David Cronenberg is always the director to go to for a very unique video experience. He is famous for his fascination with body horror and the squishier side of metamorphosis. This film is no exception and his smart script explores relationship between people and the media they consume.
Max Renn (James Woods) is a partner in a small cable TV network Civic TV who is always looking for something to draw in ratings and he really thinks he has no limits about he’ll show. Harlan, a video technician at the network, shows Max a poor quality distorted signal he recorded that shows a naked woman being tied up and whipped in a red room. Harlan tells Max it’s called Videodrome. Max wants to see more and he gets Harlan to work on it. Later on we find out that nothing Max experiences from this point is entirely reliable.
Max is the guest of TV show talking about the sort of effect Max’s TV station has on its viewers. The other guests are Nick Brand (Deborah Harry) a therapist with her own radio show and Brian O’Blivion who is on a TV screen. After a bit of discussion in which Max drags up the ancient catharsis excuse he turns the discussion to Nicky’s dress and Max chats her up and she responds while the host talks to O’Blivion.
At the Civic TV studio Harlan tells Max he managed to trace the source of the signal. They thought it was coming from some dodgy country with no human rights and it turns out its coming from Pittsburgh (which really doesn’t mean they were wrong in their first thoughts ;-P)
Max meets up with Nicky and they go back to his apartment. Nicky asks about the Videodrome tapes and Max tries to put her off but the more he tells her how bad they are the more Nicky wants to watch them. Max is interested in Videodrome because it shocks him and he wants to shock people but this shows he does have barriers and knows Videodrome crosses them. Nick however is excited by Videodrome and she begs for Max to cut her as they watch the scenes of torture. She expresses a wish to be on the show which really scares Max.
Next day Max meets Masha, an agent who is pushing her client’s soft porn shows. Max isn’t really interested her shows but he asks her to use her industry contacts to see if she can find out more about who makes Videodrome. When Max is with Nicky later that night she tells him she’s going to Pittsburgh on an assignment and she’s going to audition for Videodrome “I was made for that show,” Nicky says. “Nobody on Earth was made for that show,” Max replies and pleads with her to stay away from Videodrome.
At lunch Masha tries hard to persuade Max to forget about Videdrome. She says it’s dangerous and what is shown is real not fake and that it is snuff TV. The only contact name she gives him is Brian O’Blivion. Max goes to O’Blivions Cathode Ray Mission where homeless people come to get fed and to watch television. The idea is that homeless people can get patched in to TV-saturated society. He tries to see meet O’Blivion but only gets to see his daughter Bianca (Sonja Smits) who promises Max a video from her father.
Max is woken next day by his secretary calling round with his appointments and the video cassette from O’Blivion. Max slaps her and she turns into Nicky and he slaps her again, then realises he is hallucinating. His secretary leaves untouched but very confused.
The video has O’Blivion talking about television as more real than reality. He talks about how Max’s reality is already half video hallucination and we see O’Blivion being strangled to death by a hooded figure standing over him. The figure removes the hood and it is Nicky. The scene goes straight to deep strangeness now. The camera zooms right in on Nicky’s mouth as she says “Come to me,” until the mouth fills Max’s TV set that starts to writhe and throbs and breathes. Max embraces the bulging screen, rubbing and stroking it.
Max returns to see Bianca about the video. She apologises for thinking he meant to harm her. She tells Max that the Videodrome signal is dangerous, that it causes the growth of tumours that cause hallucinations and eventually death. Then she reveals that O’Blivion has been dead for months from a tumour and all that she has left is hundreds of his monologues on video cassettes. She gives him some tapes of O’Blivion on the subject of Videodrome.
The next scene of Max watching Brian O’Blivion while playing with a gun is pretty weird. Max’s belly just opens up a big vertical slit, no blood just moist dark pink flesh and looks like… well anyway Max pushes the gun inside and he slit heals up around his arm. He pulls his arm free but the gun has gone. How much is hallucination here and what really happened? I don’t know because the gun is gone.
Max gets a call from Barry Convex, the evil optician behind the Videodrome conspiracy who offers to help him and sends a limo to take Max back to his evil lair inside a high street opticians. Convex gets Max to put a fancy glowing helmet on to record his hallucinations then leaves him to it. As you can guess Mr Convex is not really helping Max and the film climaxes in scenes of death and madness with viewer left as confused as Max about what is real.
This film is the one that really got David Cronenberg noticed. His previous films such as Scanners and Shivers had certainly been noticed but with Videodrome we got a really smart script that I have been told is inspired by Marshall McLuhan‘s writings on television. The special effects had developed enough to do a reasonably good of creeping me out, especially those stomach scenes. Another major plus film is that it stars James Woods as the sleazy amoral Max Renn which is just the perfect role for him.