Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||David Cronenberg|
|Written by||David Cronenberg|
|Music by||Howard Shore|
|Edited by||Ronald Sanders|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
Videodrome is a 1983 Canadian science fiction body horror film written and directed by David Cronenberg, starring James Woods, Sonja Smits, and singer Deborah Harry. Set in Toronto during the early 1980s, it follows the CEO of a small UHF television station who stumbles upon a broadcast signal featuring extreme violence and torture. The layers of deception and mind-control conspiracy unfold as he uncovers the signal's source and loses touch with reality in a series of increasingly bizarre and violent organic hallucinations. The film has been described as "techno-surrealist".
Max Renn (James Woods) is the president of CIVIC-TV (Channel 83, Cable 12), a Toronto UHF television station specializing in sensationalistic programming. Displeased with his station's current lineup (which mostly consists of softcore pornography and gratuitous violence), 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 unauthorized satellite dish which can intercept broadcasts from as far away as Asia. Harlan shows him Videodrome, a plotless television show apparently being broadcast out of Malaysia which depicts the brutal torture and eventual murder of anonymous victims in a reddish-orange chamber. Believing this to be the future of television—(staged) snuff TV—Max orders Harlan to begin unlicensed use of the show. Appearing on a talk show, Max defends his station's programming choices to Nicki Brand (Deborah 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 coaxes him into having sex with her while they watch it. Max goes once again to Harlan's office, where Harlan tells him that the 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 tells Nicki this and she excitedly goes to Pittsburgh to try and audition for the show under the guise of a business trip, but never returns. Max contacts Masha (Lynne Gorman), a softcore pornographer, 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 The Cathode Ray Mission, a mission where homeless people are provided food, shelter, and clothing, and 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 conspiracy to morally and ideologically "purge" North America, 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 murder Bianca O'Blivion. Bianca manages to stop Max by 'reprogramming' him to turn against Videodrome. On her orders, Max kills Harlan and Convex. Afterwards, Max takes refuge on a derelict boat in an abandoned harbor, where Nicki appears to him on a television. She tells him he has weakened Videodrome, but in order to completely defeat it, he has to ascend to the next level and "leave the old flesh". The television then shows an image of Max shooting himself in the head, which causes the set to explode, splattering the deck of the ship with bloody, human intestines. Imitating what he has just seen on TV, Max says "Long Live the New Flesh", and then shoots himself.
Origin of Videodrome
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A deleted scene from the film provides background on the origin of Videodrome. In that scene Convex tells Max about the "Image Accumulator", (which is the device placed on Max's head during his meeting with Convex) an experimental new form of night vision that can work in zero-light conditions. When the developers played the recorded footage from the Accumulator, they saw things that could not have been there. They conclude these phantom figures were hallucinations of the test volunteers, inexplicably recorded by the Accumulator. Further research of the test volunteers revealed they had developed a brain tumour, which externalized their hallucinations, but more specifically, granted them reality warping abilities, which Max refers to as "brain damage". The same signal used in the Image Accumulator was then used to create Videodrome.
David Cronenberg recalled how, when he was a child, he used to pick up television signals from Buffalo, New York, late at night after Canadian stations had gone off the air, and how he used to worry he might see something disturbing not meant for public consumption. This formed the basis for the plot of Videodrome.
As a young man, Cronenberg attended the University of Toronto; first studying science, but eventually gaining his degree in Literature. Marshall McLuhan was a lecturer in media studies at the University during the same time (the early 1970s), and is often credited as an influence on Cronenberg's ideas for Videodrome.
Alternate titles of Videodrome were Network of Blood and Zonekiller.
"Civic TV" is a reference to Toronto television station, CITY-TV, which in the 1970s and early 1980s was notorious for broadcasting soft-core pornography among its programming. One of Max's business partners is named Moses, likely in reference to CITY-TV co-founder Moses Znaimer.
The pornographic video Samurai Dreams, of which only a few moments are seen in the film story, was made specifically for the film. The five-minute film is in The Criterion Collection DVD edition of Videodrome.
