Videodrome

Released:  1983

Cast:  James Woods, Sonja Smits, Deborah Harry, Peter Dvorsky, Les Carlson, Jack Creley, Lynne Gorman

SUMMARY:  In Toronto, Max Renn (James Woods) runs CIVIC-TV, a seedy television channel.  Unable to compete with the larger stations and channels, CIVIC instead offers something not usually seen on TV:  violence and softcore porn.  The station has a devoted, but small, audience, and Max wants to bring in more viewers.  To this end, he is looking for something that completely breaks the mold.  When the station’s pirate satellite dish picks up a show called Videodrome, he thinks he may have found it.  The transmission is picked up by tech wizard Harlan (Peter Dvorsky), who records it and shows it to Max.  The show seems to originate in Malaysia, and shows people being tortured and eventually killed.  Max believes that these activities are staged, and tells Harlan to start recording all airings of the show.  Because of the reputation of his station, Max is asked to appear on a talk show with Nicki Brand (Deborah Harry) and Professor Brian O’Blivion (Jack Creley).  Nicki is a sadomasochistic psychiatrist and radio host, while the Professor is a pop-culture analyst who believes TV will eventually replace real life.  He only appears via TV screen, even on other programs (meaning Max, Nicki and the host are sitting there with a TV screen where O’Blivion’s face is shown).  Max picks up Nicki while on the show, and the two quickly begin dating.  Nicki is turned on by violence, and especially likes the tape of Videodrome that she finds in Max’s apartment.  When Harlan finds out that the transmission is actually coming from Pittsburgh, not Malaysia, she decides to go there and audition.  Meanwhile, Max has one of his producers — Masha (Lynne Gorman), a softcore pornographer — investigate the show.  She learns that it is not staged, as Max suspected, but real, and disguises political motives.  She also learns that O’Blivion has strong connections to the show.

Max goes to a mission run by O’Blivion’s daughter Bianca (Sonja Smits), who is trying to further her father’s ideal of television replacing life.  Bianca tells him that her father does not see visitors face to face, but rather communicates by video recording.  A short time later, his secretary brings him a tape from O’Blivion, in which the Professor explains that Videodrome actually represents an attempt to control the minds of the people of North America.  Around this time, Max starts to have hallucinations that feature violence and gore, including one in which his stomach turns into a VCR.  When he returns to the mission and demands answers, Bianca tells him that Videodrome produces a signal that creates a malignant tumor in the brain of the viewer.  O’Blivion had helped to create the program in the hope of furthering his goals, but when he found out that his partners wanted to use it for evil purposes he quit the project.  He even tried to stop the partners, who in turn used Videodrome to kill him.  O’Blivion’s appearances, even on the tape Max received, were pre-recorded by the Professor in the year before his death, and are managed and kept by his daughter.  Max soon learns that the other partners use an eyeglass company as a front, both for their Videodrome production/distribution and their business as a NATO weapons manufacturer.  Furthermore, they have been working with Harlan (the tech guy) for two years in order to expose Max to Videodrome, all in order to get him under their control.  The partners, led by Barry Convex (Les Carlson), want to use Max’s station to broadcast Videodrome to a larger audience, thereby killing off (via the brain tumors) its viewers, whom they consider scum.  Convex puts a tape into Max’s stomach VCR, which tells him to kill his partners at CIVIC and Bianca O’Blivion.  Max kills his partners, but Bianca stops him by reprogramming him and turning him against Videodrome.  She tells him to kill Harlan and Convex, which Max does before fleeing to a condemned boat.  Inside the boat, a TV screen with Nicki’s face appears.  Nicki tells Max that he has not completely defeated Videodrome, and that in order to totally finish it he must “leave the old flesh”.  As instructions, the TV shows a scene in which Max shoots himself in the head before exploding outward in a shower of blood and human intestines.  Max then replicates the scene and kills himself.

MY TAKE:  When this movie started I thought it was going to be like Network, where the station execs use sensational, sometimes lurid programming to draw in viewers.  Obviously, Max’s channel takes this to a much more extreme level that the station in Network, but the premise seemed to be similar.  I thought that the station would either start producing their version of Videodrome, or air it to the masses to devastating effect.  Thus, I started to get confused about the time that Max started hallucinating.  I got that the show was putting out a signal that caused him to do this, but it was hard to figure out what was real and what was hallucination.  In general, the hallucinations were really violent and gory, but since Max dealt with a fair amount of this in his real life it was hard to tell.  There wasn’t any sort of editing to suggest what was hallucination and what was real, like a dream sequence or anything.  Toward the end the movie just got really weird, especially with the stomach VCR and everything.  Apparently Max managed to hide a gun in there, which later fused to his hand and turned his arm into some monstrous appendage.  The amusing thing is that while the whole videotape recording thing probably seemed really high-tech when the film was released, it’s incredibly dated now.  People may have carried around videotapes and sent them back and forth like that once upon a time, but that’s been a while ago.  Their version of the future was a little skewed.  Frankly, it makes the premise a little more ridiculous, because tapes are so outdated and inefficient compared to what we have now.  The idea of the film is good, but unfortunately it shows its age.

Fun fact:  Deborah Harry plays Nicki Brand, but she is more famous for being the lead singer of the band Blondie.  James Woods is famous for playing villains, primarily in movies — he was even the voice of Hades in Disney’s animated Hercules.  He also played the main character in the TV show Shark.

RATING:  Very odd, with some very graphic content.

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