Videodrome: Criterion Collection

January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

“Long live the new flesh.”

The man who brought us “The Dead Zone”, “Scanners”, “Dead Ringers” and “Crash” among others made a bold statement about television and the future of media with “Videodrome”. At the dawn of the age or recordable media (that’s a VCR to you and me), Cronenberg explored the fetishes and horrors of what we’re willing to experience, or re-experience, to get that rush when we see something we’re not supposed to. Though considered a horror movie, “Videodrome” certainly has social implications about television and the media and what it could do to us…eventually. The images depicted are obviously sexual (such as when Max puts his head through a television at the sight of Debbie Harry’s lips). Cronenberg played on the emotions of the viewer and though it’s easy to dismiss this as a typical low budget horror movie – it’s really so much more. The underlying message is that television alters the perception of the viewer, acting as a drug to fuel their fantasies. And nearly twenty years after “Videodrome” was shot, it still feels remarkably contemporary. Each of Cronenberg’s films deals, in some way, with simple emotions, but heightened to such an extent that most normal people consider them extreme. This plays to full effect in “Videodrome”.

And so we meet Max Renn (James Woods), the owner of a lowly cable television station in Toronto that plays to a rather specific audience. It’s what we’d liken to Cinemax at night nowadays. However, Max is tired of showing low budget, soft core pornography and is looking for the next big thing. He finds it when he and his trusty cohort Harlan (Peter Dvorsky) stumble across a feed called Videodrome. The images are startling and engrosses Max. Torture, rape and even death are shown all of which Max thinks that his audience, or at least a select group of it, will like to see. Things start happening, though, that Max can’t control. He becomes obsessed with Videodrome and keeps wanting more and more. He starts to hallucinate. He develops a cut in his body that resembles (in no small way) something that resembles a part of a woman’s anatomy. This is fully embodied when he literally enters the pulsating television. Max’s decent into madness can be summarized many ways, but the essential message of “Videodrome” is a puzzling one. Did it eerily predict the future of the media with “reality” television or is it a fetish that only few enjoy? Regardless, this is one of Cronenberg’s best works (if not his best) and though odd, it a must see. Criterion has done a fine job with this disc and for fans of the movie, a purchase is a no-brainer.

Video: How does it look?

It’s been a while since I’ve seen “Videodrome”, but I don’t think I’ve seen it looking as good as it does here. Criterion has minted a beautiful new 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer that makes the film look as good as it ever has. Considering the film’s age (21 years), I was expecting some artifacting and a lot of dirt on the print. Thankfully I was wrong. The level of detail is amazing and it gives the movie more of a “film like” look to it. The budget for the movie was also low, giving even more credit to how great this image looks. There are only the slightest errors, but aside from that this is one of the better efforts I’ve seen when it comes to video quality.

Audio: How does it sound?

The audio is impressive (not as impressive as how the picture is), but limited due to the original Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track. Dialogue has a bit of a dated feel to it, much like most low budget movies did in the 80’s. It certainly lacks the depth that today’s modern soundtracks do, though people will be more captivated in what’s happening on the screen to dissect the audio. Quite simply, the track serves its purpose here and nothing more.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Criterion is never one to skimp on supplements and “Videodrome” has plenty to go around. I might add that the packaging resembles a Beta tape. Even the side has a mock of an old VHS sticker with the handwritten title of the movie on the side. Very clever. Two commentary tracks are included, the first is with Director David Cronenberg and Mark Irwin (Cinematographer). This is a good track, Cronenberg is very soft-spoken though once you get used to his voice, he has some rather interesting things to say. The second track with James Woods and Debbie Harry is a bit livelier, though not as informative. Woods seems like the type who’s always high strung and even considering his success as an actor (after this movie), I’m glad he took time out to record this track. Rounding out the supplements on this disc is “Camera”, a 6-minute film that was part of the Toronto International Film Festival. It stars Les Carlson, who was Barry Convex in “Videodrome”.

On the second disc, the 30 minute “Forging the New Flesh”, is a new documentary created by the special effects supervisor, Michael Lennick. This focuses on the (obviously) special effects of the film. The breathing television, videotape and the exploding guts… “Effects Men” contains interviews with Rick Baker and Michael Lennick and they talk about doing the film and working with Woods and David Cronenberg. This is divided into four sections: The Golden Age, James Woods, Collaboration and David’s Stories. The unedites versions of the TV sequences are shown in all their glory (we only see hints of them during the movie). The full “Samurai Dreams” sequence is shown with no less than three commentary tracks to accompany it. Also included are the 7-minute Videodrome transmissions and some snuff segments with a commentary as well. “Fear on Film” is an interview with Cronenberg, John Landis and John Carpenter and moderated by Mick Garris. This is interesting, and dated, but seeing these four men in the interview should give fans of horror something to eat up. Three trailers are included as is an EPK cleverly titled “The Making of Videodrome”. This gives us some behind-the-scenes footage. Also included are some publicity stills and the usual Criterion Color Bars. And, while other studios are opting not to include an insert, there is a 40-page booklet with some very interesting photos and articles about the movie. Criterion continues to raise the bar with their latest – “Videodrome”.

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