These days, James Woods’ name is on everyone’s lips on social media, either because he posted something inflammatory from a right-wing, anti-government, or “anti-woke” perspective, or because he was accused of lewd behavior and appetite. It’s sometimes hard to remember that, unlike his fellow Twitter trolls like Kevin Sorbo, Woods was consistently hailed as one of the best actors of the ’80s. He was also considered one of the smartest, although mainly by his own publicists. Still, it’s telling that when he and Sean Young broke up, the public largely believed she was the crazy one at the time. Watch Woods in David Cronenberg’s 1983 film Videodrome Today, one can’t help but be impressed not only by the way the film predicted his multimedia obsessions, but also by the career of the actor himself.

In the forest…

Woods plays Max Renn – his name is a reversal of Cronenberg’s favorite motorcycle, the Rennmax – a television station owner who is always on the lookout for the most extreme content. He says it’s a way to get noticed and get ratings, but there’s evidence to suggest that Renn himself has the deviant appetite he attributes to his audience, always looking for more intense spank material. When his tech-savvy partner (Peter Dvorsky) discovers a jumbled feed of literal torture porn (real torture for arousal, as opposed to an Eli Roth film), Renn longs for more. He has to secure the broadcast rights himself, but also can’t get enough of watching it. It may be a George Romero-related hoax: the signal appears to come from Pittsburgh.

Unfortunately for Max, this particular porn addiction has more than just behavioral side effects. The signal itself creates a brain tumor that triggers hallucinations. Some people, like the pseudonymous Professor O’Blivion (Jack Creley), believe they could be beneficial. However, it quickly becomes clear that the people behind the signal have an agenda, and a big part of it is to make viewers more receptive to commands. Max becomes romantically involved with a masochist (Deborah Harry) who may not even exist, imagining himself a VCR made of flesh while Betamax tapes seemingly inserted into his newly grown stomach vagina command him , to kill. With this film, Cronenberg arguably took the term “mindf**k” more literally than anything other than illegal porn.

Can you bear it?

If you were an 80s teenager, you couldn’t miss it if you just strolled through the horror shelves at the local video store and rented anything that sounded interesting. To put it simply, Cronenberg is known for “body horror,” but for the most part his films are far more intellectual than grotesque. He can deliver stunning gore, but only when appropriate – unless you engage with his story on an intellectual level, the guts alone may not make much sense. (Anyone who rents scanners just for exploding heads might be quite disappointed after the initial effect.) The consumer-level home video recorder was relatively new when Videodrome came out; Based on the writings of the Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan, Cronenberg understood very early on that influence and psychological dependence can occur.

McLuhan more or less predicted the World Wide Web; One could argue that Videodrome predicted something like troll factories and bots that feed on users’ addiction to outrage and trick them into certain behavior and voting patterns. It’s no small irony that Woods himself seems to have become so addicted to the special dopamine effect of hate retweets. Nor that the conspirators in the Videodrome claim that they are motivated by America becoming softer towards the supposedly “tough” rest of the world (today it would be “woke”).

It’s actually about ethics in cable programming

Television typically uses the power of persuasion to stimulate purchase and consumption; If anything, the Internet, like the villains of Videodrome, has demonstrated the ability to actively influence ideologies. The alt-right movement’s recruitment of gamers by manipulating fears that feminists would ruin the sexpot characters in their favorite games is just one notable real-world example. As a follower, insert your own hacked/rigged/influenced election theory. That one main character in “Videodrome” appears to exist only on video while another may be entirely hallucinated feels like predictions about catfishing and the precarious nature of online avatars. Cronenberg has said he has no particular interest in being a prophet, but he is attentive enough to human behavior and fear that his analysis can take on a timeless quality.

Videodrome’s 4K set, like the latest Criterion 4Ks, includes the 2010 Blu-ray with all supplements, as well as a new 4K disc that includes both existing commentary titles from 2004, a date well before Woods’ most public decline in the social media madness lies. One stars Woods and Harry; the other, Cronenberg and cinematographer Mark Irwin. For the most part, they all sound recorded separately, although Cronenberg and Irwin do interact at one point. Woods comes across as charming, erudite and smart, recalling many aspects of the production process and referencing other cultural touchstones and trends that the film reminds him of. Harry focuses primarily on her own acting process and the insecurities at the time – as a pop music icon, she was still an inexperienced actress, although a casual viewer would never know it.

Old print or new flesh?

Cronenberg and Irwin talk about the journey of making the film without any idea how it will end, and the deadline to finish by the end of the year or lose their tax dollars. That’s right; In Canada, the government financed Cronenberg films. It’s hard to imagine that half of the US population isn’t upset to hear that any movie is getting our tax dollars, let alone a movie with tummy vaginas.

Between 4K and Blu-ray, consumers have two alternative viewing options. The Blu-ray has an old film feel, with brighter colors and more grain, and looks like a great vintage print pulled out of storage, the kind you’d see in a state house. The 4K film, on the other hand, feels like a new film – its color grading really gives it the cold, clinical feel that so many of Cronenberg’s works embody. While some of the makeup effects are outstanding and inventive, there’s one with a prosthetic hand that’s obviously not real, but has enough moving parts to make it scary nonetheless.

Other extras on the disc include a montage of photos from the set, a feature on the make-up and a veteran horror director’s forum in which then-documentary filmmaker Mick Garris moderates John Landis, John Carpenter and Cronenberg. Considering what CD this is on, it’s no surprise that Cronenberg comes across as the smartest guy in the room; Landis keeps trying to poke at Carpenter, who even as a young man feels like an old guy who would like to get everyone off his lawn.

Tumor signal not included

Full versions of the Videodrome torture footage (obviously staged) and the pornographic Samurai TV show are included with optional commentary, as well as tests of the VR helmet effects (from before VR helmets actually existed). It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that Woods was afraid that the device could potentially electrocute him.

An older version of the featurette and the original trailers prove fascinating – the trailers are pretty good teasers even by today’s standards and must have been confusing in a time when excessive narratives were the norm.

Final Verdict:

As always, it may be a little difficult for anyone who already owns the included Blu-ray to purchase the 4K film, but it really is a very different transfer with a different effect. Considering how extensive the extras always were, anyone who owned the Blu probably couldn’t have imagined that anything else would be added. If that sounds like you, you understand the hesitation. However, if you don’t own it yet, it’s a must-have. Great film, great package and prophetic social commentary that probably holds up even better now. Calling it “adult horror” isn’t condescending – you need a certain level of life experience and observation of social trends to truly enjoy Videodrome for what it is.

SCORE: 9/10

As explained in ComingSoon’s review guidelines, a rating of 9 is equivalent to “Excellent.” Entertainment that reaches this level is first class. The gold standard that every creator wants to achieve.

The Criterion Collection 4K edition of Videodrome is now available on CD.

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