Tag Archives: David Cronenberg

Videodrome (1983) Review

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Videodrome

Time:  84 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1] contains content that may offend
Cast:
James Woods as Max Renn
Debbie Harry as Nicki Brand
Sonja Smits as Bianca O’Blivion
Peter Dvorsky as Harlan
Leslie Carlson as Barry Convex
Jack Creley as Dr. Brian O’Blivion
Lynne Gorman as Masha
Director: David Cronenberg

As the president of a trashy TV channel, Max Renn (James Woods) is desperate for new programming to attract viewers. When he happens upon “Videodrome,” a TV show dedicated to gratuitous torture and punishment, Max sees a potential hit and broadcasts the show on his channel. However, after his girlfriend (Deborah Harry) auditions for the show and never returns, Max investigates the truth behind Videodrome and discovers that the graphic violence may not be as fake as he thought.

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I’ve heard of Videodrome as a horror film directed by David Cronenberg and starring James Woods, it was meant to be something of a cult classic, but I had no idea what to expect from it going in. It turned out to be among the strangest movie watching experiences I’ve had, and I actually ended up loving it quite a lot.

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Videodrome was very much ahead of its time, in fact I can see it being inaccessible to some people. It’s really one of those movies that you will need to watch for yourself and determine what it is. This is especially considering that the lead character is a bit of an unreliable narrator and you can’t tell for sure whether what he (and by extension us) is seeing is real or not, which I guess was very much intentional. From what I can tell, Videodrome is a commentary about our desensitization to sex and violence through the media, as well as the power of media on the whole, especially with the rise of television at that time. Now the movie is very much set in a VHS era (in the 80s) but if you substituted television with the internet today, the message would still remain the same, and remain just as relevant if not more so. As a movie, it was a uniquely disturbing and fascinating experience for sure. I will say that I wasn’t certain about what was happening 100% of the time (again probably intentional), but I was going along with whatever was happening. As that, it really is best if you go into this movie and experience the strangeness for yourself without knowing too much beforehand. Cronenberg created such an uneasy and tense atmosphere that only grows the more you watch. The movie is 90 minutes long and for every minute you are invested in what is happening.

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James Woods does very well in the lead role of Max Renn. Despite his character being rather morally dubious, he does have a human aspect that evokes enough sympathy in the audience to make him watchable enough. Additionally, other actors in the cast like Debbie Harry and Sonja Smits also do well on their parts.

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David Cronenberg really shows off the best of his talents with Videodrome. Much of the uneasy feeling throughout the movie is due to his direction, there’s just a feeling of wrongness throughout, even when there’s not currently something weird or disturbing happening on screen. It’s very surreal, and claustrophobic at times, and helps to build up this uneasy atmosphere. The editing also contributes to this. Cronenberg has done lots of body horror in the past, and he does it again here with Videodrome to some great effect. There are some truly impressive and gruesome body effects which still hold up over 3 decades later. However it’s not just the body effects, there’s some effects that are meant to represent hallucinations and they do very well in making you question whether what’s happening on screen is real or not. Howard Shore’s score also fit perfectly with the movie, giving it even more eerie and uneasy vibe.

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Videodrome is a very weird movie for sure but it’s great, it’s directed incredibly, I was invested throughout, and it was such a uneasy and incredible experience. I actually want to get around to rewatching it sometime, because I feel like I’d get even more out of it on repeat viewings. While there’s many more of his movies that I have left to see, at the moment I’d say that this is one of David Cronenberg’s best, if not the best I’ve seen from him so far.

Scanners (1981) Review

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Scanners

Time: 103 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Horror scenes and violence
Cast:
Stephen Lack as Cameron Vale
Jennifer O’Neill as Kim Obrist
Patrick McGoohan as Dr. Paul Ruth
Lawrence Dane as Braedon Keller
Michael Ironside as Darryl Revok
Director: David Cronenberg

Dr Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan) finds Vale (Stephen Lack), a powerful scanner, and uses him to stop Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside), another powerful scanner who wants to form an alliance with others of his kind and dominate the world.

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I only knew a little bit about Scanners going in, just that it was another horror movie from David Cronenberg, and is the source of a certain famous head explosion scene. Honestly, I was quite surprised by the movie. It for sure has its problems but it was very entertaining.

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Cronenberg takes the time to establish this universe about Scanners, which are basically powerful telepaths. At its core, it is a corporate espionage film that happens to involve telepaths at the centre of it. It’s more of a sci-fi film than a horror movie, though I think it has enough horror elements that it can still be classified as such. It is entertaining and I was pretty interested throughout, although there were some moments across its 100 minute runtime that did lose me and I wasn’t as invested. The script doesn’t feel quite polished, it also feels very run of the mill, especially considering Cronenberg’s standards. This concept and blending of story elements was ahead of its time for sure, but I feel like it could’ve been better and explored further (not that I’m asking for a remake or anything). Now there is an exposition dump right at the end of the movie, while I usually don’t like exposition dumps in movies, I was alright with it here, although there was also some reveal in that act which I found rather pointless. On the whole though, I thought that the movie really shined in the climax.

