Criterion Project #10: VIDEODROME (1983)

Editor’s note: This post is appearing on a Monday because life happens and Friday was not an option. As such, I’ll be changing my post day to Monday’s from here on out because it just works better for me for scheduling purposes. Thank you!


Year: 1983

Director: David Cronenberg

Timing is a funny thing. September and October are for Halloween and horror movies in my house, and I feel particularly lucky to have a partner who shares not only my love of horror, but also Halloween. At the beginning of September I undertook a side project to switch-up our horror viewing for this spooky season. Simply put, I assigned a different horror movie theme to each day on the calendar from September 1st through October 31st, totaling 61 different themes. The theme assigned to whichever day I’m watching decides the type of horror movie I’m choosing.

For example, a recent theme was “Aquatic” horror. Naturally any film dealing with horror in the water counts, so we watched Deep Blue Sea (1999) and Lake Placid (1999). So far it’s helped break up the monotony of our yearly routine and I’m really enjoying doing it.

But bringing this back around to the topic at hand, Monday’s horror theme just so happened to serendipitously coincide with this little project. That theme was none other than the master of body horror, David Cronenberg.

And wouldn’t you know it, this week’s Criterion Project title is Mr. Cronenberg’s Videodrome.

(Cue the Powerman 5000)

This is certainly a collision of worlds, and the exact intersection of horror and art-house. Criterion’s mission statement proclaims they are “dedicated to publishing important classic and contemporary films”, and this is the first on my list to wade into the horror pool. The attraction to Cronenberg’s films isn’t how scary or even necessarily how horrific they are (and they are), it’s the thematic material beneath the guts and gore.

Videodrome is a paramount example of important horror, and arguably the Cronenberg film with the most to say. He uses a mystery about a pirated television broadcast showcasing torture, rape, and murder to craft a message about obsession and technology in contemporary 1980s America. The lead, Max Renn (James Woods), manages a low-level public access TV channel trying to find the next big thing in extreme television.

Enter “Videodrome”.

In the process of unraveling the mystery of “Videodrome” Max finds himself becoming closer and closer to machine, and some of his machines becoming closer to him.

There’s allegorical content throughout the text that illuminates humankind’s relation to machinery and technology through anachronistic technological advancements such as the VCR. The Max Renn character is Cronenberg’s personification of the general consumer and their insatiable appetite to be thrilled, horrified, and turned-on all at the same time. At one point Max chides his lover, Nicki (Debbie Harry), for showing interest in performing on “Videodrome” while failing to acknowledge his own unhealthy obsession with the taboo broadcast.

Like his leads in Dead Ringers and A History of Violence, Max is imbued with this kind of dialectic, torturous inner struggle between obsession and restraint. We meet each of the leads in these films after they’ve lived as “villains”, for lack of a better expression. Lecherous doctors, domesticated killers, and smut peddlers – these are Cronenberg’s protagonists. The question with him is always – will they pull their way out, or continue to fall deeper down the hole?

It’s a question we should all ask ourselves. Just a fantastic film with novels of subtext throughout and I can’t wait to watch it again – for better or for worse.

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