Videodrome (1983)

VideodromeTVVideodrome is the quintessential Cronenberg film, no doubt about it. Breathing videocassettes, bulging televisions, media that directly alters your body, underground conspiracies and a sado-masochistic Debbie Harry. Seriously, what more could anyone want?

James Woods plays Max Renn, as sleazy as any current-day reality-television producer, he is the president of CIVIC-TV, a cheap television station that prides itself on pushing all sorts of boundaries. Tired of soft-core porn and gratuitous violence, Max is looking for the next big thing. He thinks he finds it in a pirated transmission supposedly coming from Malaysia called VideodromeVideodrome is filmed in a red room. There are scary folks in hoods with whips, chains and other weapons seemingly torturing and killing the willing contestants.

Professor Brian O'Blivion

Professor Brian O’Blivion

Max desperately wants to get to know the producers of this show so he can make a deal. His new squeeze Nicki Brand (Debbie Harry) wants in on the action, but mostly so she can take part in the mayhem herself. Once they find out the show’s actually coming from Pittsburgh, PA, Nicki heads off to “audition” for the show.

Meanwhile, one of Max’s industry pals Masha, after failing to impress him with a Dionysian soft-core porn act, is tasked with finding out more about Videodrome. What she finds out is unpleasant to say the least, and she warns Max to stay away. At his insistence, though, she informs him that the famous Dr. Brian O’Blivion, with whom Max is already acquainted, can tell him what he needs to know about Videodrome.

Barry Convex "programming" our good friend Max Renn.

Barry Convex “programming” our good friend Max Renn.

What Dr. O’Blivion has to say is quite frightening indeed: Videodrome is more than just a show. Its transmission causes its viewers to grow a brain tumor, which helps to explain why Max has been having some pretty strange hallucinations lately. Underground fanatics, led by a creepy spectacle-monger named  Barry Convex, hijack O’Blivion’s technology with plans of using it for their own purposes. Convex and his pals see Max Renn and CIVIC-TV as the perfect conduit to spread the malignant tumors. Can Max escape their greasy grip, or will he help turn the people of North America into a drooling, hallucinating, useless mass?

Wow, right? When Masha tries to steer Max away from Videodrome, she says: “it has something you don’t have […] a philosophy, and that’s what makes it dangerous.” Brian O’Blivion and his insistence that the television experience will soon be the only real experience anyone ever has was a

Your TV isn't state-of-the-art unless it's bulging with Debbie Harry's lips.

Your TV isn’t state-of-the-art unless it’s bulging with Debbie Harry’s lips.

scary thought in 1983, but thinking about the way things are today, wasn’t he right after all? While it’s not television exactly, nothing’s real if it’s not on the internet. No experience is real unless it is shared.

I couldn’t help comparing Videodrome to David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest – both revolve around a transmission that has such an effect on people that it literally changes their bodily functions. If it gets into the wrong hands, the whole world’s in trouble. What a truly frightening idea, too, that something you watch can make your body do things against your will, can make you believe things are happening when they aren’t really, can actually physically change your torso into a VCR! What a perfectly Cronenberg idea.


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