job? Fucking nepotism- it’s unbelievable. She’s compeltely clueless and talentless.
Damn straight. I get the terrifying feeling it’s going to be THIS MORNING, but every section is about the movies. FILM 2010 is gonna get vacuous on your tired ass…
“And I love how EXISTENZ in places appears to be a pseudo-sequel to this movie.”
That’s a very good observation. I remember thinking, while watching Existenz, that Cronenberg had edged back into Videodrome territory. It’s in the same desert, just a different tent.
Aside from the fact that Existenz is an epic failure and a terrible film, that is.
I’d agree it meanders, has no discernible plot, and the ending doesn’t make sense – but there are moments in it that make you think “Ooh! Vintage Cronenberg!”
But honestly? I think his cameo at the beginning of JASON X is the best thing he’s done since he was in NIGHTBREED…
I just got a pre-order offer from Amazon for the Blu-ray disk of videodrome.