The president of the Civic TV - channel 83, Max Renn, is always looking for new cheap and erotic movies for his cable television. When his employee Harlan decodes a pirate video broadcast showing torture, murder and mutilation called Videodrome, Max becomes obsessed to get these movies for his channel. He contacts his supplier Masha and asks her to find the responsible for the transmission. A couple of days later, Masha tells that Videodrome is real, actually snuff movies. Max's sadomasochist girlfriend Nicki Brand decides to travel to Pittsburgh to have an audition to the show. Max investigates further, and through a video of the expert Professor Brian O'Blivion, he learns that that TV screen would be the retina of the mind's eye, being part of the brain, and Videodrome transmission creates a brain tumor in the viewer, changing the reality in video hallucination.
Directed by: David Cronenberg
. Starring: James Woods
, Sonja Smits
, Debbie Harry
, Peter Dvorsky
, Leslie Carlson
, Jack Creley
, Lynne Gorman
, Julie Khaner
, Reiner Schwarz
, David Bolt
, Lally Cadeau
, Henry Gomez
, Harvey Chao
. Music by: Howard Shore
In the late 60s, Canadian director David Cronenberg directed "Stereo" and "Crimes of the Future". "Stereo" took place in the hilariously named Academy of Erotic Enquiry whilst "Crimes" took place in a dermatological clinic called The House of Skin. Both films simply consist of scientists observing groups of patients, Cronenberg's camera examining the effects of various experiments on human flesh. In "Stereo", we watch as scientists create a race of super-humans who bond together in polymorphous sexual relationships. In "Crimes", we watch as a plague caused by beauty products wipes out all sexually reproductive women. In an evolutionary response to their now defeminized world, some men grow reproductive organs outside their bodies, while others become paedophiles who prey on little girls.
An obsession with youth, the sexualization of kids, the castration of modern man, the temporality of the flesh, the quest for beauty killing the sexually mature...are all pretty heavy themes for such a young film-maker.
Understanding that his interests were far too esoteric for mainstream cinema, Cronenberg set out to make several low budget horror films. "Shivers" and "Rabid" are essentially about a mutant penis (Shivers) and vagina (Rabid) assaulting citizens and converting them into carnal beings. "Shivers", which takes place in a giant building called "The Starline Hotel", was seen by screenwriter Dan Obannon (a fellow Canadian) and would prove a huge influence on Ridley Scott's "Alien".
Cronenberg then filmed "Brood", a nice little horror flick which centres around a divorced couple. Here, scientists encourage man to manifest his emotions as physical symptoms. One patient develops lymphatic cancer as a manifestation of his self-hatred while another gives birth to mutated children who act our her violent emotions. Whatever the flaws of these pictures, they all contain a couple genuinely spooky scenes and a strong, singular vision.
Cronenberg followed "Brood" up with "Scanners", a hastily written and filmed flick about an underground war between a cult of telepaths and the clinic which created them. With its shotgun battles, trench coats, night scenes and fast pace, the film plays like a schlocky version of James Cameron's (another Canadian) "Terminator".
This is where the "first phase" of Cronenberg's filmography ends. Up until this point all his films centred around subjects at the mercy of scientific experiments. As a result, they're all cold and impersonal films told from the perspective of the viruscontagion. Cronenberg's next six flicks, however, focus on the subject's personal struggles with their own self inflicted "diseases". And so we have "Videodrome", "The Dead Zone", "The Fly", "Dead Ringers", "Naked Lunch" and "M Butterfly", all character studies which empathise with the victim (or infected host) and introduce a sense of humanity previously unseen in Cronenberg's filmography.
"Videodrome", the precursor to "Existenz", is about the president of a sleazy television company who stumbles across a pirate TV station which broadcasts a zero-budget torture program (today the pirate footage now resembles Abu Ghraib). What follows is one of Cronenberg's greatest films, "Videodrome" dealing with the escalation of plot-less sex and violence, a world in which the boundaries between reality and fantasy bleed, a provoking satire on media censorship and a Marshall McLuhan influenced merger between flesh and technology (media as bodily extensions, and the notion of discarnate man and virtual identities).
After "Videodrome" failed, cash-wise, Cronenberg sold out with "The Dead Zone" and "The Fly", two mainstream pictures which raked it quite a lot of cash. "The Dead Zone" is a fairly shallow look at the life of a psychic man, whilst "The Fly", despite a cute romantic tale at its core, is simply an excuse for Cronenberg to catalogue the disintegration of human flesh (and a Cartesian mindbody war in which the flesh wins).
Then came one of Cronenberg's most assured flicks, a little seen masterpiece called "Dead Ringers". Beautifully shot by Peter Suschitzky (cinematographer on "Empire Strikes Back"), "Dead Ringers" centres on a pair of twin gynaecologists, one of whom falls in love with a woman who has a mutation which results in her having 3 vaginal openings. The film treats the twins as a single organism and the woman as a mutation which must be excised. She is rejected by the dominant twin's immune system, but is accepted by the weaker. This twin develops such a hunger for the mutation that he spirals into addiction when she is removed, resulting in the other twin having to develop special gynaecological tools to symbolically sever their connection. It's a weird but genuinely moving picture.
Cronenberg then made "Naked Lunch", a film about the hallucinogenic mind-space of author William Burroughs. Aesthetically the film is a failure, Lynch, "A Scanner Darkly" and "Fear and Loathing" covering similar psychedelic ground in a much more confident manner. "M Butterfly", Cronenberg's next film, was equally muddled, allegorizing Imperial conquest as the domination and gender transformation of women.
Cronenberg then entered his third and most confident phase, his pictures becoming icy cool and tightly structured. And so we have "Crash", less a film about fetishes than the aggressive escalation of on screen sex and violence, the film's cast (who all play film-makers) engaging in accelerated acts of titillation, all hoping to bridge what desire's lack.
Then came "Spider", "Existenz", "History of Violence" and "Eastern Promises", three masterful films which examined the elusive nature of reality, desire, depth-less simulations (West and East as genrenational simulation) and personal displacement (displacement from country, law, body and gender). These later films, grossly misunderstood, will be talked about in depth with later essays. Suffice to say, with his "third phase", Cronenberg has learnt to masquerade Kubrickean levels of complexity within seemingly mainstream, genre pictures.
6.910 -' (M Butterfly, Dead Zone, Naked Lunch), 710 -' (Rabid, Shivers), 7.910 -' (The Fly, Scanners, The Brood), 810 -' (Spider, Crash), 8.5 - (History of Violence, Dead Ringers), 8.910 -' (Existenz, Videodrome), 910 - (Eastern Promises).
Review by tieman64 from the Internet Movie Database.