Monday, October 27, 2014

I'd Love to Turn You On At the Movies #102 - Videodrome (1983, dir. David Cronenberg)

“Television is reality, and reality is less than television.”

First let me get this off my chest, this movie is not for the children or the squeamish and it is certainly NSFW (as the kids would say), but if you are into genre-bending, spine-tingling horror films this is an exquisite masterpiece of a must-see film. Videodrome, David Cronenberg’s dystopic vision of the future, is an achievement in the genre of horror/science-fiction that has stayed relevant and continues to mystify viewers. Unleashed upon the world in 1983, Videodrome contains all of the aspects that make the horror genre great - blood, guts, suspense and a hint of camp - but in addition to these aspects what makes this film so special is the Cronenbergian additions of unexplainable mystery and a captivating/unnerving visual style. Most horror films of this era tend to be somewhat predictable and bold-faced, but Cronenberg’s stylistic touch of the odd and macabre enliven this film, elevating it onto its own plane.
Not to overstate the ability of this film to presage the future of our culturally bleak society that has become distracted, disenchanted, and fascinated with the morbid, but it has all but completely torn down the veil between 1983 and the future 31 years later. In this unconventional horror flick set in some undetermined future (beginning simply on Wednesday the 23rd) our ‘hero’ Max Renn (James Woods) is a scummy cable television executive determined to find something that not only pushes the boundary but “breaks through.” Dealing mostly in smut of the sexual and violent varieties, Renn is obsessed with staying cutting edge. His obsession leads him to seek out a convoluted transmission entitled ‘Videodrome’ that can only be described as ‘torture porn’ (again with this film’s prophetic nature).

“I live in a highly excited state of overstimulation”

Delving deeply into the seamy world of Videodrome he and his girl friend, Nicki Brand (played by Blondie’s Debbie Harry), begin to explore mixing pain and pleasure. What begins with a mostly innocent exploration of sexuality quickly spirals as both begin hallucinating and become completely consumed by the sadomasochistic videotapes that keep finding their way into Renn’s position. Both Renn and Brand are fascinated with the fact that the tapes blur the lines between reality and television. As their society has grown more and more dependent upon their television sets as a crutch (in their bedrooms, as their alarm clocks, and as all forms of entertainment) the screen becomes synonymous with the retina of the eye. With the connection between people and their televisions becoming more and more symbiotic it is no wonder that the people of Cronenberg’s dystopia are fascinated with and easily engulfed by a level of disarming and dangerous reality. This is yet another area of the film that comes off as a bit of a forewarning (read: current society’s obsession with reality television).
From this point the plot of the film expands immensely as Brand searches for Videodrome in Pittsburgh to become a ‘contestant’ and Renn has more trouble determining what is real and what is hallucination. I won’t go too much further into the plot as the webs of conspiracy that form are best experienced without spoilers. But I will say that as the plot develops and the conspiracies unfold the lines between reality, hallucination, and television become more beautifully convoluted as Max Renn stumbles into the insane climax of the film
Aside from all of the aforementioned reasons let me get to the real point of why I have chosen to attempt to ‘turn you on’ to this demented prophetic horror flick (especially this close to HALLOWEEN!), and that would be Cronenberg’s twisted aesthetic vision. If you haven’t delved into Cronenberg’s filmography please dip your toes in starting with this film. Every aspect of Cronenberg’s work is meticulously skewed in an attempt to deliberately engage, confront, and confound the viewer. Cronenberg’s style is visually arresting and he has an uncanny ability to seamlessly merge a current reality with a fanciful strange alternate reality. Watching any of Cronenberg’s films – such as Dead Ringers, The Fly, Naked Lunch, and Cosmopolis, to name a few - will immediately transport you to a new, strange and disarming world where fantasy and reality blur.
In the end there are so many levels to this movie and it can be read in many different ways - you simply must see for yourself. So pick up the DVD (or invest in the Criterion Collection Blu-ray release) and investigate this strange new world of Videodrome for yourself. While you may be confused by it, you will not be sorry you checked out this cult classic, because at the heart of it, it’s just a really COOL twisted specimen of the horror/sci-fi genre.

“Death to Videodrome, long live the new flesh!”

~Edward Hill

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