Sunday, August 7, 2011

Movie Time: Videodrome

Movie Time with Breakfastman: Videodrome

Videodrome is a surreal sci-fi body horror film from the mind of director David Cronenberg, the man behind The Brood, the 80's remake of The Fly with Jeff Goldblum, Scanners, The Dead Zone, and the film adaption of Naked Lunch, among other famous movies. Truth be told, I have never been a big Cronenberg or body horror fan myself. I had only seen 3 of his movies before this (Scanners, The Dead Zone, and Naked Lunch), and while they were all pretty good and well made, with great special effects, they just didn't resonate me like many other of my favorite horror films have. I have always preferred psychological and lovecraftian horror above all others, so body just didn't really do it for me. Regardless, I do enjoy watching horror films, and when I found this on the Netflix instant play, I decided to watch it. The film is usually considered to be one of Cronenberg's best films after all. So, was it any good? Was it more scary than Scanners and does it make more sense than Naked Lunch? Hint: The answer to those questions is yes and no respectively. Let's dig into Videodrome.

                               Unfortunately, Nintendo ultimately rejected David Lynch's Virtual Boy redesign.

Videodrome starts out with, conveniently enough, with the image of a television. Suddenly a lady pops up on the screen, not to crawl out and kill you with pure scariness unfortunately, but to deliver a wake up call to our sloppy bum of a protagonist, Max Renn. Max Renn is the sleazy president of a Toronto television station called Civic TV. The channel offers every from, in the words of one character, "softcore porn to hardcore violence". Max and his fellow execs are always on the lookout for new and exciting material to spice up the channel and draw in viewers. One day, one of Max's techs (a man called Harlan) calls him over to look at a new discovery. Harlan has found what appears to be a pirate television station being broadcast from what he believes to be Malaysia. The show, conveniently called Videodrome (lol, title drop) broadcasts images of people being tortured in a red room by two masked men. They are only able to catch about a minute of the show, but Max is intrigued by what he sees. He has Harlan try to get more of the show while he has one of his contacts, an old Russian women named Masha try to dig up more on this show. Oh yeah, he also has a sadomasochistic girlfriend named Nicki whom he has sex with while the tape is playing in the background. Lovely. Anyway, Max finds out from both Harlan and Masha that A: the show is not being broadcast from Malaysia as originally though, but from Pitsburg, B: the torture on the show is not faked, but is in fact real, and C: the creators of Videodrome have some strange political agenda. Throughout all this, Max is also hallucinating of and on that he has a fleshy VCR growing in his chest that he somehow loses his handgun in. Again, lovely.

                               I wonder what it would be like if he tried to play a porn tape on that. Or something like Caligula...

Max eventually meets up with a lady named Bianca, who runs a mission that lets the homeless watch television for free, claiming that this will help heal them, somehow (if you haven't figured it out yet, about half of the characters are mentally unstable, and the other half eventually die or go insane themselves). Her father is a man called Brian O'blivion (haha, really clever Cronenberg), who believes that one day reality and television will merge together into one. At least that is what I think he believes. You see, the man does not appear or have a conversation with anyone. When he wants to contact the outside world, he sends out a cassette with an incredibly pretentious monologue of his on whatever subject he wants to talk about. His tapes also cause the whoever views them to hallucinate. Anyway, things get progressively worse and worse for Max as he finds out that he has what is either a brain tumor or an entirely new organ growing inside his skull (that allows his hallucinations to become reality or something) since he viewed the Videodrome transmission, because it can do that somehow. A company that makes inexpensive glasses also gets involved somehow as reality starts falling apart and the hallucinations start invading the real world. People die, people get entirely new organs, secrets are revealed, and crap starts hitting the fan left and right.


From what I have summarized of the plot above, you might guess that Videodrome is... rather hard to follow. You would be right on that. While it isn't as "out there" as something like Eraserhead or as trippy as 2001: A Space Odyssey, the film is still surprisingly complex and hard to follow. Trying to figure out what is reality and what is a hallucination is a challenge in and of itself, and the number of conspiracy theories don't make it any easier. Make no mistake, this is a very complex film brimming with symbolism, strange and complex themes and ideas, and just all out weirdness. The film talks about how television effects culture (which in turn effects television), the role of television in daily life and the public consciousness, the nature of reality and madness, the relationship between man and technology, and the effect of television on how we perceive reality itself. What makes the film even more impressive, in my eyes, it manages to deals with all these themes extremely well and with a certain degree of subtlety (something that is always to be admired), while still managing to be very watchable and entertaining.

From Software rejected the idea that even the TV would try to kill you in Dark Souls, fearing it would be "too hardcore". Fans cried foul and demanded that the feature be put into the game. From eventually caved and put it in. Nearly 500 people died from bullet wounds the week of launch, and 1000's more were injured. The game was recalled. The investigations as to why the heck anybody thought this was a good idea is still ongoing.

The acting is also pretty darn good around the board. James Woods does a great job as Max Renn, and all of the other principle players put in uniformly great performances. The special effects are fantastic, especially for the time, and definitely add to the horror of the events being played out on the screen. The body horror itself is unsettling and gets the job done quite well, with a number of memorable and horrifying scenes. The writing is pretty good as well, and even makes the scumball of a main character sympathetic. The music, what little there is, and sound effects are all well done as well, though not exactly memorable. Basically, good to excellent around the board.

                               Breathing videotapes are generally never a sign of anything good happening to anybody.

TL;DR: Videodrome is an excellent horror film, and the best Cronenberg film I have seen yet. It is my favorite film about video and television that I have seen (sorry Ringu, you have usurped). It manages to deliver on nearly all points, providing a number of memorable scenes, some great writing, and some deep, unusual themes. Definitely one of the best horror films of the 80's. If you are a fan of horror films and have not yet seen this, I would definitely recommend checking this one out.

Long live the new flesh!

-Breakfastman out.

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