Videodrome (1983)

This is one unique little film. Is it science-fiction, horror, surreal thriller, or a combination of all and more?

David Cronenberg's films are worth a view for any fan of cinematic weirdness. There always seems to be an element of "body horror" within the work that squirms it way out - characters are festering with diseases, heads or organs explode, bodies mutate, sexual liaisons reek of perversion and obsession. Videodrome certainly exists within this description. Shall I attempt to give you a plot summary? Attempt is the key word here.

James Woods plays Max Renn, sleaze-ball outlaw cable TV operator. He's always on the lookout for harder material. One of his technicians locates a satellite signal from Pittsburgh called "Videodrome" - the show is basically just torture and murder, possibly even snuff. Renn is keen to investigate. Appearing on a TV show about the nature of violence, Renn meets Professor Brian O'blivion, (Jack Creley) media guru who only ever appears via a television monitor. More importantly for his sex-life, he also meets sex-expert Nikki Brand, played by Blondie singer Deborah Harry. This pair are soon smitten with some sort of sexual tension, and an affair begins.

During sex, Nikki soon reveals herslf to be a masochist, stubbing out cigarettes on her breast, getting Renn to pierce her ears, and so on. Seeing a snippet of Videodrome, to which Renn is getting hooked, Nikki wants to find out more. In the meantime, under the effect of the Videodrome signal, Renn begins to hallucinate. After a rash on his stomach gets increasingly worse, a vagina-like opening begins to form. The crazed technician Harlan (Peter Dvorksy) introduces him to Barry Convex (Leslie Carlson) who plunges a pulsating videodrome cassette into this "aperture", causing even deeper hallucinations. Soon, as he plunges further into the delerious miasma that the videodrome signal creates through a tumour in the viewer's brain, Max Renn discovers a conspiracy between his cable outfit and Convex's company to take the videodrome signal further into the population, for what purpose is unknown.

As a counterpoint to Nikki Brand is Bianca O'Blivion (Sonja Smits), Brian O'Blivion's daughter, who reveals that the Professor is in fact dead, but exists now only as a collection of videotapes. Bianca helps to explain the twisted philosophy of Videodrome, and how it will lead to the formation of "The New Flesh" - humanity existing only as video signal - I think. Nikki reappears as a videodrome broadcast, alternately being tortured or seducing Max into a swelling, pulsating television for a lingering, swollen-screen kiss.

Max tries to turn the table on his tormentors, using his hallucinations as a weapon. His hand mutates into a gruesome organic gun. With his stomach-slit, he grinds Harlan's hand down to form a living grenade, which explodes, killing him. Invading Convex's convention, he shoots him with his "hand-gun" and Convex slowly explodes, in what must be one of the most gore-filled scenes ever, thanks to make-up expert Rick Baker's achievements. Impressive stuff!

As the film concludes, Nikki - on television, of course, guides Max towards the last step to becoming "The New Flesh". I will have to let you find out this last step, lest I ruin the last few seconds of the film for you. Did I sound confused, trying to describe the plot to you? As the film is basically one long waking nightmare-hallucination, it's incredibly hard to keep up with the plot developments! I'm sure we all make our own sense of Videodrome, but it's an unforgettable viewing experience. Cronenberg has cast James Woods well as Max Renn - cynical, amoral, yet in a way strangely innocent. He is the victim of people and events even stranger and more ruthless than he. The special effects are top-notch, and they would sink the film if they weren't. Debbie Harry's brief appearance is compelling, and it's a shame she didn't have more to do in the story. She basically dissappears as soon as she enters Max's life.

I've heard a significant portion of the story/script of Videodrome was practically made up during the shooting. Still, the film-makers managed to craft a twisted ideology that is the main feature to sink your teeth into. The dominance of today's media, the fact that so many people only feel valuable if they're media creations (read celebrities) makes Videodrome still a potent tale today. It's confusing, make no mistake, and the "videotape" format is a little dated in today's DVD world, but this film will leave you, sex and gore aside, with much to think about.

"Long Live the New Flesh" ...

© Boris Lugosi 2005.


Review written: 02/05/2005 14:51:24