Videodrome…on video

We’ve just moved into a new flat and I haven’t had time to sort out a proper movie-watching solution yet. When we moved we gave away our old TV, partly because it was big and heavy, but mainly because I wanted a good reason to buy a shiny flat-screen one. I still really want to, but I just haven’t had time and I find the selection a tad frightening. LED, LCD what now? Just a decent one, please. Then, my scart leads are still in a box somewhere, at least I hope they are. It really sucks spending money on cables. Anyway, this lack of cables renders the DVD player useless for the time being, so the options are movies on the laptop or VHS movies on the little combi-TV I decided to keep.

The first one we decided one was David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, a film that should really be watched on VHS. I have this beautiful pre-cert copy of the film that I picked up for 20p in a Northampton charity shop in the summer of 2011.

I know I’ve seen Videodrome before, but I can’t actually remember when. It might have been in 2005, a year I spent in Oxford with unlimited access to amazing videos, since my friend John worked in the local video shop and would give me free rentals. It also happened to be the year I sold my entire VHS collection. Now you know.

Anyway, the film is great. It’s one of those films that Cronenberg does (or did anyway) so well – the kind that makes your mind drift off in so many directions that you forget to pay attention to the actual film. You might say that this is a bad thing, but it really isn’t. In this case it makes the film work on so many different levels.  Videodrome, a film that deals with the technological advances of the world in 1983, is especially interesting to watch in 2012. It makes you wonder how a young Cronenberg would have made a similar film today, when we really have have 24/7 access to everything.

The film takes place in a pre-internet/mobile phone/younameit world where home video entertainment is the latest fad and where easy access to pornography is causing a moral panic. James Woods plays Max Renn, the owner of a dodgy television channel who specialises in broadcasting explicit content, pirated from obscure foreign satellite channels. He comes across a show called Videodrome, which mainly seems to broadcast footage of people being whipped and tortured. It’s all pretty tame in today’s world where we have torture porn on tap, but this is 1983. He develops a thing for psychiatrist Nicki Brand, played by Debbie Harry and introduces her to the wonderful world of Videodrome.

Bad idea, Max! She can’t get enough of it and decides to find the producers in order to  audition for the show. Meanwhile, Max starts hallucinating about the weirdest things and before you know it he’s diagnosed by some sort of tumour. The cause? Videodrome of course. Then there’s Brian O’blivion, a wittily named self-proclaimed Messiah character, who only exists on tape and who prophesises a world where all aspects of human existence will be played out on video. O’Blivion is the mastermind behind The Cathode Ray Mission, a charity of sorts where homeless people are offered help and support in exchange for brainwashing-by-television. What it all boils down to is a massive Government conspiracy, where the morally corrupt are being secretly lured into watching a deadly-tumour-inducing horror show, thus cleansing the world of lowlifes interested in sex and violence. The problem taking care of itself. genius. Max’s hallucinations gets increasingly graphic. His tapes come alive, he gets swallowed by a TV, starts whipping TV sets and inserting guns and things into his body. Basically, there’s no real need to go into it any further. It’s all quite a massive mind-fuck of a movie and there’s so much going on. I’m just going to stop there.

It’s classic Cronenberg, intelligently written, well-acted and seriously twisted. The organic pre-CGI special effects look great. Obviously the film has dated, both when it comes to special effects and subject matter, but it doesn’t make it any less intersting.

I do love David Cronenberg and I can’t recommend this highly enough. A true classic that should be experienced on VHS if possible.

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