Cronenberg’s Cathode-Ray Puzzle Boxes

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.

Videodrome

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.

Continue reading “Cronenberg’s Cathode-Ray Puzzle Boxes”

Mind-Expanding Or Just a Headache?

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.

David Cronenberg isn’t the sort of director who really does sequels. Really, who can blame him? Most of the movies he directs end up a little scorched-earth by the end; it’s hard to see how someone could take Videodrome or The Brood forward. On the other hand, a lot of the time his films exude a sense of vertigo over the future, with society and the characters on a precipice that they are just about to tip over. It’s not hard to see why a very few producers and directors have been tempted to try and show what happens when the world finally falls over that edge; hence the misguided The Fly 2, hence the four sequels to Scanners.

Anchor Bay has now released the first three Scanners films in a fairly decent boxed set. You can get it for £7 if you shop around, and it includes the three films in individual full-sized DVD cases – ideal if you decide you only want to keep the first one and sell the others on EBay or to a second hand shop. The original region 2 release of Scanners wasn’t especially brilliant – amongst other things, it trimmed down the original aspect ratio to 4:3, whereas the new release is in anamorphic widescreen and so finally offers the full picture rather than a trimmed-down version, so I thought I’d pick up the new set, see if the first film still holds up since I saw it last, and take a look at the other two whilst I was at it.

Continue reading “Mind-Expanding Or Just a Headache?”