In 1983 David Cronenberg was known as a genre director. A respected one, but a genre director nonetheless, and a horror one to boot. If he was lucky he’d get a feature in Phangoria one day, but there was no reason to expect High Art from the guy. But with the release of Videodrome that year things started to change. A seriously deranged confluence of biological gore and media theory, it certainly wasn’t the first ‘smart’ horror film, but it made explicit (in every sense of the word) the intellectual rigor behind it’s queasy intersection of S&M, porn, and horror. If Tobe Hooper and Wes Craven’s early films play as drive-in ‘art brut’, Cronenberg’s cool visual style and detached perspective were downright clinical by comparison and, perhaps, all the scarier for it. And while the movie’s emphasis on now antiquated video technology may seem quaint to younger viewers, there is nothing dated about its obsession with the intersection of the virtual and the real. In fact, swap out the internet for the film’s clandestine pirate satellite broadcasts and the story would work just as well (damn, I hope I haven’t given some vacuous producer the idea to remake the damn thing).
Criterion has upgraded their already stellar DVD set to Blu-ray with a pronounced improvement in color accuracy and much more film-like look overall. While the extras are more or less the same as the prior edition, they are copious and well-done; two commentary tracks (one by Cronenberg and his cinematographer Mark Irwin, the other by stars James Woods and Deborah Harry), as well as a documentary on the film’s video and make-up effects and a filmed roundtable discussion on horror films from 1982 with John Carpenter, John Landis and Mick Garris joining Cronenberg. And most intriguing of all is the complete, unedited footage that comprises the “Videodrome Transmissions” from the film. Prepare to be freaked out for some time.