5. Scanners (1981)
Scanners, written and directed by Cronenberg, works really well in the context of a science fiction thriller. In this film, “scanners” are people with the ability to hear other people’s thoughts. They can “scan” others. They can even invade the other person’s central nervous system, controlling their motor skills.
The battle of good versus evil, in this cult film, is fought between two scanners. Daryyl Revok, a force of evil bound for world domination, played ever so wickedly by Michael Ironside. The other, Cameron Vale, a vagrant scanner with equally powerful scanning powers but unsure of himself, played by Stephen Lack.
If that plot line to this film doesn’t hook the viewer, the gruesomely awesome special effects, (including the infamous animal entrails-filled, prosthetic exploding head) by the great Dick Smith will.
4. A History of Violence (2005)
Upon viewing this, one immediately leaves the film afterwards having a Keanu Reeves moment; a revelation of, “Whoa. Viggo Mortensen.” He sure came a long way from “Tex” in Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III!
Sometimes, it takes an extremely skilled and seasoned filmmaker to extract a performance as gritty, raw, and powerful as Viggo Mortensen portrays in this film. David Cronenberg had to have seen the potential lying dormant and untapped in Mortensen, and extracted it fluidly to craft a perfect anti-hero in this amazing film.
Plot really shouldn’t be discussed as the less you know about this film the better it is on the first viewing. A History of Violence is another of Cronenberg’s films based on a John Wagner novel. It is truly as close to classic film noir as David Cronenberg has ever been.
This film is one of the few celluloid instances when a feature film works just as well if not better than its literary namesake. Everything works seamlessly, from the direction of Cronenberg to the ensemble cast, including Mortensen, Maria Bello, and William Hurt, to the haunting score by Cronenberg’s frequent collaborator, Howard Shore.
3. Naked Lunch (1991)
Translating the impossibly amazing William S. Burroughs book of the same name to celluloid imagery is almost something of a pipe dream. No filmmaker could have even touched it in the way that David Cronenberg did. It isn’t quite a literal translational of the book, but more of a biographical approach with a base story intertwined.
The viewer is transported into Interzone, the world created in the mind of a drug-addicted pest exterminator, William Lee, played perfectly by one of my most favorite actors, Peter Weller.
Bizarre people and even more fantastic creatures enter William’s (Bill’s) life. There is a lot of dialog that was kept straight from the pages of the Burroughs book, making the dead-pan humor and odd interactions between Lee and the characters that he encounters much more surreal and oddly charming.
2. Crash (1997)
Crash, which is adapted from the JG Ballard novel of the same name, takes the viewer beyond taboo and to a realm where sexual gratification and addiction is found in the form of automobile accidents. This may sound too far out there for some. But, people can become addicted to drugs, gambling, and even sex.
People can become addicted to most anything that stimulates the endorphins found in the human body that cause euphoria. David Cronenberg goes above and beyond storytelling and explores the human sexual psyche in such an unfound way that when one leaves this film, it will still be hidden somewhere in their consciousness for a long time.
James Spader puts in a brilliant performance, if not the best performance of his acting career, as James Ballard, a man that finds his sexual relationship with his own wife, who is played perfectly by Deborah Kara Unger, embittered and mundane. Conventional sex doesn’t suffice, and they are reduced to stories of infidelities in order to pacify their sexual cravings. They are introduced to a bizarre and taboo world of erotica in the form of car accidents, grotesque injuries, and the threat of their own mortality.
1. Videodrome (1983)
Videodrome is David Cronenberg’s masterpiece in the horror genre, even though it really isn’t horror; dystopian, science-fiction, maybe. James Woods displays an eerie, all too real performance as Max Renn, a television station programming executive that is searching for something over-the-top to broadcast on his television network.
Debbie Harry, singer for the band Blondie, also stars as Nicki Brand. She is Renn’s love interest of the film; a radio show host and psychiatrist that has a pension for very bizarre behavior, including sadomasochism.
Videodrome was way before it’s time in satirizing and almost predicting the demise of network television, all for the sake of exploitative, reality-based, tabloitive-styled, desensitizing programming. It may seem primitive or even tame by today’s CGI-laden films, but Videodrome did set a standard for visual effects which were unmatched at the time. The unsettling imagery within the film, which coarsely blended sex with violence, was courtesy of special effects master, Rick Baker.
Author Bio: Elizabeth Howell is a 34 year old native of Nashville, Tennessee and a mother of 2. She is currently a student and holds an Associate’s Degree in Psychology. She has been a film fanatic since the age of 8.