Movie Review: Videodrome (1983) – Criterion 4K/Blu-ray

March 1, 2024

Written by DanXIII

Daniel XIII; the result of an arcane ritual involving a King Diamond album, a box of Count Chocula, and a copy of Swank magazine, is a screenwriter, director, producer, actor, artist, and reviewer of fright flicks…Who hates ya baby?

Max Renn (James Woods, John Carpenter’s Vampires) is the president of tiny UHF station CIVIC-TV; a channel that stays afloat thanks to it’s regular broadcasts containing ample amounts of those hoary ol’ chestnuts, sex and violence!

Bored with the normal softcore smut he’s is offered for broadcast, Mmax turns his eyes skyward for inspiration… namely by using CIVIC-TV’s big-ass satellite dish to find new programs that’ll excite both himself and his viewers.

To that end, he gets turned on to Videodrome; a plot-less torture program… most likely unsimulated… that is broadcast from Pittsburgh. Along the way he gets his new sadomasochistic girlfriend, the radio host Nicki Brand (Blondie’s Debbie Harry) who gets it in her head that she wants to try and audition for the show.

His investigation as to the show’s origin brings him to The Cathode Ray Mission; a homeless shelter that seeks to rehabilitate derelicts through constant exposure to television… and was the home of the TV-based hallucinogenic experiments of Dr. Brian O’Blivion… along with the true purpose of Videodrome.

Will Max be able to fight through his waking nightmares and put an end to Videodrome, or will it’s creepy Cathode rays consume him entirely!

C’mon, you’ve seen or at least heard of David Cronenberg’s masterpiece… it’s a true classic, and here’s my spin as to why (which is basically the same as most others)…

For starters, the film’s representation of visual technology of the time (the early ‘80s to be specific) is downright prophetic… The torture porn of Videodrome (the program) is echoed through any matter of gruesome material we can access on the internet, there is proto-VR tech on display (that can record hallucinations no less… and probably heading our way sooner than later… ), and big business trying to access said tech for their own unsavory ends remains on brand to this day.

Of course it’s not just the machinery of the “modern” age gets the ol’ blood flowin’ with this one as Cronenberg  and special effects maestro Rick Baker and his team fill the picture with all manner of tech turning organic (often in sexually suggestive ways… and we’ll get back to that), body horror, and human/machine hybridization of the most fever-dream kind! It’s a true buffet for lovers of the psychotronic and proto-Cyberpunk!

It also bares mention that this film is kinky and horny as hell with S&M material presented frankly and without a ton of negative stigmata, and the sexual activity is not unlike the machines going about their various programs… and to wit, the unconventional manner of the sex scenes mirror the changes going on in the tech as it turns to functions not originally within it’s set parameters.

Naturally one of the big reasons this all works so well is the rock solid cast on display with Woods an almost anti-hero, full of snark and near-punk rock attitude, and Debbie Harry downright ethereal as she is sensuous leading the charge, but a ton of heavy lifting is done by the supporting cast as well with even the most minor of characters being incredibly memorable thanks to both the nuances the narrative provides, but their strong performances.

I should also be noted that this release looks absolutely stunning, and while I’m far from a tech dude I can tell you that the level of detail in this transfer is absurd… you can see mold marks on some of the effects due to the crispness of the image.

Adding to the experience are the bonus features Criterion have provided with this release…

Kicking things off, we get a duo of archival commentaries; one featuring Cronenberg and director of photography Mark Irwin, and the other courtesy of Woods and Harry. Both contain an absolute bevy of details as to the film’s production, themes, inspiration, and just what it was like to be on set for this visionary film.

Moving over to Disc Two we get a Blu-ray version of the film (including the aforementioned commentaries) along with Camera, a short film made by Cronenberg, an archival documentary covering the film’s visual effects (which is followed by an audio conversation with Rick Baker and Michael Lennick discussing the same), full versions of some of the films within the film (with accompanying commentaries), a video essay comprised of behind-the-scenes stills once again detailing the copious effects work featured in the picture, Fear on Film, an archival round-table chat hosted by Mick Garris (the TV adaptations of Stephen King’s The Shining and The Stand) and featuring John Landis (The Howling), John Carpenter (Halloween), and Cronenberg, three trailers for the film, an archival “making of” piece, and a promotional image gallery.

Also included in this package is a booklet containing writing about the film in the form of essays by  film critic Carrie Rickey, author Tim Lucas, and writer Gary Indiana.

As relevant and at times shocking as it was upon it’s theatrical release, Videodrome is a masterpiece of psychotronic body horror that has more than earned it’s place as fright flick royalty, and this edition deserves a place in your creepy collection post haste!


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