Canadian auteur David Cronenberg's 1983 Videodrome is a disturbing, darkly humorous treatise on the powerful influence of television, and it's the most fully realized of his early films. James Woods stars as Max Renn, the owner of a small cable-TV station who seeks edgier material that will distinguish his channel's programming. His efforts lead to Videodrome, a snuff program, beamed via satellite, which begins to infect his mind. Cronenberg cleverly waits nearly halfway through the film before introducing Renn's hallucinations. But since the entire film is presented from Renn's perspective, the viewer is left to wonder how much of the narrative is real. Brian O'Blivion, a character based upon media guru Marshall McLuhan, serves as a Greek chorus, appearing on television screens throughout the film to pontificate on the unique qualities of the video image.
Although released when before the home-video revolution was in full swing, many of the concepts explored in the film predicted later developments in digital and computer technology. In Cronenberg's work, the psychological is manifested through physical transformation. In Videodrome, a television breathes and pulsates seductively, while Renn develops a mysterious slit in the middle of his abdomen (continuing Cronenberg's early obsession with people growing sexlike orifices in unusual places). Videodrome showcases the talents of makeup and special-effects genius Rick Baker (recipient of the first Academy Award for makeup effects two years before), who created several sequences that remain compelling more than 20 years after the film's release. The film was made during what Baker refers to as the "Golden Age" of special effects.
Videodrome was recently released as a two-disc collection from Criterion, which continues to set the standard by which special-edition DVDs should be judged. The second disc features makeup tests, publicity stills, video and audio material on the film's extensive special effects, and production photos. A panel interview from 1982 that features Cronenberg, John Landis (An American Werewolf in London) and John Carpenter (The Thing) is a must-see for horror-film fans. The directors discuss the psychological and cultural implications of their work as well as their run-ins with censors. The special edition also includes all seven minutes of the Videodrome transmission used throughout the film, and Samurai Dreams, a softcore porn film excerpted only briefly in the finished product.
There are two audio commentaries, one featuring Woods and co-star Deborah Harry, and another with Cronenberg and cinematographer Mark Irwin. Cronenberg emerges as a collaborative director willing to allow certain elements of the story to be revealed through the shooting process. (Woods, who signed on to the project on the basis of an unfinished screenplay, joins members of the effects team in praising the director for the originality of his script.) Cronenberg describes Videodrome as a movie "looking at itself," and expresses his interest in "reinventing the human body" to demonstrate that "technology doesn't really expose its true meaning...until it's incorporated into the human body."