Videodrome: Of Cyberpunk and Body Horror

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Hello again my futuristic friends. This time I’ll by discussing my views on the 1983 film Videodrome, written and directed by the master of body horror himself, David Cronenberg.

Synopsis:

When Max (James Woods) begins to seek out a new television show (Videodrome) for his TV network, he bites off quite a bit more than he can chew. As he begins to rapidly discover the programs dark secrets and finds himself immersed something between actual reality and the reality created by Videodrome. His intentions carry him through some incredibly vivid hallucinations, to physical alterations of his body. Max intends to stop at nothing to get to the bottom of the program’s origin, which in turn becomes a race to bring down Spectacular Optical, the company that owns Videodrome.

I’ve known about Videodrome for quite a while now and recently had the opportunity to sit down and give it a whirl. Prior to getting into my arguments on this film, I believe it’s important to state that as opinions may vary, this film was an excellent piece of art.

Within the plot of this film it never really explains the time period that the film is based in, however, we do know that the film was released in 1983, which leads me to believe that Videodrome is based in an alternate reality. A reality that is very much within the realm of the cyberpunk genre. The media controls the general public through television and this is incredibly evident with the depiction of the corporation Spectacular Optical, whose slogan is ‘Keeping an eye on the world.’ Not only is this relatively terrifying considering how rapidly our world is being dominated by the media, but it’s also something that thrives within the cyberpunk genre, therefore creating my argument that Videodrome is, in fact, a Cyberpunk film in addition to a body horror film.

The main character of the film is Max, played by James Woods, the owner of a television network. The film revolves directly around him diving straight into the hellish rabbit hole that is the new television show, Videodrome. The nightmarish imagery depicted by the show was crafted excellently by Cronenberg with the intent of making a horror film. Although I’m sure the intent wasn’t to make a sweet ass cyberpunk movie, it mixed incredibly well together. There are points in the film that may have you question the existence of particular scenes, but, there is a payoff that adds up eventually with each of these sequences. One in particular of Max being manipulated by Dr. Oblivion, the creator and first victim of Videodrome as Max’s chest opens up and he stows a gun within his body. This also leads to some confusion as to whether this is reality or virtual reality.

Videodrome frequently bends and bleeds virtual and general reality throughout the course of the film. Completely intentional, of course, as we bare witness to some very early depictions of virtual reality, even before Gibson’s Neuromancer was published. There is one scene, in particular, showcasing the first ‘prototype’ of the Videodrome helmet and Max’s experience with an S&M sequence with whom appears to him as his girlfriend, Nicki Brand, played by Deborah Harry(aka Blondie). There is a recurring theme throughout the film that women will appear to Max as Nicki and are actually someone else. One of these scenarios that really stood out to me was when a coworker of Max’s is in his apartment, picks up a tape and is slapped across the face without hesitation by Max. The woman briefly looks like Nicki and changes back to the coworker. This is also screamed to me about the present state of America and how women could be physically disrespected in media without the viewer batting an eye in 1983, and even now.

There is evidence within Videodrome of early depictions of an actual ‘virtual being’. This is explained by Bianca Oblivion, daughter of Brian Oblivion, having collected many videotape recordings of her father. It’s explained that this is to keep him alive. I saw it as something that added to the cyberpunk elements of the film since technology is something that typically thrives within a dystopian world. Although, as aforementioned, we see no evidence of the time frame other than the actual release date of the film.

Considering this film is written and directed by David Cronenberg, I feel it’s entirely appropriate to argue that this film is just as many parts body horror as it is cyberpunk. With extreme scenes of physical body manipulation, gore and overall excellently executed practical effects, Videodrome is an excellent crossover film for genre fans.


Long live the new flesh!

– Caedes Messor

Videodrome – 8/10

If you’d like to experience Videodrome for yourself, you can obtain a copy here.


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