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After the success of his first box office hit Scanners, director David Cronenberg went on to write and direct what many have come to consider his career defining and definitive film, Videodrome, for Universal. While the film was not the hit that Scanners became, it has garnered a sort of cult following over the years thanks to home video. After a lacklustre release by Universal for the film on DVD back in 1998, The Criterion Collection, with the help of Cronenberg and assorted cast and crew members, has compiled the definitive home video release of the film.

Videodrome: The Criterion Collection
Max Wren (James Woods) runs a pseudo-underground local cable station in urban Toronto that caters to a niche market of soft core pornography and violent programming. Looking for something fresh for his station, Max comes across the pirated signal of a presumably snuff program called 'Videodrome' in which people are brutally tortured and murdered.

After meeting local radio personality Nikki Brand (Deborah Harry) during a local television panel discussion, the two begin a relationship and unknowingly become mutually addicted to 'Videodrome’s hypnotic hold. Max continues to search out the point of origin of the signal and the people responsible for creating it, leading him to Professor Brian O’Blivion (Jack Creley) and his Cathode Ray Mission, where the homeless are fed a steady diet of soup and television. As the puzzle that is 'Videodrome' begins to piece together, Max begins to experience his wild hallucinations with greater frequency and vividness and soon comes to the realization that has become an unwilling pawn in a secret war to control the minds of society at large.

Videodrome is a difficult film to categorize—it is part horror film, morality tale, social commentary and conspiracy thriller wrapped into one, featuring the usual Cronenberg imagery and themes of bodily transformation, sexuality and addiction before they were widely known as the usual from this unusual director. But more importantly and deftly, it is a biting commentary on the media and its influence on our daily lives and the best example of Cronenberg’s twisted vision of the world through film to date. His take on the media has over the years become seemingly prophetic when reflected upon these days of society's morbid fascination with murder trials and the reality show infected schedule on television.

The film also happens to contain James Woods’ best performance yet, with the possible exception of his work in Oliver Stone’s Salvador, and without him at the top of his game the film may have failed miserably. Told from the point of view of Woods’ character, Videodrome is a film that will make you think and may offer those willing to delve into it a different experience each time in trying to figure out what is real and what is hallucination. You will find yourself asking if certain characters or events are real or to what extent are they based on reality…if they truly exist at all. The perspective of the lead character is what makes the story so absorbing and, in a neat trick complimentary to the film, pulls the viewer under its wicked spell. Without an actor of Woods’ calibre to anchor the film, it would not have been able to so effortlessly intertwine the reality from the fiction. Does Max Wren actually have an affair with Nikki Brand? What is the true nature of the 'Videodrome' signal? Both are just two of the questions you will be asking yourself over the course of the film.

Videodrome: The Criterion Collection
The special effects work by Rick Baker for the film is on par with, and some may argue that is surpasses, his work on John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London. The images in the film, ranging from a literal hand gun that fires cancerous tumours to writhing and breathing television sets, will stay in the back of your mind for some time and for the most part still hold up very well in today’s world of CGI effects. As good as they are however, the best thing about the effects is that they are rarely overdone and are utilized in service of Cronenberg’s script and Woods’ performance.

The only fault I find with the film is the unsatisfactory and anti-climactic ending. It isn’t the fact that it raises more questions and doesn’t wrap everything up in a tidy bow that I dislike, as an ending that offered up all of the answers would have betrayed the film, but rather the tacked on feeling I get every time I watch it; a feeling also shared not only by numerous fans of the film, but admittedly by Cronenberg himself who discusses it in one of the disc’s commentary tracks.

Videodrome may not be for everyone or cater to the pallet of the masses, but for those searching for an intelligent and thought provoking thriller it will taste exquisite. For those who are already fans of or have at least seen the film, a second look into its deeper recesses may be in order.

Video
The Criterion Collection has re-mastered Videodrome from the original 35mm negative and has presented the film with an anamorphic transfer at its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. According to David Cronenberg, the film has never looked better than on this DVD and I have to agree. While there may be a few instances of film grain in some scenes, the transfer is sharp and free of any major defects. Considering the age of the film and when it was produced, the restoration of the video on this DVD is superb, standing as another fine example of the meticulousness put into this company’s products.

Audio
The disc contains a single Dolby Digital 1.0 track in English that was created using the original 35mm magnetic tracks along with optional English subtitles. While a new, re-mastered Dolby Digital 5.1 track would have been nice, The Criterion Collection has done just as wonderful a job in cleaning up the audio as it has the video for the film. The sound is clean and crisp when listened to through either the centre channel or, for a wider dispersed sound, from the front channels. As for the score, Howard Shore once again lends his talents to another one of Cronenberg’s films with haunting music that fits nicely.