An original score was composed for Videodrome by Cronenberg's close friend, Howard Shore. The score was composed to follow Max Renn's descent into video hallucinations, starting out with dramatic orchestral music that increasingly incorporates, and eventually emphasizes, electronic instrumentation. To achieve this, Shore composed the entire score for an orchestra before programming it into a Synclavier II digital synthesizer. The rendered score, taken from the Synclavier II, was then recorded being played in tandem with a small string section. The resulting sound was a subtle blend that often made it difficult to tell which sounds were real and which were synthesized.
The soundtrack was also released on vinyl by Varèse Sarabande and was re-released on compact disc in 1998. The album itself is not just a straight copy of Howard Shore's score, but rather a remixing. Howard Shore has commented that while there were small issues with some of the acoustic numbers, that "on the whole I think they did very well". The album is currently out of print.
The film received generally positive reviews, with a rating of 80% on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 40 reviews. It has been described as a "disturbing techno-surrealist film" and "burningly intense, chaotic, indelibly surreal, absolutely like nothing else".
Videodrome's cult film status has made it a popular source for sampling and homage in Electro-industrial, EBM, and heavy metal music. It ranks tenth on the Top 1,319 Sample Sources list and has been sampled in dozens of songs.
Despite its poor commercial performance, Videodrome won a number of awards upon its release. At the 1984 Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film it tied with Bloodbath at the House of Death for Best Science-Fiction Film and Mark Irwin received a CSC Award for Best Cinematography in a Theatrical Feature. Videodrome was also nominated for eight Genie Awards with David Cronenberg tying Bob Clark's A Christmas Story for Best Achievement in Direction. In 2007, Videodrome scored fourth on Bravo TV's "30 Even Scarier Movie Moments". It was also selected as one of the 23 Weirdest Films of All Time by Total Film. It was named the 89th most essential film in history by the Toronto International Film Festival.
A novelization of Videodrome was released by Zebra Books alongside the movie in 1983. Though credited to "Jack Martin", the novel was in fact the work of acclaimed horror novelist Dennis Etchison. Cronenberg reportedly invited Etchison up to Toronto where they discussed and clarified the story, allowing the novel to remain as close as possible to the actions in the film. There are some notable differences however, such as the inclusion of the infamous "bathtub sequence", a scene never filmed in which a television rises from Max Renn's bathtub like a Venus in a conch shell. This was the result of the lead time required to write the book, which left Etchison working with an earlier draft of the script than was used in the film. The book is currently out of print.
In 2009, Universal Studios announced that it had obtained the rights to produce a remake of Videodrome. Ehren Kruger was named to write the script and produce the film with partner Daniel Bobker. They had hoped for a release date in 2011.
- Dinello, Daniel (2005). Technophobia!: science fiction visions of posthuman technology. University of Texas Press. p. 153. ISBN 0-292-70986-2.
- Cronenberg, David. Director's commentary, Videodrome, Criterion Collection DVD.
- "Videodrome: Criterion Collection". Cronenberg confirms this on the commentary track.
- Lucas, Tim (2008). Studies in the Horror Film: Videodrome. China: Centipede Press. p. 130. ISBN 1-933618-28-0.
- Lucas, Tim (2008). Studies in the Horror Film - Videodrome. China: Centipede Press. p. 133. ISBN 1-933618-28-0.
- Beard, William; White, Jerry (2002). North of everything: English-Canadian cinema since 1980. University of Alberta. p. 153. ISBN 0-88864-390-X.
- The Top 1319 Sample Sources, Version 60, 1 September 2004, archived at the Internet Archive, retrieved 1-22-2012.
- "Total Film's 23 Weirdest Films of All Time on Lists of Bests". Listsofbests.com. 2007-04-06. Retrieved 2009-04-27.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on July 17, 2010. Retrieved July 24, 2010.
- ISFDB - Dennis Etchision Bibliography: Videodrome
- Lucas, Tim (2008). Studies in the Horror Film - Videodrome. China: Centipede Press. p. 119. ISBN 1-933618-28-0.
- Universal to remake Videodrome
- Lucas, Tim. Studies in the Horror Film - Videodrome. China: Centipede Press, 2008. ISBN 1-933618-28-0.
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