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One of the Best Criterion DVDs,
This review is from: Videodrome (The Criterion Collection) (DVD)
Videodrome is not only one of the top three horror/sci-fi movies made in the last 25 years it also has the distinguishing trait of having been given one of the best royal treatments from Criterion. If you need basic plot and such look elsewhere. This review is more about why this is one of the greatest films of all time.
First, the film: A must-have for any film collector, not just a horror or sci-fi buff. James Woods plays a Cable-TV station owner who broadcasts soft-porn and adult entertainment. His favorite technician shows him a pirated TV show called Videodrome in which people are tortured and killed. Woods pursues this show, watching more and more of it until his investigations lead him to two sources: The Videodrome show producers itself and the show's arch-enemy, The Cathode Ray Mission. Woods discovers that the show transmits a signal that creates a tumor in the brain that leads to S+M hallucinations. Woods begins to hallucinate incredible sexual/violent nightmares ( the fleshy TV set)and finds himself as a pawn between the two entities. Videodrome plans on using Woods' station to transmit the violent Videodrome show in order to kill the audience of porn. Videodrome owner Barry Convex "programs" Woods to kill his partners at the station and the Cathode Ray Mission Leader, Bianca O'Blivion. Bianca "counter programs" Woods into killing the Videodrome people. Bianca declares that Woods has "evolved" (Darwinism on its ear) into The New Flesh, an allegory of an information-age human with a body that mutates via hallucination. In the end, Woods, alone and his head filled with tumors, is prompted by his now dead girlfriend (Deborah Harry in the flesh TV set) to "evolve" into the next stage by shooting himself. Woods kills himself exactly as the fleshy TV set instructs him to do, declaring: "Long live the New Flesh."
Cronenberg gathered many parts of a script and ideas together to create a near avant-garde film that uses TV and fanatical programmers as villains. This movie sets the thriller basis for which The Matrix and The Ring would so heavily borrow from. Cronenberg's approach is different from his previous film SCANNERS in that the protaganist's perspective (a tremendous James Woods) becomes the actual subject of the movie. Since Videodrome has probably been seen my almost everone who reads this I need not bother to summarize the plot any further. Suffice to say that what starts out as an already interesting and challenging portrait of a soft-porn Cable-TV station owner looking for the next big thing in the adult entertainment world evolves into a nightmare that relentlessly never eases until the very last frame. This psychotic world and body (called The New Flesh)that Woods now finds himself becomes an allegory for our dependance and adhearance to Media and TV in particular. The concepts of "downloading" and "programming people" was, back in 1981, revolutionary. Kafka meets Tom Edison. The villains are evangelical and are either using the cancer-tumor inducing "videodrome" signal to kill sinners (Barry Convex looks like Jimmy Baker) or, in a twist of Darwin, the Cathode Ray Mission using the signal to "evolve" people to the next state of our existance: a personified information society of hallucinating, mutated people. This film was ahead of its time by decades and is still a significant movie using TV/Media as the vehicle for great evil, as prompted by an already receptive audience. Cronenberg suggests that we have created a TV Pornographic Frankenstien that is out of control.
The DVD: Two discs, both essential. The commentary from Cronengerg and James Woods is particulary interesting. Deborah Harry comments as well. The extras on Disc two feature excellent interviews with the special effects team, and a TV interview show from Canadian TV with John Carpenter, John Landis, and Cronenberg. The making of film is good and the actual torture and porn videos shot especially for the film are just bizzare to see, and they are provied with commentary. The DVD case is made to look like a betamax cassette that reads: Long Live the New Flesh. I love this movie, I always have. Yes, it has dated a little bit, but its one of those few movies that gets better with age. In fact, the dating of the effects adds significance to the visionary horror concept itself, light years ahead of its time. This is Cronenberg's masterpiece and everyone associated with it can consider themselves lucky. Make yourself among these lucky and get this DVD set.
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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 8, 2009 8:08:07 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 8, 2009 8:09:05 PM PST
What, no other comments? Well, J.M., thank you for hitting the nail on the head with your review. Don't think I could have said it much better myself. I'm generally in awe of Cronenberg, and rank him right up there with Kurasawa and Fellini and Truffaut. And it's not like I'm a horror film junkie either - my personal top 20 films of all time include flicks ranging from CITIZEN KANE to GROUNDHOG DAY. But unlike many of the films in my list, I also think this is also an important film in a number of ways, and that is one of the reasons I think it avoids becoming too dated. In these days, isn't "long live the new flesh" possibly even more apropos?
Posted on Nov 4, 2010 9:36:54 AM PDT
S. Mueller says:
Very nice! Outstanding breakdown & commentary on one of the most interestingly shocking, fun & unique films ever made! Very early on I was somehow able to obtain a VHS copy of this & many nights I would pack up the VCR & take the tape to my best friends house where we would watch it 3-5 times a night breaking it down sometimes frame by frame with the limited technology of the time & discuss it all night long. Great fun & I too am not a Horror fan but then I looked at it as Sci-Fi which this is to me. We must have watched this at least 50 times possibly a hundred! Wow this is a must & I can't wait to tell my old friend & go back nearly 30 years & do it all over again though minus the alchemy of the times!!
