Videodrome (1983) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Thumbs neither up nor down. This is a must-see film for those of you whose preferences include the phrase "the weirder the better". The rest of you will find watching it to be an experience roughly tantamount to a conversation with your insane, institutionalized uncle.

Tuna's notes in yellow:

Videodrome (1983) is a Sci Fi fantasy effort from David Cronenberg.

James Woods stars as the owner of a small cable company which caters to fringe markets with hardcore and softcore porn and the like. He is searching for a new, edgier product to boost subscriptions, and in that process he decodes a very strange underground show called Videodrome, which features extreme torture, and no plot. He wants it for his station, and sets about trying to get it. His girlfriend, Deborah Harry sees a short tape at his house, and decides she wants to be a contestant on the show. Up to this point, the film is relatively normal and accessible.

Then Woods finds the source of Videodrome, and discovers that there is subliminal content that causes physical changes in the body, and leads to mind control. From this point on, it is not possible to tell what is supposed to be real and what is hallucination, and I fell asleep trying. Reviewers claim this is all about the influence of media on society, and is based on the philosophy of Marshall McLuhan. Whatever.

The makeup effects were excellent, as well as some of the other special effects, but it was the story that left me cold. Genre lovers enjoy this one, but I would not suggest it to anyone else.


Deborah Harry shows her breasts.

Scoop's note in white:

One of the great mysteries of life is financial logic underpinning the continued career of David Cronenberg. Since 1988, he has made six movies, and the highest grossing one pulled in a whopping $3.1 million at the US box office. How does he keep getting financing? Are his movies a front for the CIA?

He's the ultimate cult director, in that he can be described in one pithy, if exaggerated, sentence: "about twelve people in the world like his movies, but those twelve REALLY like them." Those cultists who praise his work often use terms like "unique" and "original" and "creative". Those epithets are accurate enough, but are not really "positive" words, but rather "descriptive" words. The same three words also apply to the thought process of Charles Manson, for example.

Yes, Cronenberg is an original thinker, and every once in a while I find myself fascinated by one of his creepy, semi-coherent films. The first time I watched Crash, I hated the damned thing, but when I watched it again I felt that my criticism had been based on trying to relate his characters and situations to human behavior. That assumption tells you more about me than about Cronenberg. Those characters looked human, so I jumped to a conclusion that they were. Crash actually makes sense if you just view it as an alternate reality - a hypothesis about how the human race might have developed if things had just been a tiny bit different. Once one makes that leap of faith, the film has a certain creepy fascination, because it seems to say "this is not the way we were, but the way we barely had enough sense not to be". If you can buy into that academic exercise, you can come to the conclusion that you "get it" - that the behavior pictured in the film is inside of us, lurking somewhere in our chromosomes, unused and dormant, but there nonetheless.

Most people do not go to a movie to be engaged in an academic exercise, but there are those who do, and they find Cronenberg engaging. For most of us, who took Introduction to Philosophy only because it was required, a little of that kind of crap goes a long way, and Cronenberg has been hammering away at the same themes for thirty years, to the point where he's not only weird and incoherent now, but hackneyed as well. A deadly combination!

The thing I find most difficult about Cronenberg's films is that they are aloof intellectualizations devoid of sympathetic characters. He is completely lacking in warmth, and one never cares about anybody in a Cronenberg film. One can distinguish the protagonist from the antagonist only because one is slightly less creepy. There is nothing wrong with that fact, per se. It is his considered choice. But it is far easier to draw an audience into an intellectual approach to a situation if the situation involves a multi-dimensional character that the audience really likes. Cronenberg never wants to devote the time to establish that setting, ala Stephen King. He just digs right in with the weird shit.

Videodrome is supposed to be about how the media influence our thought processes. Cronenberg takes ideas with some grounding in psychology and gives them corporeal avatars. TV doesn't just plant ideas inside of us, it plants them in the convenient form of mind-control tumors and other such tinfoil hat concepts. Once those mind-control devices have been implanted, we can no longer distinguish between illusion and reality, between real memories and implanted memories.

In the hands of a great director, this could be very powerful stuff. In the hands of Cronenberg, the fact that the film doesn't need to make sense means that it won't. Since the story is seen through the eyes of a man who can't determine objective reality, Cronenberg's narrative is free to depart completely from coherence.

The BBC summed it up eloquently:

"Cronenberg sometimes becomes so stylistically exuberant that he forgets to harness his admittedly striking images to credibility and plot. Unfortunately, Cronenberg - after a while - seems to give up on his strong expression of strong ideas. Having begun by using hallucination to dramatic and purposeful effect, he then begins to chuck it into the mix willy-nilly in a film which has already begun to creak and become silly."

You all know the old cliché about the fine line between genius and insanity. What you may not have thought through is that neither geniuses nor lunatics realize when they are crossing that line. Cronenberg seems to be telling us in this film that we are allowing the media to control and destroy people's minds. He's certainly correct. He has one of those minds which has been controlled and destroyed. If you stop and think about it, the very existence of David Cronenberg proves his own central hypothesis. The character played by James Woods in this film, who is eventually living in kind of a permanent media-fueled LSD trip, is Cronenberg himself. He is a walking, breathing, self-fulfilling prophecy.

DVD info from Amazon

  • widescreen anamorphic

  • no meaningful features

On the other hand, the fact that his hypothesis is essentially correct doesn't necessarily make Cronenberg's films worth watching. He has a strong cult following, but many genre fans like this film simply because they like weird films. If you like weird films, without regard to whether they are any good or not, and without regard for entertainment value, you will find plenty of weirdness "right here on our shew".

If you dislike "weird for the sake of weird", or if you need your weirdness to be at least minimally coherent, stay away.

The Critics Vote ...

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 6.8/10. Its popularity skews young and male.
  • Consistent with Cronenberg's career, the film's audience was minimal, grossing $2.1m.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C-. If you have to see every weird movie, this is one of the weirdest ever made by an established filmmaker. If that doesn't appeal to you, move on, because it is incoherent and totally lacking in warmth, humanity, and credibility.

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