Shock/Cinema Cult, Rated R
Canadian ‘Body Horror’ legend David Cronenberg was on the cusp of going mainstream after Shivers, Rabid, The Brood and Scanners when he made this notorious, already-dated-looking but still fabulously trippy shocker back in 1983. Later suggesting that he was inspired by the outrageously un-PC Emanuelle In America (part of the ‘Black Emanuelle’ series), it’s a slightly ‘head’ horror outing enlivened by some wild ideas that the budget can’t really support and goopy effects handled by the very cool Rick Baker, who had recently won the inaugural Oscar for Best Make-Up for An American Werewolf In London and was permitted by Cronenberg to really push some boundaries.
James Woods is icky yet somehow oddly amiable as Max Renn, a sleazy cable-TV programmer (a thing of the past!) who specialises in screening porny films and light nastiness but is hankering for something new and challenging. When one of his techs discovers a secret signal broadcasting ‘Videodrome’, he becomes entranced with what is essentially live ‘snuff’: one room and unedited torture, rape and murder. We don’t really see much of the ‘show’ too, which is probably a good thing.
Max is warned by a colleague (Lynne Gorman) that Videodrome has a ‘philosophy’ but he just can’t help himself, and after a tryst with masochistic radio presenter Nicki Brand (Debbie Harry with red hair) he finds that he’s hallucinating like mad and becoming some kind of tool for many shadowy figures. And his delusions (or are they?) mean we’re treated to practical make-up tricks that still prove memorable all these years later, like when Woods’ Max pushes his head into a pulsating, engorged TV set and, of course, his stomach grows a vaginal slot into which he first loses a gun and, later, various baddies thrust videotapes in order to program him to do their bidding. Or, well, do they? It’s a bit hard to tell, but that’s the point.
Some will snicker about how the very nature of using video here is so ridiculously old-school (and note that Beta tapes were actually used because VHS wouldn’t fit inside Max’s/James’s ‘cavity’), but it’s worth mentioning that back in the ‘80s video really did seem like ‘The Future’. And DVDdrome and mp4drome don’t have the same ring at all.