This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.
Videodrome is far and away one of my favourite horror movies, not least because I am fairly sure that the movie is smarter than I am and I don’t feel equal to the task of giving it a really full, in-depth breakdown of it that doesn’t get bogged down into obsessive and unintelligible clucking over its nested layers of realities.
Luckily, for the purposes of providing a chunky Ferretbrain article, Arrow Video recently rereleased Videodrome in a big fat boxed set that also includes an accompanying collection of short films by Cronenberg – his 2000 piece Camera, two film school shorts, and two of his absolute earliest movies – Stereo and Crimes of the Future. (These and the film school shorts have since had a solo release as David Cronenberg’s Early Works, with Camera accompanying Videodrome on a single-disc release too.) One could go very, very deep into any of these waters, but for these purposes I’d prefer to give just a few brief impressions of each of them rather than claiming to fully understand any of these, since between them they amount to Cronenberg’s most enigmatic works.
Max Renn (James Woods) is the boss of Civic TV, a sleazy cable TV station dedicated to beaming gourmet transgressive trash into the living rooms of its subscribers. Always on the hunt for fresh, new, shocking material to excite a jaded audience, Renn hustles for new shows like a drug kingpin tracking down a new heroin supply. I’m not coming over all William Burroughs there; an early scene in which Renn meets up with some Japanese distributors of a low-budget pornographic TV serial in a dingy, out-of-the-way apartment makes the whole process look exactly like a drug deal.
As part of this process, Renn sponsors electronics whiz Harlan (Peter Dvorsky) to monitor transmissions of both legal and extralegal origins to try and track down juicy leads. One day, Harlan shows him something truly shocking – Videodrome a torture porn show, apparently broadcast out of Malaysia, in which two sinister figures brutalise and murder a helpless victim in a strange, red room – and Max can’t look away. As he sets his various aides to track it down, Max also begins a relationship with Nicki Brand (Debbie Harry), a radio psychiatrist who finds Videodrome a decidedly handy accompaniment to her own enjoyment of a little cutting, piercing, and branding in her sex life.