Videodrome: The Criterion Collection
Extras
The Criterion Collection has seen fit to provide their presentation of Videodrome with a number of solid extras to include audio commentaries, behind the scenes featurettes, and some of the film’s original promotional materials.

Disc one features two audio commentaries to choose from, the first featuring director and writer David Cronenberg and director of photography Mark Irwin, with the second featuring the films’ stars James Woods and Deborah Harry. The commentary from Cronenberg and Irwin is one that any fan of the film must listen to and is the best that Cronenberg himself has supplied for any one of his films. Many details concerning the production of the film and the screenplay are discussed as well as Cronenberg’s insight into the film twenty years ago versus the film in today’s culture. The second commentary is heavily dominated by Woods offering anecdotes from the filming of the movie and his take on the film. Deborah Harry seems a little less assured during the commentary, but is pleasant and informative to listen to as well. Both commentaries are a welcome addition to the package and offer a wealth of material on this unusual film.

The second extra on disc one is the six minute short film Camera, shot by Cronenberg for the Toronto Film Festival’s 25th Anniversary and starring Leslie Carlson (who plays Barry Convex in Videodrome) as an actor lamenting on the acting process and the state of film as children gather around with an old Panavision camera they have found.

The second disc in the set houses the rest of the extras including featurettes and original promotional materials used during the release of the film. The first featurette, ‘Forging the New Flesh’ is a new half hour documentary that contains interviews with the crew including Rick Baker as they reminisce about the sometimes difficult effects used in the film and working with David Cronenberg.

The second feature is the approximately twenty minute interview ‘Effects Men’, which features Rick Baker and video effects supervisor Michael Lennick. The piece mainly focuses on working with James Woods to make the effects more believable, the collaboration between everyone involved in pulling off the work in the film and working within David Cronenberg’s story and warped imagination. Unfortunately the interview is an audio only feature, but offers good insight into the film’s many effects and Rick Baker’s own professional evolution.

Videodrome: The Criterion Collection
Next is the twenty-six minute round table discussion from 1982 entitled ‘Fear on Film’, hosted and produced by Mick Garris and including Cronenberg, John Carpenter and John Landis, all three of who had films either just released or in production at Universal Studios at the time. The piece, originally produced as mere promotional material, is interesting in showing a glimpse of each filmmaker at that particular point in their career as they discuss their approach to directing horror films and their background in filmmaking in general.

The next feature, entitled ‘Bootleg Video’, features three of the video segments shot for use in the film. First is the complete five minute ‘Samurai Dreams’ video, with audio commentary from David Cronenberg on track two and Mark Irwin and Michael Lennick on track three. Next under this menu is seven minutes of ‘Videodrome’ transmissions with optional commentary from Irwin and Lennick and, according to the DVD, “all vestiges of the Videodrome signal have been filtered out to ensure tumor-free viewing”. Last is test footage used in the film for the helmet-cam sequence featuring Deborah Harry which is accompanied by optional audio commentary by Lennick. All three segments are great for fans wanting to see more of and go behind the making of these videos.

The disc also features a treasure trove of promotional materials under the ‘Marketing’ menu selection such as a vintage behind the scenes short, trailers, posters, lobby cards and publicity stills that were used for marketing the film for its theatrical release. Featured under the menu ‘Still Galleries’ are a great number of production stills featuring the special effects and the cast and crew. Both of these menu selections offer many items for you to rifle through and are a great added bonus to the set.

The DVD set also comes packaged with a forty-page booklet featuring essays written about Videodrome and excerpts from an unpublished book on the making of the film. Not to leave any stone unturned, The Criterion Collection has even supplied the set with a unique box design resembling a Betamax video tape and its protective sleeve. Overall, the extras included in this set are truly special and for a fan of the film nearly worth the price of the set alone.

Videodrome: The Criterion Collection
Overall
While Videodrome may not be a film for everyone, it certainly is a milestone in the career of its director David Cronenberg. Those who don’t mind a bit of intellect mixed in with their blood and gore will find it to be a probing and entertaining film worthy of multiple viewings. The Criterion Collection has packaged with the film some great extras that will leave little to be desired and their restoration of the film’s video and audio are both worthy of applause. I highly recommend adding this DVD to your collection; for those who are already fans of Cronenberg and his films it is a must own.


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