UTG’s 31 Days Of Halloween: ‘Videodrome’

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Of all the holidays celebrated worldwide, no single day is more loved by the UTG staff than Halloween. With the arrival of the year’s best month, the time has finally come to begin rolling out a plethora of features and special announcements we have prepared in celebration of our favorite day, including the one you’re about to read.

Now in its third year, 31 Days Of Halloween is a recurring feature that will run throughout the month of October. The hope and goal of this column is to supply every UTG reader with a daily horror (or Halloween-themed) movie recommendation that is guaranteed to amplify your All Hallows’ Eve festivities. We’ll be watching every film the day it’s featured, and we hope you’ll follow along at home.

[Warning: the material within is likely NSFW]

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Day 11: Videodrome (1983)

David Cronenberg, the master of the macabre, made Videodrome early on in his career. This burgeoning horror director with ScannersThe Brood, and Rabid under his directorial belt. Then came along an audacious idea: Cronenberg believed that he could explore society’s desire for stimulation whilst using his already trademarked ‘body horror’ visual flourishes. What he willed into existence isn’t just some run-of-the-mill horror film with political overtones. It is the film that people have been trying to replicate ever since. On one hand, a sharp satire on the overstimulation of society through television, and on the other, a dark tale about a man’s vice deforming and altering his body, mind and soul.

Videodrome follows Max Renn, a sleazy cable TV programmer, as he finds more and more depraved material to showcase to a massive audience. Always trying to find ‘the next big thing,’ Max hijacks a satellite signal from a TV show called Videodrome. In this TV show, people are tortured and murdered. There is no plot or acting, just reality. After the program starts to cause hallucinations in Max’s head, a fight for the truth is put front and center as our beloved hero must stop Videodrome from going on air. Unfortunately, Max happens upon a deeply rooted conspiracy along the way, causing things to be less simple.

What’s so great about Cronenberg’s criticisms on society through Videodrome is that they still reverberate and relate to today’s world. Today, people are more interested in if they got caught up on Game of Thrones so they can talk about the grisly deaths that occurred. These viewers are always begging for horrible things to be done to their least favorite characters, acting astonished and lively when the hit show finds new and more violent ways to kill off people. That’s part of Videodrome‘s messed up charm; it plays to the primal senses that bloom when watching horrific things. It knows how desensitized you get when you watch TV shows kill things in more visceral ways as time rages on. To say that this horror classic is ahead of its time is to do an injustice to all politically-fueled cinema. Akin to Cronenberg’s eXistenZVideodrome picks a path it sees societal evolution going down and it sticks to it.

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Deborah Harry (yes, the lead singer from Blondie) plays Renn’s seductress girlfriend, Nicki Brand. A woman who needs to watch smut to even feel an ounce of lust. After catching wind of Videodrome, she decides to venture out to audition on the show. Naturally none of this goes well and Renn is sent on a violent downward spiral after envisioning her as an entity through his television set. Harry is to say the least, a scream queen. More than just flaunting what she has, Harry genuinely creeped me out as the voice in Max’s head, the origin of all his issues. Cronenberg has a knack for picking women who seem lifeless in line recitation but effervescent in actions. After all, his dialogue is a product of seeing these characters as subjects of society, hollowed out on the inside.

Onto James Woods’ performance though. I don’t know why someone didn’t capitalize on Woods’ action hero-like bravura that he brings to the screen in every film he is in. Videodrome makes the case that he’s much more talented than that material, he’s able to play the normal conflicted man with touches of anti-heroics. Max Renn is an epic character, by pure definition, one that changes radically over the course of the story. Woods brings an air of understanding to a man who likes to show softcore porn to the general masses through his television channel. If that’s not a masterclass in good writing, then I don’t know what is. Renn’s body starts to deform through his hallucinations. His body now becomes a vessel for all things unearthly. Without spoilers, this kind of ‘body horror’ is unlike any other. Bringing written allegory to the big screen in the most literal sense. If someone were mentally deformed by past experiences, Cronenberg would be the one to fashion that deformity into something as an extension of the body.

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Ah, “long live the new flesh!” This is the quote that has been stuck in my head ever since my first viewing of Videodrome. It’s an exemplification of where Renn’s story is going. It’s the war cry heard throughout the film as people start to rebel against the powers that be. The powers that so eagerly love viewers with their minds turned off but eyes affixed. There’s a scene during the last quarter of the film where Renn happens upon a homeless man asking for change to buy batteries to keep his TV running. Without seeming heavy-handed, Cronenberg sneaks a satirically-laced anecdote in that scene. Through the man’s begging, we can see that no one, not even Max, can separate themselves from their TVs. Emotional detachment is what Cronenberg’s characters usually suffer from. In this, it’s because of the parasitic relationship brought forth by media on television.

To wrap this up, I hope I was able to speak to you, the viewer, on this radical piece of horror film making. This Halloween, if you are looking for some horrific visuals with truly meaty narrative that will resonate with you, look no further than Videodrome. As is with many cult favorites today, Videodrome is available on Criterion Blu-ray. I highly recommend throwing down the money to see the beautiful 4K digital restoration in all of its glory. Otherwise, find your local rep house and beg and plead with them to show a 35mm print of Videodrome. You won’t regret or soon forget about it.

Editorial written by: Sam Cohen
Last year’s Day 11 film: Suspiria

Check out UTG’s interview with David Cronenberg here.

Sam Cohen

Sam Cohen is that guy you can't have a conversation with without bringing up Michael Mann. He is also incapable of separating himself from his teenage angst (looking at you, Yellowcard). Read on as he tries to formulate words about movies!
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