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Monday, May 28, 2012

Day 149: Videodrome

Betamaxdrome was a complete failure

The 80's were a crazy time. The Cold War was still raging, Ronald Reagan was convincing people that greed was good, and cable television began to reach a bigger audience. It seems almost quaint now, but back then, not everyone had 500 channels, computers, and cell phones. Getting cable television was a big deal with specialized programming and movie channels such as HBO. There has always been, and still is, a concern that television will corrupt the youth and will cause them to do all sorts of horrible things. Video games like Grand Theft Auto and music, particularly heavy metal and it's subgenres, get their share of the blame as well, but TV is still the big culprit. Too much violence and sex, they say. It'll rot your brain, they say. It will make you hallucinate and turn you into an assassin. What, they don't say that?

Videdrome is a 1983 Canadian horror movie written and directed by David Cronenberg (The Fly, Scanners) and starring James Woods (Any Given Sunday, Vampires) as Max Renn. Max is the president of a sleazy television station, Channel 83, CIVIC-TV. The channel specializes in sex and violence and Max is looking for the next big thing. He meets with Harlan, the station's satellite pirate who comes across a television feed supposedly from Malaysia that shows people being tortured on a show called Videodrome. He defends himself on a talk show panel across from radio host Nicki Brand (Deborah Harry) and philosopher/television televangelist, Professor Brian O'Blivion. Max begins to see Nicki who, it turns out, is into sado-masochism and is turned on by watching Videodrome. Harlan informs Max that the video feed of Videodrome is actually coming from Pittsburgh, exciting Max with the possibility of acquiring the show for his channel. Nicki tells Max that she is visiting Pittsburgh and, despite his wishes, is going to audition to be on Videodrome. Max contacts Masha, a softcore pornographer, to find out what she can about Videodrome. She discovers that the show is not scripted and is in fact real, and the face of a new philosophy and political movement. She tells Max to speak with Brian O'Blivion to learn more of what Videodrome really is all about. At the Cathode Ray Mission, Max speaks with O'Blivion's daughter, Bianca, who informs Max that her father only speaks to people through video tape and never in person. He later receives a tape from O'Blivion explaining that Videodrome is actually the beginnings of a war to control the minds of the masses. Max begins to have very real and very disturbing hallucinations, including a scar on his stomach suddenly opening up as a gaping wound and a pulsating, throbbing television. He learns from Bianca that these hallucinations are due to a tumor in his brain cause by a malicious broadcast the emanates from Videodrome. Max is contacted by Videodrome's producer and the head of Spectacular Optical Corp, Barry Convex who has been secretly working with Harlan to expose Max to the broadcast, in order to brainwash him and gain control of his station, thus unleashing Videodrome onto the world. Under Convex's influence, Max becomes an assassin, killing his partners at the station. Will he be able to to break free and stop Convex from taking over the world, one television screen at a time.

"I knew I shouldn't have eaten Arby's."

This movie may be one of the craziest things I've ever seen and I mean that in a good way. It is so far out there that I'm not even sure what else to compare it to. Some have described it as “techno-surrealist” and “cyber-violent” but it all adds up to a wild horror/conspiracy movie that keeps the audience glued to the screen for the entire movie. The audience is sucked in to the mystery of what and who is behind Videodrome and is right beside Max when everything goes down. I was concerned that this would be a torture-heavy movie (I don't need to see someone brutalized. I watch these movies to be entertained), but thankfully it's only a small part of the movie and really just serves as a catalyst. There is a good amount of violence and plenty of scary moments. The makeup and effects are impressive and would only be ruined in the CGI era.

David Cronenberg does an excellent job in the director's chair, really capturing the bizarre nature of the entire story. I don't say that lightly because I fucking hated another one of his movies, A History of Violence. FUCKING HATED with the fury of a thousand suns being hit by a thousand nuclear bombs. Seriously, fuck that movie. Regardless, Cronenberg is masterful in Videodrome. James Woods, despite being a dick in real life from what I've heard, is really convincing as Max Renn. The other real star of the movie is the music; a mixture of creepy, steady synth along with a small string section. It fits perfectly with the entire feel of the movie and adds to the overall horror. 

It's rude to point

Videodrome is weird, bizarre, and disturbing, but for all the right reasons. There is a good amount of social commentary, which is an element that brings the movie to a whole new level. There is lots of action and a fun conspiracy combined with great effects and solid music. The directing and acting is spot on, fitting well with such a different story. Videodrome is not for everyone, and certainly not for little kids. It's worth going out of your way to see it, but make sure you buckle in for a strange ride. Long live the new flesh.


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