Videodrome is the weird stuff. It’s one of those movies that I’d held off on watching because of the film’s reputation for gore, and horrific content that would melt your mind and would leave you with nightmares.
Having watched the film, I didn’t get exactly that. It is a weird film, but I think what makes it work so well is also what made it not quite as scary for me. It’s a film which works perfectly on dream logic. The film follows Max Renn, the owner of a small TV station in Toronto, which seeks out weird and strange programming, including exploitation films and pornography, in order to broadcast on the channel in attempts to get viewers. When Harlan, who runs the stations bootleg satellite dish which they use to discover additional underground programming, discovers what appears to be a snuff TV program called Videodrome. Renn tries to get a hold of it for broadcast.
From there, Renn ends up getting dragged into a strange and mysterious world that will change his reality and himself – both literally and figuratively.
If you’re familiar with Cronenberg’s work, you’re familiar with his use of body-horror in his films. This came up some in Crash, which I have not seen, and comes very much to the forefront here. In Crash, from what I’ve gathered, the focus is on mutilation of the body in a fashion that is positively mundane compared to what happens here. In Videodrome, the body of Renn undergoes surrealistic transformations that are anatomically impossible – which is where the dream logic comes in.
With “Videodrome” (the show within the film), the program can re-write reality, much as the works of Sutter Kane could re-write reality in In the Mouth of Madness. However there, the horror worked differently, because there was a knowable intelligence behind it – Kane himself. Now, arguably, there may have something working further behind Kane, but we’ll leave that aside. With “Videodrome” on the other hand, it is, itself, an unknowable, truly alien intelligence. It has an agenda, but it’s one that is not explained, nor does anyone try to comprehend, beyond the transition to the “New Flesh”.
This leads to the New Flesh itself. I get how it works, it’s cancerous growths that do everything the plot needs – from a vaginal opening fit for inserting Beta-max tapes with psychological programming to turning into functioning guns which shoot tumor-bullets. It’s kinda creepy, but it doesn’t quite work for me the way H.R. Giger’s work for the Alien series does, or how the Dog-Thing in The Thing still manages to make me cringe and look away. I think the reason why it doesn’t quite work is there isn’t quite the same method to the horror’s madness. The New Flesh grows and changes as needed, but it doesn’t have the same real sense of structure. The moments when the New Flesh is most effective in Videodrome, honestly, aren’t when Renn is altered, it’s when we see televisions altered, pulsing and growing veins, or outright developing flesh tones on their screens and boxes – it provides a much better sense of something being truly wrong about the situation.
It’s definitely an entertaining film, and an effective film, though as I watch some of Cronenberg’s later films, I can’t help but think his later films will have much more truly creepy horror moments in store.