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The weakest part of the movie was the characters and the actors. Stephen Lack plays the lead character and he was the weakest link in the cast. At times he gets away with it with such an intense stare when it comes to doing ‘scanning’, he seemed to have been deliberately chosen for this role for this reason. However he seems to suffer outside of those moments which don’t utilise that, especially when it comes to delivering lots of lines, his performance is quite bland and forgettable to say the least. Jennifer O’Neill gets the highest billing of the cast. She is introduced in the second act, her performance is alright but nothing special, she really doesn’t do much. Patrick McGoohan plays a doctor, essentially he is just there to give a lot of exposition throughout but he still works well even in that role. Michael Ironside is the standout in the cast and the movie as the villain. He really rides the line of being campy and over the top but still works out quite well, and was a very entertaining presence.

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David Cronenberg directs this well as to be expected. The body horror is there (Cronenberg also did that with The Fly and The Brood), though I was hoping for a little more horror than what was in the final film. The use of practical effects were great and creative, especially with the way that Cronenberg decided to portray telepathy in this movie. The aforementioned head explosion scene is still impressive to this day (if very over the top), though unfortunately there’s only one head that explodes in the movie. However thankfully it isn’t where the movie peaks with the impressive effects, there’s still a lot of other outstanding moments later in the movie. Howard Shore’s score is great and really works for this movie.

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Despite some issues, such as the so-so characters and acting (aside from Michael Ironside), Scanners is quite good. Cronenberg’s direction definitely elevated it, the script had me interested enough in what was happening, it’s well made and it was quite entertaining. Check it out, especially if you are a Cronenberg fan who hasn’t gotten around to this movie yet.

The Brood (1979) Review

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The Brood

Time: 92 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1]
Cast:
Oliver Reed as Dr. Hal Raglan
Samantha Eggar as Nola Carveth
Art Hindle as Frank Carveth
Director: David Cronenberg

A mad doctor (Oliver Reed) tries psychoplasmic therapy on a raging woman (Samantha Eggar) soon to be a mother.

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I really knew nothing about The Brood going in except that it was another horror movie from David Cronenberg and it was meant to be quite good. It is great as to be expected, very well made, and was one of the more unsettling horror movies from Cronenberg, while also managing to be quite surprising.

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The Brood is at its core is a movie about divorce, it’s basically David Cronenberg’s response to Kramer vs Kramer. It’s also worth noting that Cronenberg was writing the movie while undergoing a messy custody battle, and let’s just say that it really shows in this movie. Knowing that when watching The Brood does make it feel more personal and honest. Trauma and abuse are also prominent themes involved with this movie. There are some readings of the movie that does see the movie as being a bit misogynistic (especially with regard to the character of the wife), and while I might see where those people coming from, especially when looking at the movie on the surface level, I think it’s a little deeper than that, though I can’t fully explain why in this review. The tone of the movie is quite serious, some of what happens in the movie could’ve easily fallen into being camp, but Cronenberg keeps it pretty serious. It is definitely more focused on character drama than horror. The Brood pretty short at just over 90 minutes long, and with regard to the plot, I guess you could call it a slow burn. The first two thirds are actually fairly slow and uneventful, playing more like a family drama than a full on horror movie (a horror movie made by David Cronenberg no less). However, I was pretty interested in the story, and the movie flew by for me because of how frantic it feels at times. Without revealing too much, the finale is pretty insane, almost serving as a reminder that this movie was made by Cronenberg. Also in terms of notable scenes in this movie, there’s also a particular scene just before the third act which was effectively freaky and disturbing.

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The cast all play their parts well. Art Hindle plays the main character of Hal. He’s decent enough on his part but does feel like a blank slate more than an actual character. He feels a little out of place, but maybe it’s because it’s really the other two main performances that stood out in the movie. Samantha Eggar is great in her role as Nola, the ex-wife of Hal. Her performance could’ve been over the top but she and Cronenberg managed to create the right performance for this complicated character. Oliver Reed is fittingly subtle and understated, yet effectively creepy in his scenes as a therapist who is treating Nola using ‘unconventional’ methods.

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David Cronenberg directs The Brood very well. It’s greatly shot, with some very memorable images that really stick with you. It does have some body horror (not a big shock, this is a Cronenberg horror movie after all), and those parts were very well handled, with some great effects, especially in the crazy final act. The monsters in the movie (not explaining the context beyond that) are fittingly unsettling when on screen. The practical effects are good, though it’s not quite as spectacular as some of Cronenberg’s other body horror work like The Fly or Videodrome. Howard Shore composed the score and it was great and fit the tone well. It’s also worth noting that this is the first movie score he worked on, and it’s quite impressive. It really helped convey the amount of atmospheric dread as well as the urgency. Like with the story, the direction is relatively restrained and doesn’t go all out (until the third act at least).

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The Brood is a greatly written and directed horror movie. While the body horror was quite good, it was the story, characters and themes that had me so invested in everything that was happening. I wouldn’t personally recommend it as a first film from Cronenberg, but it is worth watching for sure, especially if you like horror.