Film Reviews

Videodrome (1983) – 4K UHD Blu-ray Review

Television is all about getting the new thing to the masses. Hooking them in, whether it’s Squid Game, Love Island, or Strictly Come On Eileen. And nothing pulls people in more than controversy. That’s where Videodrome comes in.

Videodrome is one of Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg’s most notorious films. James Woods stars as Max Renn, a sleazy guy who runs a small-time TV station in Toronto called CIVIC-TV. Always looking for the next big thing to get people to tune in, Max comes across a strange satellite signal called Videodrome, which is like nothing he’s ever seen before and purports to come from Malaysia.

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Indeed, the images that the signal transmits are of sadomasochism, torture, and murder, which intrigue Max, who then attempts to find out who is behind Videodrome so he can purchase it for his station. However, it pulls him further into a twisted world of surrealism and hallucination that involves his lover Nicki (Debbie Harry). Once he discovers what Videodrome is, Max finds it increasingly difficult to separate reality from fantasy, which is what Videodrome wants.

Videodrome is a masterpiece and shows just how far ahead of the curve Cronenberg was and, in many respects, still is. It’s a disturbing film, but not just for the sake of it; nothing Cronenberg does is just surface level. The themes here run deep – media sensationalism, censorship, and the use of television as a device for control. The way objectional material is used as a tool to attract viewers. The conflation of sex and violence. It’s also not padded out; the film is a slick 89 minutes long. Cronenberg doesn’t dwell on these. He doesn’t allow the viewer to because he knows how easily it can bog down the narrative.

Instead, he shocks you with the imagery that will stay in your brain long after the credits have rolled. Videodrome is full of frankly weird and surreal images, from scenes like Nicki getting off while on a television set that Max whips to the more traditional body horror stuff for which Cronenberg is famous. I say traditional, but how many movies have sequences where a living, breathing videotape is shoved into a vulva-shaped orifice on a human stomach?

The film is impeccably cast, with the seemingly always skeezy James Woods perfect as Max and the stunning Debbie Harry mesmerising and sexy as Nicki. Howard Shore’s electro-acoustic score thrums through the film providing a level of dread, while Rick Baker’s prosthetic effects are still incredible. It’s the kind of film that drives censors wild because of how eroticism and destruction are intertwined and how the film approaches it intellectually. Not just gore, for gore’s sake.

Arrow Video has presented Videodrome with a new 4K restoration that looks beautiful and grimy, as designed by Cronenberg and cinematographer Mark Irwin. Along with this is a lossless mono soundtrack as it was theatrically presented, and it sounds fantastic, especially Shore’s music. Arrow has presented both the theatrical cut and Cronenberg’s director’s cut, both of which have been approved by the director.

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Arrow has understandably ported the bonus features over from their previous excellent Blu-ray version, including the audio commentary by Tim Lucas; sadly, only Criterion has the David Cronenberg commentary. There are several featurettes, including the BBC documentary David Cronenberg and the Cinema of the Extreme featuring Cronenberg, George Romero, and Alex Cox, the ‘Fear on Film’ roundtable discussion, and many more on the film’s effects, the ‘Samurai Dreams’ programme seen in the movie, as well as deleted scenes.

Arrow’s Blu-ray edition of Videodrome was already great, but they’ve gone one further with the excellent 4K scan. The film looks and sounds as great as ever and still stands up as one of the greatest horror films ever made. Long live the new flesh.

Videodrome is out now on 4K UHD from Arrow Video.


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