Videodrome (1983)

Cover of "Videodrome"
Cover of Videodrome

First it controls your mind…then it destroys your body

Here’s a gruesome sci-fi horror from David Cronenberg.  I’ve been nervous about watching it for a long time.

Max Renn (James Woods) is a fast-talking cable tv programmer with a taste for sleaze and a kinky girlfriend, Nicki Brand (Deborah Harry).  He gets the opportunity to watch a mysteriously broadcasted show named “Videodrome,” which is nothing but sexualized torture. He thinks he’s found gold. As he learns more about the people behind the show, he finds the whole thing is more than he can stomach.*

Renn begins the movie as a sadist-in-denial but his girlfriend has completely embraced her masochism.  Half way through the movie, these two turn out to be as straight-edge as the characters get.

According to the reviews I’ve been reading, Renn represents society’s corruption and its perverse desires being controlled by technology that is supposed to sate those desires.

Cronenberg gives a nod to Marshall McCluhan’s theories of media in the characters’ pontifications.  Renn meets a digital fanatic named Brian O’Blivion (Jack Creley) who only appears on a screen not in person.  O’Blivion has opened a Cathode Ray mission house for the homeless, and he thinks virtual life is superior to real life.

After meeting him and a number of equally strange people, Renn begins to have difficulty separating the real and the unreal.  For him, the medium becomes the massage and other less pleasant interactions.  The movie starts to get really interesting but this part of the story is over too soon.  Then it moves into Cronenberg’s habitual gross-out mode and stays there till the end.

Still, it felt antiquated.  Statements such as ‘reality being less real than TV’ or that some prefer a digital persona to real life are like smacking the viewer with an obvious stick.

I wonder if people are being controlled not by their desire for perversion but for their desire for things to be cleaner and nicer and prettier than they are in real life.  VR seems more cheerful than RL and an avatar’s body is not likely to get all slimy and self-destructive like Cronenberg’s bodies tend to become.†

Videodrome isn’t so much a horror movie as an intensely disgusting fragmentation of personality/society via technology.  And that is definitely a consistent theme for Cronenberg.

*pun intended.

Warning: the second clip is grotesque and violent and SPOILS THE ENDING.

†Compare:

Reviews:

Turner Classic Movies on Videodrome.

Turner Classic Movies on Videodrome again.

Not Coming to a Theater Near You – review.

Classic-Horror – review.

DVD Verdict – review.

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