UK Release Date 25th November 1983
Director David Cronenberg
Starring James Woods, Deborah Harry
Runtime 89 Minutes
Certificate 18
Reviewer Mark
Reviewed 18th August 2015

Remember when cable-TV was yesterday’s Internet? Trashy two-bit programmes with just enough tits and ass followed by an Italian exploitation flick chaser to keep you on the right side of lurid. If cable-TV were somehow able to become human in the 1980s it would have to be James Woods and David Cronenberg’s Videodrome makes that sick little fantasy a wonderful reality. Was there anyone better at playing thin, wiry sleazoids whom we loved to see fuck other people over? Woods could slip through a two-inch gap in a doorframe and rip off your widowed granny for her life savings and we’d thank him for it. Who could resist that glint in his eye, the staccato delivery and that devilishly handsome pockmarked skin?

Woods is Max Renn the young president of a TV channel illegally scanning foreign satellites for salacious material to pirate and broadcast to his late night audience. By chance his techno-geek partner Harlan records Videodrome a violent show beamed out of Pittsburgh. Max is hooked, “It's just torture and murder. No plot, no characters. Very, very realistic. I think it's what's next.” Max’s prophecy for our viewing crimes of the future presupposes the video nasty; snuff movies, first-person shooters, torture porn, laser-guided bomb footage and Islamic State beheadings. Max has dollar signs for eyes but what does it say about him (and us) that he can’t look away.

Nicki Brand, Max’s ultra cool squeeze and S&M enthusiast ropes him in even deeper. For Nicki, the host of her own The Emotional Rescue Show on radio, Videodrome’s torture sequences offer her a conduit for her own sexual desires whilst doubling as her own emotional rescue from her more conventional public persona. She pushes Max further into sadomasochistic sexual experimentation whilst Videodrome plays in the background, gradually blurring the lines between video dreams and reality. They inhabit a netherworld of insomnia and nicotine where the television never really sleeps and we never really switch off. 

Nicki’s explanation of our parasitic relationship with technology is as true now as it was back in the early 80s, “Well, I think we live in over stimulated times. We crave stimulation for its own sake. We gorge ourselves on it. We always want more, whether it's tactile, emotional or sexual.” Max is so besotted with Videodrome that it not only changes him mentally but his physical form is altered. He grows a vaginal slot in his chest, a front loader where he can insert pulsing Betamax cassettes, glistening black plastic tablets that throb in his hands promising orgasmic pleasure or bloody violent release. Cronenberg’s grotesque, mesmerizing imagery is spot on here as these small dark rectangles granted the video generation their basest clandestine desires in the comfort of their own home.

Max can only incubate violent fantasies within his “womb” and births a slimy gun, which physically becomes part of his arm. What is it that predisposes men and boys the world over to bond so viciously with their gadgets? Whether Max’s gun is a metaphor for 80s joystick, modern console controllers or television remotes, these male appendages are phallic symbols of limited power that have replaced the real thing and rendered men largely impotent. The enigmatic media guru Brian O’Blivion offers a chillingly accurate commentary, “The battle for the mind of North America will be fought in the video arena: the Videodrome. The television screen is the retina of the mind's eye. Therefore, the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain. Therefore, whatever appears on the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore, television is reality, and reality is less than television.”

Videodrome’s continuing power to shock and speak to any timeframe within the last 30 years and beyond is testament to Cronenberg’s genius at interpreting mankind’s relationship with technology. You can replace the eerie late-night glow of the television with any modern smart device, our existence now translated through a series of screens varying in size, posted for others to see and rate where even a ham sandwich needs to be seen by friends and strangers to extract meaning from our increasingly petty existence. Maybe Max’s declaration of war on the corporations who slave us to their will needs to be taken more seriously, “Death to Videodrome! Long live the new flesh!”

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