Directed By: David Cronenberg
Starring: James Woods, Debbie Harry, Sonja Smits
Tag line: "A shocking new vision"
Trivia: Three different endings were filmed. The ending used in the film was James Woods's idea
“Television is reality, and reality is less than television”
With the help of special effects master Rick Baker, director David Cronenberg took his usual brand of body horror to an entirely new level with 1983’s Videodrome, a movie that also explores mankind’s love affair with television and the ultimate effect the medium has on our minds and personalities.
Max Renn (James Woods) is the managing director of channel 83, a small station that specializes in extreme entertainment (i.e. – sex and violence). One day, Harlan (Peter Dvorsky), the station’s top engineer, shows Max pirated footage of a series he recently stumbled upon, a program out of Pittsburgh titled Videodrome that features shocking images of torture and brutality. Intrigued, Max begins searching for the show’s originators in the hopes he can strike a deal to broadcast Videodrome on his station.
It isn't long before Max and his new girlfriend, radio host Nikki Brand (Debbie Harry), have become addicted to the images they see in this violent program, and when he starts to experience hallucinations, Max is convinced they're somehow linked to Videodrome. Aided by Masha (Lynne Gorman), a talent agent he occasionally works with, Max discovers that Videodrome was the brainchild of professor / media specialist Brian O’Blivion (Jack Creley), who, according to O’Blivion's daughter Bianca (Sonja Smits), was also affected by the show.
As Max delves deeper into the mystery that is Videodrome, his hallucinations become even more intense, and he believes he’s losing his mind. But the truth of what's going on is actually much more frightening.
Fresh off the success of An American Werewolf in London (for which he won the first of his five Academy Awards), Rick Baker once again goes all out in Videodrome, creating make-up effects that are simultaneously amazing and repulsive. In one scene, Max, while holding a gun, notices a pocket has suddenly formed in his abdomen, which allows him to stick his hand completely inside his body. As troubling as this image is, it’s but one of many the film has to offer, and thanks to Baker, the body horror Cronenberg so loves is even more intense than usual.
On a deeper level, Videodrome is also an exposé on the power of television. “The movie goes into more than the relatively simple issue of morality”, Cronenberg said while discussing this film, “like the ways in which television does alter us physically. It’s what Marshall McLuhan was talking about – TV as an extension of our nervous systems and our senses”. We see this in Max, who is convinced Videodrome is causing his body to change, but it’s also there in Nikki Brand, who, shortly after watching Videodrome, burns her own chest with a cigarette, as if to experience the sensation of pain that was on display.
These are radical examples, to be sure, but then Cronenberg was always drawn to the extreme. And that’s exactly what he gives us throughout this brilliant, thought-provoking motion picture.