Director: David Cronenberg
Screenplay: David Cronenberg
Starring: James Woods, Sonja Smits, Deborah Harry, Peter Dvorsky, Les Carlson, Jack Creley, Lynne Gorman
Running Time: 89 minutes
BBFC Certificate: 18
By the time 1983 came around, David Cronenberg’s reputation was already formed. A classical approach to extreme cinema was enabling him to skirt convention and he delivered on that theme with aplomb in the incredible Videodrome. This month, Arrow delivers a UHD edition and to those who already know the film, the prospect of seeing it with even more clarity might give rise to a giddy nervousness. This is not a film you watch, but one you experience.
The plot revolves around James Wood’s TV producer, a specialist in fringe material that infuriates the censors. He’s hungry for the next pirate broadcast that will really wake up the masses and his engineer shows him clips of what might look to us like a full-on round of Squid Game. He starts to hunt down the source, to which he apparently loses his girlfriend (Debbie Harry embracing a twisted role) and becomes embroiled in a conspiracy, one which will alter his very perception of the world.
Videodrome remains a grotty, dangerous film. That reputation of Cronenberg’s rather distracts from a core talent for filmmaking. His is a graceful style, always moving. Maybe it’s why he’s been so successful; he could do anything, but he chooses a fleshy path, and long may he remain on it. He doesn’t work with set pieces, not even in the notorious sex scenes. Unlike contemporaries such as Dario Argento or Brian De Palma, Cronenberg is arguably not asking the audience to be complicit in his protagonist’s desires, but instead explores the edges of humanity. And he presents us with such extreme imagery, yet entirely lacking in hyperbole. There might even be a hint of self-parody.
Or, you can take it as read and enjoy it for its anachronisms. Cheesy music, grungy effects, daft story; if you allow it to get under your skin (pardon the pun), in an ironic reflection of the narrative, it’s one of the most disturbing and provocative films of the 80s and Cronenberg’s straight faced treatment is key to it being convincing. By the end, your mileage may differ as to how far up it’s own arse it went, but it’s difficult to discuss a film that so lives its own criticisms.
Much of the UHD is finding detail in cluttered detritus. There are no clean lines, no glass offices. Basements with peeling wallpaper is more the thing and the detail in the mise en scene is phenomenal. Colour and flesh tone (an important thing here) is evenly balanced. From a story perspective, Videodrome is an interesting prospect for 4k, because there’s no way to improve the footage Woods is finding on the pirated broadcast. The jarring effect is useful to the film.
Rather than appearing dated, Rick Baker’s wonderful practical effects respond very well to added scrutiny. The film positively throbs in certain moments.
Howard Shore’s score both accentuates and dates Videodrome, but it wouldn’t be the same without it and it is presented here clean and precise. The lossless track is the original, but if that implies a limited experience, the opposite is true. It’s a strong soundscape that puts many a 5.1 remix to shame.
Arrow haven’t had many real gems of late, but this is an absolute star of a release. It’s jam-packed with valuable extras, including Cronenberg’s short film, archival features and more. The audio commentary is good, but the stand-outs for me were the thorough documentary including interviews with the likes of Alex Cox, and the round-table discussion. The limited edition also includes a 60 page book, poster and art cards.
- Audio commentary by Tim Lucas, the on-set correspondent for Cinefantastique Magazine and author of Videodrome: Studies in the Horror Film
- David Cronenberg and the Cinema of the Extreme, a documentary featuring
interviews with Cronenberg, George A. Romero and Alex Cox on Cronenberg’s cinema, censorship and the horror genre
- Forging the New Flesh, a documentary by filmmaker Michael Lennick on Videodrome’s video and prosthetic makeup effects
- Fear on Film, A round table discussion from 1982 with Cronenberg, John Carpenter, John Landis and Mick Garris
- The complete, uncensored Samurai Dreams footage with commentary by Michael Lennick
- Helmet-Cam Test and Why Betamax?, two featurettes by Michael Lennick on the film’s effects
- The Making of David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, a 1982 featurette by Mick Garris, with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with Cronenberg, James Woods, Deborah Harry and Rick Baker
- Videoblivion, an interview with cinematographer Mark Irwin
- Pierre David on Videodrome, an interview with executive producer Pierre David
- AKA Jack Martin, an interview with Dennis Etchison, author of novelisations of Videodrome and The Fog, discussing Videodrome and his observations of Cronenberg’s script
- Camera, Cronenberg’s short film starring Videodrome’s Les Carlson
- Pirated Signals: The Lost Broadcast, deleted and alternate scenes from the TV version
- Original trailers
- Image gallery
- Limited edition packaging with reversible sleeve featuring two original pieces of poster artwork
- Illustrated 60-page collector’s booklet featuring writing on the film by Justin Humphreys, Brad Stevens and Tim Lucas, extracts from Cronenberg on Cronenberg, and a brand new roundtable retrospective with critics Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, Cerise Howard, Josh Nelson and Emma Westwood
- Foldout double-sided poster featuring two original pieces of artwork
- Six double-sided, postcard-sized lobby card reproduction artcards