What's On & Where To Go 24th-30th November 1983 - Page 39
Written by: Phillip Bergson
Beat me daddy, eight to the bar
WITH an eerie topicality, as ill-informed pundits start to bleat about nasty
videos, comes a dazzling odyssey into the darker side of celluloid
'entertainments', directed with his customary visual and visceral flair by
Canadian horror master David Cronenberg. VIDEODROME 918 certificate; 89
minutes), ironically one of the few new features distributed by the enterprising
Palace Pictures not released on video, is both an effective and skilfully
confusing horror fantasy, as well as an alarming allegory on the extent to which
an audience can be manipulated by sophisticated use of imagery.
The surfaces mingle deceptively, from film to TV to video, all cleverly
simulated, the 'scope screen filled with striking - and often frightening -
compositions. For the main character, Max Renn (capably played by relative
newcomer James Woods, who was so good in Fast Walking and manages to convey both
self-assured machismo and more plausible vulnerability) is a director of
Civic-TV, a cable television company which happens to retail soft porn as its
specialite de la maison.
Max is one of the new spivs, in a way, smart, articulate, with perhaps no moral
qualms, only driven by the search for quicker, faster bucks. This makes him a
willing prey to the illegal 'snuff-tv' broadcasts he manages to pick up, through
the agency of an electronics whizz-kid he employs: a low-budget channel called 'Videodrome'
seems to be beaming out some highly sadistic sit-coms.
Meanwhile, the city's legit TV station public-mindedly arranges a live debate
with Max participating alongside an alluring personality, Nicki Brand (a
splendidly seductive, but finely characterised role for Deborah Harry) with whom
he strikes an instant rapport.
It subsequently transpires that Miss Brand likes the idea of striking very much
and that her surname is more than a little self-explanatory.
Another participant, though not present in the studio, is a kind of latter-day
McLuhan, 'prof' Brian O'Blivion (Jack Creley) whose pronouncements are relayed
by outside broadcast, it appears. But this tension between appearance and
reality, with the concomitant strain of voyeurism (and some unusually explicit
lashings of SM), involves Max in a chase to several deaths, as the truth behind
'Videodrome', and its mind-bending impact, filters out.
Some of the special effects are as bizarre and grisly as any Cronenberg achieved
in Shivers, Scanners, or The Brood. The pace is fast and some of the shocks
ferocious; it is a delicious, delirious and decadent confection.