David Cronenberg’s creepy, disturbing and ultimately overindulgent 1983 hybrid of science fiction and horror is one of the most penetrating cinematic studies of the power of television to hypnotize the mind of the viewer and force through repetition the ability of subliminal suggestion to exert control over the viewer. Unfortunately, according to many viewers and reviewers, Videodrome is also one of the least disciplined efforts from a director who entire cannon is not exactly an exercise in restraint.
Cronenberg wrote as well as directed the film about a low budget cable TV channel operator unwittingly falls under the control of someone using the power of passive viewing of torture porn to enact a rather overly complicated conspiracy theory of their own. Many of the images have a primal subconscious repulsiveness associated with a sudden flashback to an unpleasant childhood experience. That element of the film is essential: the germ for the idea traces back to Cronenberg’s own memories of signals from nearby Buffalo, NY TV being the only channels available after the networks ended programming across the border in his home in Canada. Cronenberg invested the foreign quality of American TV stations crossing the border with an otherness that he imagined would never be allowed to air on his own country’s networks because of their graphic quality and ability to unnerve.
Although failing to register at the Oscars or any other major American film award, Videodrome made a surprising robust appearance at the Canadian equivalent of the Academy Awards, the Genie Awards. Nominated for eight awards, it took home just one that but that one a doozy. The one major award taken home by the film was a tie every bit as weird and unexpected as any of its disturbing images: David Cronenberg shared the award for Best Director with the single most unlikely co-winner imaginable: Bob Clark for the beloved holiday film that stands about as far apart from Videodrome as possible, A Christmas Story.