We continue our journey through a month of frightening, bloody and violent films. For more, check out our 31 Days of Horror homepage.
Synopsis: “Long live the new flesh!”
Good old fashioned body horror courtesy of the master of such things, David Cronenberg. Videodrome stars James Woods as Max Renn, the sleazy president of CIVIC TV, a Toronto-based TV station, “The One You Take to Bed With You”. The channel focuses on lower quality content, the kind of stuff we get after 1AM on Cinemax these days. Always on the hunt for something more extreme, more what he calls “tough”, Renn believes he’s found his station’s latest offering in the form of Videodrome, a faux snuff show he has come in possession of. But Renn soon believes he is involved in a global conspiracy when the truth about Videodrome and the people behind it begin to reveal themselves, and Renn’s already sick mind deteriorates into hallucinations and madness.
It’s teased early. Renn complains to his assistant that he thinks he’s getting a rash. Shortly after, while watching a video and caressing his gun – Renn has grown quite paranoid at this point – he looks down and, lo and behold, he’s grown a vagina in his stomach. Well, what would you call it? Naturally, knowing he’s suffering from hallucinations caused by the Videodrome signal, Renn begins toying at it with his gun, then eventually shoving the gun all the way inside. The “stomach vagina” shows back up later in the film, hungry for actual VHS tapes, but this first time we see it is extremely shocking. It’s just one of many scenes in Videodrome that mix pleasure and pain, sexual desire and intense violence, but just saying that phrase, “stomach vagina”, yeah, you pretty much know what I’m talking about if you’ve seen this movie.
Um, yes? As with most of Cronenberg’s offerings, Videodrome is loaded with graphic depictions of body horror. Despite their psychological nature – there’s very little to indicate the moments of extreme gore in this film are actually happening rather than in Renn’s deranged and declining mental state – the depictions are real enough, brought to amazing physicality by special effects master Rick Baker. The blood in Videodrome, the brutality and violence depicted on the video are just the start. The grotesqueness that we see growing in Renn’s mind is some of the most intense moments we’ve ever seen, even from Cronenberg.
Um, yes? As with most of Cronenberg’s offerings, Videodrome is loaded with graphic depictions of intense sex. Hey, is there an echo in here? Since Renn’s whole job is in finding the most extreme videos of sex and violence, it only stands to reason Videodrome would offer tons of both. More often than not, the two converge. Remember that little description of the VHS tape-eating stomach vagina from earlier? Yeah, that. But the faint of heart shouldn’t worry too much. There’s also some conventional sex in Videodrome. Some, that ends with Renn piercing his girlfriend’s ear with a needle. That’s conventional, right? Oh, and the Japanese girl with the dildo. Don’t ever forget the Japanese girl with the dildo.
Videodrome is more intensely graphic than suspenseful or scary. Sure, the thought of a TV signal being broadcast that can cause hallucination-inducing tumors in your brain is pretty scary. Baker’s practical effects make the extreme imagery all the more intense, but it’s never the kind of film that makes you leave the lights on. TV off, to be sure, but not lights on.
A brilliant film in 1983 when he wrote and directed, and a brilliant film nearly 30 years later, Videodrome is an early effort from a clear genius in the horror film making industry. It’s both surreal in execution and political in nature and touches on a whole slew of themes that are still considered visionary. Videodrome is the kind of horror film that sits just on the outskirts of conventional, horror viewing, but still it sits waiting for new fans to experience it each and every day.