Quick Takes: Videodrome, Stereo, Crimes of the Future

Videodrome-posterVideodrome (1983)

Starring James Woods, Sonja Smits, Deborah Harry, Peter Dvorsky, Leslie Carlson, Jack Creley, Lynne Gorman, Julie Khaner, Reiner Schwarz
Directed by David Cronenberg

Videodrome is probably my favorite Cronenberg film from what I’ve seen so far, and I doubt anything could replace it. It’s an intoxicating descent into the media and what lengths our desensitized, media-obsessed culture will go to for entertainment. It’s probably more relevant now than ever. James Woods is fantastic, but I was surprised and impressed by Blondie singer Debbie Harry, who really pulled her weight and inhabited her character perfectly. The makeup FX work by Rick Baker is ultimately what sealed the deal for me, though, and moments like Woods communing with the pulsating TV are beyond amazing. What a movie! I don’t even know what to say. Watch it!

stereoStereo (1969)

Starring Ronald Mlodzik, Jack Messinger, Iain Ewing, Clara Mayer, Paul Mulholland, Arlene Mlodzik, Glenn McCauley
Directed by David Cronenberg

Stereo is technically Cronenberg’s first feature, but due to the experimental nature of the work, it’s hard to truly think of it in this way. I give those honors to his first “traditional” film, Shivers, but this is beside the point. I’m sure Stereo was very informative and necessary to Cronenberg’s growth as an artist, but as a viewer it is not an experience to relish. The film is mostly silent, with only a sparse, dry commentary chiming in now and then. Stereo is meant to be a series of educational films documenting the experiments of Dr. Luther Stringfellow (who is never seen) at the Canadian Academy of Erotic Enquiry. There Stringfellow was trying to give telepathic abilities to his subjects. Like actual educational films, Stereo is very dry and hard to stay awake through (and it’s only an hour). For me, its only saving grace is the stunning B&W cinematography capturing the architectural beauty of the University of Toronto Scarborough campus where the film was shot. Cronenberg may not have embraced narrative and entertainment at this point, but he clearly already knew how to frame an exceptional image. I do like the overall premise of the film, and the conceit of filming fake educational materials for a fictional doctor’s sci-fi experiments is inspired, but I can’t really recommend Stereo. If you are so inclined, though, the film is readily available on the Criterion edition of Scanners (or the Blue Underground release of Fast Company, in lower quality).

crimesCrimes of the Future (1970)

Starring Ronald Mlodzik, Jon Lidolt, Tania Zolty, Jack Messinger, Paul Mulholland, William Haslam, Willem Poolman, Stefan Czernecki
Directed by David Cronenberg

Crimes of the Future can be seen as a companion to Stereo, in that it’s also silent (with sparse commentary) and very experimental. But this film is in color and Cronenberg employs some limited sound design work to spice the soundtrack up a bit. Despite these “advancements,” Crimes of the Future is an even more boring film than Stereo, and the color cinematography doesn’t dazzle nearly as much (although there are some very nice shots throughout). The story centers around a doctor named Tripod, who wanders between various groups of men and tells us about his mentor Antoine Rouge, who somehow created a disease that spread through cosmetic products and wiped out Earth’s entire female population. Again, I have to give credit to Cronenberg for coming up with quite an interesting premise, but this is one hard film to watch. Just excruciating. Like Stereo, I can’t recommend Crimes of the Future, but if you’re a determined Cronenberg fan, the film is available on the Criterion edition of The Brood (or the Blue Underground release of Fast Company, in lower quality).

Shivers (1975)

Shivers (1975)
AKA They Came From Within, The Parasite Murders, Orgy of the Blood Parasites

Starring Paul Hampton, Joe Silver, Lynn Lowry, Allan Kolman, Susan Petrie, Barbara Steele, Ronald Mlodzik, Barry Baldaro

Directed by David Cronenberg

Expectations: I’ve been lukewarm on most of the Cronenberg I’ve seen, but I’m actually really pumped for this.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:

Ah man, this one could have been great, but then Cronenberg had to ruin everything he had built up to go the “sex-crazed zombies” route. It’s by design, and I can understand why it is the way it is, but it was just too much for me to handle and I didn’t find the genre thrills compelling enough to override this feeling. The first half of the film is remarkably unsettling, though, creepy and over-the-top just enough, but as soon as it turns that corner, it leaves virtually all story behind in a wake of horny zombies jumping the bones of any non-infected person that happens by. But if that’s your thing, then this movie delivers so fully that you’ll be satisfied for days after.

The film opens with a wonderful slide-based commercial, detailing the features that Starliner Island boasts. The ad naturally leads us into the first scene of the film where a couple is being welcomed as new residents of the building. You might be tempted to think that these would be our main characters, but instead the more important couple comes in the scene that’s crosscut against this ho-hum apartment orientation. In that scene, a girl in a school uniform is attacked by an old man. He subdues her, slices open her stomach with a surgical scalpel, and then after digging around for a while, pours a shitload of acid into her body cavity. Oh, and then he slices his own throat with the scalpel. If there was any doubt that this was: A. a horror film, or B. a trashy horror film, then both were immediately dispelled. Cronenberg’s first commercial feature is full of life, death and more body horror than the Canadian government (who partly funded the film) could handle. It’s nothing compared to today’s depraved films, but for the time it’s definitely treading the line of bad taste.

Continue reading Shivers (1975) →

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