A groundbreaking film, David Cronenberg’s story about the horrible transformations wrought by exposure to televised violence wittily thematises the very problems that the director’s exploration of violent sexual imagery in his previous productions had caused with censors, Hollywood distributors and feminist groups.
Max Renn (James Woods) is a cable station programmer whose cynical marketing of sex and violence backfires on him when his abdomen suddenly grows a vagina-like opening into which, among other objects, video cassettes can be inserted.
The film, in which such sadomasochistic fantasy and transgendering play key roles, ends tragically, with Max’s self-destruction.
In many ways the most audacious formal incarnation of Cronenberg’s characteristic themes, Videodrome begins as a fairly standard commercial thriller, only to be transformed at midpoint into subjective fantasy of the most outrageous and unusual kind.
Visually rich, Videodrome is also thought-provoking in its startling meditation on both polymorphous perversity and the interpenetration between the public and subjective realms of experience.
Cronenberg has been both praised and condemned for his fluid treatment of gender – a closing sequence in which two female characters grow penises in a kind of riposte to Max’s “vagination” was cut from the release print as too disturbing for a mainstream audience.
Even in its edited form, Videodrome remains one of Hollywood’s most unusual films, too shocking and idiosyncratic to be anything but a commercial failure.