“Long live the new flesh!”
Bizarre and confusing, but is Videodrome overrated or is it any good?
Max Renn (Woods) is the president of CIVIC-TV, a UHF television station in Toronto that specializes in sensationalistic programming. Displeased with his station’s current lineup, Max is looking for something that will break through to a new audience. One morning, he is summoned to the clandestine office of Harlan (Peter Dvorsky), who operates CIVIC-TV’s pirate satellite dish which can intercept international broadcasts. Harlan shows him Videodrome, a plotless show apparently being broadcast out of Malaysia which depicts the brutal torture and murder of anonymous victims in a reddish-orange chamber. Believing this to be the future of television—seemingly staged snuff TV—Max orders Harlan to begin pirating the program.
Appearing on a talk show, Max defends his station’s programming choices to Nicki Brand (Harry), a sadomasochistic psychiatrist and radio host, and Professor Brian O’Blivion (Jack Creley), a pop culture analyst and philosopher who will only appear on television if his image is broadcast into the studio, onto a television, from a remote location. O’Blivion delivers a speech prophesying a future in which television supplants real life. Max dates Nicki, who is sexually aroused when he shows her an episode of Videodrome and seduces him into having sex with her while they watch it.
Harlan tells Max that a signal delay which caused it to appear to be coming from Malaysia was a ploy by the broadcaster, and that Videodrome is being broadcast out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Max informs Nicki, who excitedly goes to Pittsburgh to try and audition for the show under the guise of a business trip. When Nicki fails to return to Toronto, Max contacts Masha (Lynne Gorman), a softcore feminist pornographer with ties to the porn community, and asks her to help him find out the truth about Videodrome. Through Masha, Max learns that not only is the footage in Videodrome not faked, but it is the public “face” of a political movement. Masha further informs him that O’Blivion knows about Videodrome.
Max tracks down O’Blivion’s office to a mission where homeless people are encouraged to engage in marathon sessions of television viewing. He discovers the mission is run by O’Blivion’s daughter, Bianca (Sonja Smits), with the goal of helping to bring about her father’s vision of a world in which television replaces every aspect of everyday life. Later, Max views a videotape in which O’Blivion informs him that the Videodrome “is a socio-political battleground in which a war is being fought for control of the minds of the people of North America”.
Shortly thereafter, Max begins experiencing disturbing hallucinations in which his torso transforms into a gaping hole that functions as a VCR. Bianca tells him these are side-effects from having viewed Videodrome, which carries a malicious broadcast signal that causes the viewer to develop a malignant brain tumour. O’Blivion helped to create it as part of his vision for the future, but when he found out it was to be used for malevolent purposes, he attempted to stop his partners; they used his own invention to kill him. In the year before his death, O’Blivion recorded tens of thousands of videos, which now form the basis of his television appearances.
Max is contacted by Videodrome ’s producer, the Spectacular Optical Corporation, an eyeglasses company that acts as a front for a NATO weapons manufacturer. The head of Spectacular Optical, Barry Convex (Leslie Carlson), has been secretly working with Harlan to get Max exposed to Videodrome and to have him broadcast it, as part of a crypto-government conspiracy to morally and ideologically purge North America by giving fatal brain tumours to “lowlifes” fixated on extreme sex and violence. Convex then inserts a brainwashing video tape into the “VCR” in Max’s torso. Under Convex’s influence, Max murders his colleagues at CIVIC-TV, and later attempts to kill Bianca.
As strange and confusing as the movie seems, it contains many valid points about television, subliminal messaging and how large amounts of exposure to violence and sex can alter our way of thinking, even without us realizing. Although the film doesn’t have a clear message or direct storyline (by which I mean one in which you can fully distinguish between reality and hallucinations), it’s still entertaining, bizarre and it’s ideas are increasingly more relevant over time. Even more so now, with the slow development of virtual reality, the increased popularity of gaming and simply the trend of reality tv.
One quote that sticks out is one said by Brian O’Blivion:
“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.”
This quote has become more and more relevant in the 30 years since the movie was made.
Some people may have issue with the ending and the way in which it’s difficult to distinguish between what’s really happening and what is simply being imagined, but the film is supposed to be a mind fuck so it makes sense in the way it’s presented. Additionally, Max has no idea what’s going on either so why should we?
The effects in the movie may be a little dated but they work well in this film, they’re equal parts awesome and disturbing.
This film personally reminded me a little of the later Hellraiser films, where the scripts weren’t originally intended to include Pinhead. I felt like Pinhead could pop in at any moment and simply explain it was all just Max’s personal hell and that he’d opened the Lament Configuration.
So, in summary, if you’re looking for a mind fuck full of great effects and social commentary then this is the film for you.