Strange Cinema: Videodrome (1983)

This is part of an ongoing review series for the films featured on‘s Certifiably Weird list. My goal is to watch and review all of them (even if it kills me). These reviews may contain spoilers.

Videodrome (1983)
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: James Woods, Sonja Smits, & Deborah Harry

What’s it about?
Max Renn, CEO of a small television station specializing in sensationalistic programming, discovers a broadcast signal featuring extreme images of violence and torture. While trying to uncover the signal’s source, he stumbles upon some deep deception and increasingly disturbing hallucinations.

Is it any good?
This was my first Cronenberg film, and wow, was I impressed. I had only known James Woods through his bizarre cameo on Family Guy (still one of the only Family Guy episodes that I find genuinely funny), so I always equated him with cheesy acting. But he’s anything but cheesy in Videodrome.

If you’re familiar with Cronenberg’s films, you know he specializes in body horror, a.k.a. “holy shit what is happening to that guy’s head OH MY GOD THERE’S A GUN IN HIS STOMACH” horror. (Spoiler: there is actually a gun in James Woods’ stomach.) This is classic Cronenberg because it’s essentially a film about horrific body images. When Max discovers Videodrome (the intensely graphic show with unknown origins), he shows it to sadomasochistic psychiatrist and talk show host, Nicki (played by the flawless Deborah Harry). Instead of being disgusted by it, she gets turned on and the two of them have sex while it’s playing in the background. So that’s when you know this film is going to be insane.

Unlike the last Cronenberg film I reviewed (1991’s Naked Lunch), the plot of this film isn’t quite as difficult to follow. It turns out Videodrome gives people brain tumors, but that side effect is no accident. The brain behind the show created it in order to purge North America of all the lowlifes who would actually enjoy it. Max is brainwashed to kill those opposed to Videodrome, but is ultimately reprogrammed and eventually commits suicide.

This film is visually stunning (and of course disturbing), but it doesn’t rely too heavily on shock-factor. Cronenberg had a reason for including all that violence and gore, and it may take a couple views to fully understand that. I think the cast really strengthens the message because there’s some great acting here. Like I mentioned earlier, James Woods is surprisingly fantastic. He has that smarmy attitude of a television CEO, but he’s also great at emoting true terror. And although Deborah Harry is primarily a musician, she’s got some impressive acting chops. Perhaps one of the most prolific images of the film is her face on Max’s television, coaxing him to “leave the old flesh.” And that final line Max utters before shooting himself is iconic: “Long live the new flesh.”

If you’re particularly squeamish, I would avoid this one. But if you can stomach some guy inserting a VHS tape into another guy’s abdomen, see this immediately.

Grade: A- (for audacious visual effects and a message that might hit a little too close to home)
Weirdness Score: 8.5/10 (or, weird enough to make you think twice about watching those torture porn movies)

[Read the more in-depth 366 Weird Movies Review here.]

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