Originally titled Network of Blood, Videodrome isn’t an out-and-out horror. But it’s certainly surreal enough to make you question whether someone’s been spiking your cocoa with cheese before bedtime.It’s written and directed by David Cronenberg, father of ‘body horror’ and the dark mind behind The Fly, A History of Violence, eXistenz and Crash – the Crash where James Spader takes Holly Hunter up the highway code, not the Crash that explains racism for thick people. And you can tell. Set in the early 80s, James Woods plays Max Renn, a TV executive looking for after-hours programmes to screen on his grubby station. Scouring pirate shows for something that might tickle his fancy and titillate his viewers, he stumbles across a questionable broadcast – Videodrome.
Even the Christmas Day episode of Eastenders isn’t this bleak. Replace the Queen Vic with a red sex dungeon and the blood vessels on Phil Mitchell’s red nose with bloody nude torture and you’re halfway there. But is Videodrome more snuff movie than staged set?
Enter Deborah Harry of Debbie Harry fame – before she hit 50 and her face became the most disconcerting thing I’d ever seen before this movie. A fling of Max’s, she elevates her penchant for S&M to the next level by taking a starring role in the next ‘episode’. Things then get weird. Fast. The more of Videodrome that Max watches, the more it starts to infiltrate his mind and cause hallucinations. Most notably a disturbingly real gash in his stomach with an appetite for VHS tapes (actually fact fans, they were Betamax cassettes as VHS was too big for the orifice). I imagine that Jeremy Beadle had a similar one after his years on You’ve Been Framed. For his sake, I hope Videodrome does imitate life. Because let’s face it, a body deformity fetish is the only chance Jezza would have had in the 80s to get his withered hand anywhere near the lead singer of Blondie.
Speaking of complete fantasy, it’s also refreshing to see that the effects are creepier than you might get in today’s era of CGI. It’s amazing what latex, rubber and a fertile imagination can do. (Which, incidentally, is the byline on my dating profile.)
Although its weirdness places it firmly in the category of ‘best served after you get in from the pub’, it still manages to hold onto a linear storyline of sorts. So whilst it’s won a fair few awards, it’s also been voted one of the Weirdest Films of All Time by Total Film. But don’t let that put you off. Debbie Harry is surprisingly good. Although it’s less ‘Heart of Glass’. More ‘cut me with glass whilst I get off on it and the audience feels conflicted as to whether they’re meant to find it hot or not’. And James Woods couldn’t be better.
If you’re looking for something a bit different, it’ll be right up your street – assuming your street is paved with hallucinogens. Although it will make guys think twice about doing the standard freeview sweep around midnight… Is that a videotape in your stomach or are you just pleased to see me?