Movie Review - Videodrome
Videodrome was and continues to be a heady contemplation of media influence on humanity and our perceptions of reality, handed to us in the language of the peculiar blend of sex and body horror that has been the cornerstone of director David Cronenberg’s career. That being said, before we delve deeper and more seriously into the film [Well…serious for you anyway. – Ed.] there are two obvious points that need to be addressed:
1. With the sex/body horror theme present in the vast majority of his films, why is it that no one has come forward in suggesting that Mr. Cronenberg is in SERIOUS need of counselling or therapy? This shit just ain’t right.
2. I believe what ends up happening to James Woods in the film would indeed qualify as the first cinematic attempt EVER to depict the “man-gina”.
Back to being somewhat serious, Videodrome tells the tale of Max Renn, president of a TV station of ill repute…known for sensationalistic programming including softcore porn. [Ah, the glory days of UHF. – Ed.] The film opens with Max on a panel show with prominent psychologist Nicki Brand, whom he starts hitting on right away (and given that she’s played by Debbie Harry in her prime, I don’t think anyone could blame him). The topic, though, is one that we currently still debate: how much is the media responsible for with regards to our culture and is there a threat of overstimulation. Then, as now, only two sides are represented, Max playing the seemingly sleezy “hey I just put the stuff out there” side whereas Nicki portrays the more prudish “stalwart defender of the public” warning the media is responsible for overstimulation. Of course, we find out that Nicki actually needs overstimulation to reach sexual satisfaction, first shown by her needing Max to cut her on her shoulder as a prelude to sex and being pierced by a needle during the act itself, reflecting what we see so often in real life; those that are the biggest opponents of some aspect/facet of media are often outed as extreme hypocrites. We’ll see this evolve into its ultimate expression later, but instead let’s focus on this age-old debate for a bit. Back then, it was TV, then cable TV, then video games and now, well, still video games, but also the length and breadth of content on the internet. Let’s attack the prudes first. While stated much more eloquently by Joe Bob Briggs, their argument boils down to “We know we can handle it…but we find it distasteful, therefore we KNOW that you CAN’T handle it.” This is arrogant and elitist to the core and sounds more than a little like censorship. [This coming from an elitist…so, you know, grain of salt people. – Ed.] But to shy away from any responsibility, as Max does…well, just look at the current state of the internet…so that’s not exactly an answer either.
The TV show ‘Videodrome’…which is the core of the film [Hence the title. – Ed.] takes both these points of view to their most extreme. Max, looking for more shocking content for his station, finds a signal that shows graphic violence and torture and spends the first part of the film trying to track down the signal’s origin so that he can recruit the show’s producers. What we find out in the second half of the film is that ‘Videodrome’ is a weaponized signal designed to produce brain tumors in those that watch its disturbing content and thusly, killing off the ‘degenerates and lowlifes’ that watch such programming. And we’re shown what exposure to this signal does to a targeted individual as we follow Max ‘down the rabbit hole’. We start off simple with just a throbbing TV and videocassette with Nicki’s voice beaconing him to join her inside (this is where we see some of the iconic imagery of the film as James Woods pushes his head into the TV screen). From here, the hallucinations become increasingly violent, one in which he kills on of his softcore producers Masha. That particular one is a little difficult to follow and certainly disorienting. The typical movie viewer might consider that to be a weakness in the film, but come on, when are hallucinations supposed to make sense? And really, think back to a recent dream…did that make any sense? [For the love of all that’s holy, DO NOT go into details on that…a simple yes or no will do. I DO NOT want to get into the inner workings of your so-called ‘mind’. – Ed.] But the important one, if I can recall correctly, happens kind of in the middle…where we get the introduction of the…well, look, I gotta call it as I see it…it’s a man-gina. I’ll even defend why I’m calling it that, you know, aside from the fact that it looks like a gaping vagina in the middle of Max’s abdomen. As I said in the opener, Cronenberg has a serious thing for sexual imagery and body horror…and I sure as shit know that I’d be mortified if I had a gaping vagina develop in my abdomen for not reason. [Yeah, you’d be mortified…but then you’d never leave your apartment…sicko. – Ed.] This, ahem, let’s just say ‘new growth’, allows Max to kinda become a man-aroo. Or maybe Kanga-guy? Anyway, he can store shit in there. Sigh…okay okay…he could always store shit in there, that’s one of the purposes of your abdomen…but I mean he can store, well, for instance, his gun in there. We’ll get to that. By the time we get into the final act, this little feature becomes the driving force of the film, as sides for and against Videodrome use it to turn Max into their pawn.
This brings us to the horrifying final point made by the film that is only made truly that way by looking and seeing it present in our very own modern culture. With so many voices out there, either by way of social media, news channels, so on and such…people have instinctually gravitated towards the ones that they agree with and in doing so, finding themselves increasingly detached from any other viewpoints. As such, we’ve got a lot of wandering Maxes out there…some championing one extreme philosophy, others championing a different one, so on and so forth, constantly having their myopic view reaffirmed as well as their overriding ‘if you’re not with us, you’re against us’ tribal nature. In terms of the movie, anyone who places a tape inside Max ends up controlling him. He truly has no free will of his own any longer. And, as someone who no longer has any free will, his final fate is somewhat tragic, but utterly predictable. As such, we see him end the same way we see so many similar people here or abroad end, dying by his own hand because someone else told him to…all in the name of a new (in this instance) religion.
Sure, the technology in the film is dated: Betamax videotapes and good luck trying to repress your chuckles when you see their version of a VR headset…but the points, allegories and events of the film ask questions and point out things that are just as pertinent today as they were back when the film was made…perhaps even more so. That’s why the film remains a classic. So, if you find yourself questioning society and its dependence on media, hunt this film down and check it out. You’ll be comforted to know that there’s a weird guy in Canada that has a little bit too much of a thing for sex and body horror that agrees with you.
Okay, comforted is probably the last thing you’ll be…but hey, at least you won’t grow a ‘man-gina’. At least…we hope not.
[Nuking the Cat is not responsible for any growths that develop on the viewer’s abdomen during or after the watching of this film. If this does occur, seek medical attention and refer any medical professional treating you to David Cronenberg. I doubt he can help, but I’m sure he’ll be amused…and possibly aroused. Ew. – Ed.]