In reply to an earlier post on Dec 7, 2010 4:58:45 AM PST
Seth Speaks says:
Posted on Aug 25, 2012 8:51:29 PM PDT
Wayne Cooper says:
Review was fine, just dont know why you stated at the beggining that "if youre looking for basic plot look elsewhere" and said you were just listing why the movie was good, but then you continued to list nearly the entire plot of the movie, lol.
Posted on Jan 14, 2013 5:06:06 PM PST
Carver Green says:
I never like a standard plot, but all this movie offers is a flimsy, half-baked premise. You say "Cronenberg suggests that we have created a TV Pornographic Frankenstein that is out of control." Yes, he does suggest that during the opening minutes, but it's an incidental point and one the film has nowhere to go with. The cathode ray, which transforms anyone subjected to it into the "new flesh," can do its work within a test pattern, so why is it transmitted only through torture porn? To sell the movie, that's all.
You're incorrect that the ray is intended to "kill the audience of porn" - it doesn't kill them, it transforms them into monsters. The US needs to get tougher, one character explains, because the rest of the world is real tough and . . . ? Well, that's just another idea thrown out to us and then dropped so we can jump from one ludicrous special effect to the next. And does any of this really relate to Kafka? Not at all, if you understand Kafka and aren't just throwing his name around to look intelligent. Once subjected to the ray, James Woods enters into a world which you say constitutes an "allegory for our dependence on media". Well, actually, no. The ray works on him like an acid trip, that's all, and nothing in the film suggests that he's addicted - he doesn't come back from the trip, much less come back for seconds as an addict would. The idea that exposure to media turns us into media is kind of neat, in a comic-book way, but the trouble is that media doesn't do that, even "allegorically." What it does is make us droids, by way of the kind of hype exemplified here at Amazon in the abundance of customer reviews giving this film a 5-star rating just because it's Criterion #248. Criterion is terrific for offering us the "important classics" touted by critics in the decades before the company ever existed. But their choices for "important contemporary films" can be ridiculous, and VIDEODROME's a great example. This film is only ahead of its time in that films tend to get crappier with every passing decade, and this was crappier than most in `83.
In reply to an earlier post on May 16, 2013 4:48:49 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 16, 2013 5:02:36 AM PDT
Not addicted? Max kept watching even after having disturbing hallucinations and being warned by Brian O'Blivion that his reality would become a total hallucination. And when the bad guys told him their plan, they offered him a new flesh tape, his eyes were glued to it like an addict and didn't even try to resist, he was under their spell. The cathode ray did not cause the hallucinations, the videodrome signal did & in fact it was suggested that Max hallucinated the show and the tapes were blank...
You say it wasn't meant to kill the audience. It transforms them into psychotics who mindlessly follow orders from insane voices in their head and then kill themselves. Sounds like a plan to kill the audience. Violence does draw viewers. People are dependent on media. It was hardly torture porn, compared to movies like Hostel, more like softcore porn and obviously fake violence.
Who said that media turns us into media? I would say it causes us become like media. Watching a lot of television and movies makes us start thinking, acting, talking, and dressing like characters we relate to and desire on the screen. Many start to see reality like a movie or TV show.
Also, the fact that Max kept looking for "tougher" and harder content showed a progressive addiction & growing numbness (tolerance) to the effects of his normal media (drug of choice). This has been noted in writing about sexual addiction: the addicts become desensitized and seek more violent and degrading porn, often becoming unable to even get aroused with a normal partner, unless they submit to violence and degradation. So, your understanding of addiction seems incomplete.
In reply to an earlier post on Feb 6, 2014 11:29:25 PM PST
Carver Green says:
Thanks for responding, Mercury. If my understanding of addiction is incomplete, my guess is that I'm healthier for that. But I do know this much: With addiction you get a fix, come down from it, and then go back for more. Max neither comes down nor goes back, he has one trip and it takes up the length of the film. If there's a point where he's finding Videodrome too tame and so goes looking for "tougher" material, I must have missed it. Does he go through withdrawals? And if the purpose of the ray is to kill him, should I assume at the end that he's near death? If so, then the New Flesh will be "living long" without him. You'd think he'd be unhappy about that, rather than exultant. The film puts forward so many contradictory ideas that it's no wonder people like S. Mueller stay up whole nights talking about it. It's a terrific film for people who are excited by concepts but haven't the mental discipline to follow a concept through to a conclusion. Try following one idea through the length of the film and you'll find yourself hitting dead ends.... I notice in my original comment that I mention a point in the film where a character tells Max that the US needs to get tougher, and that's why Videodrome was created. I got that wrong, sorry. The film is set in Canada. So - is Canada becoming the New Flesh, and in so doing becoming stronger? Or is it only porn addicts in Canada who have been targeted? If so, why are the "villains" leaving the rest of us porn addicts out? If not - if all of Canada is being transformed by way of a ray that can be projected through a test pattern, making the porn-theme incidental, or relevant only to Max - then what's so evil about Canada being strong? Is the film anti-Canadian? Of course not. It's just really, really stupid.
Posted on Jan 23, 2016 10:20:00 AM PST
Michael Dobey says:
this film is so bizaare and hard to follow that it's a hard sell for non sci fi fans. I like it and I like this review.
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