Like most mainstream audiences my first exposure to director David Cronenberg was with 1986’s “The Fly”. That kind sci-fi/horror film was rarely seen at the time and as impactful as it was, Cronenberg was just getting started. I caught up with him again in my video renting days in the late 90’s with films like “M. Butterfly”, “Crash”(not the Oscar winner), and the sorely under-watched “eXistenZ”. More recently he and his leading man-muse Viggo Mortensen have brought to the screen two solid films in “A History of Violence” and “Eastern Promises”. “A Dangerous Method” and “Cosmopolis” I have still yet to see.
His early work is what I’m getting interested in now, especially after re-watching his brilliant adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Dead Zone”, and now even more so after seeing for the first time his other film also released in 1983 “Videodrome”.
Starring James Woods as a TV programmer with that familiar level of sleaze that he’s so good at playing. While trying to acquire new and perverse forms of entertainment for his station Max Renn (Woods) comes across a mysterious signal called Videodrome, which appears to be transmitting images of torture and possible death from somewhere in America. His curiosity of course gets the better of him as he tries to uncover the true nature of the signal and more importantly the people behind it. What begins to happen as he continues to watch the programs, is his view of reality start to unravel into strange hallucinations and he discovers new truths about the possible evolution of the human mind.
Cronenberg utilizing what was available at the time, the syntisizer soundtrack, bad set design, and bad acting, mostly from “Blondie” lead singer Deborah Harry, though her performance in the virtual world does kinda work in a weird way. What does make this film worth watching is almost everything else, the tone, the story, the fantastic old-school practical special effects by legend Rick Baker, but mostly how writer/director Cronenberg brings everything together for a truly memorable film. It’s gross, weird, and completely ahead of its time. The themes discussed are now considered troupes of Cronenberg films, and this feels like a precursor to “eXistenZ” all the way down to weird-looking guns and the blurred line between reality and what we perceive as reality. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that the Wachowski’s watched this as inspiration that lead to “The Matrix”.
Watching “Videodrome” has only enhanced my curiosity of Cronenberg’s earlier films that I’ve missed. Like “Rabid”, “The Brood”, “Scanners”, and one of his most popular that I’m ashamed to have yet to see “Naked Lunch”. I look forward to hopefully discovering more of the old craziness that is David Croneberg’s filmography and maybe, just maybe, his visions will all start to become clearer to me. “Long live the new flesh” indeed.
–Robert L. Castillo