For the month of October, JoBlo.com staff will be gearing you up for the Halloween season with My Favorite Scary Movie, where we will share our favorite scary flicks, be it gory horror, supernatural thriller or bloody slasher flicks, lending the personal touch for each film and why it stands as one of our all-time favorite spooky flicks of the season.
Max Renn (James Woods) is the president of a small-scale UHF station in Toronto that specializes in near pornographic, ultra-violent programming. While on the hunt for his next breakout hit, he discovers a plotless show called Videodrome, apparently being broadcast out of Malaysia, that seems to show snuff films. While pursuing the programing, which he foolishly assumes is fake, he begins to realize that Videodrome is causing changes to his mind and body.
Who’s in it? James Woods and Debbie Harry
Who made it? Written and directed by David Cronenberg
Why it’s my favorite scary movie: Here’s the thing – horror movies don’t scare me. I’ve been desensitized to them from a young age. The reason is simple – VIDEODROME. This movie so un-moored me as a child that not only did any other horror movie pale in comparison, but for a little while (in a precursor to what would later become a lifelong struggle with OCD) I refused to even watch a movie that had come out the same year (1983) as it, meaning that for a good eighteen months or so, I refused to watch not one but two James Bond movies, OCTOPUSSY and NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN! At its worst, I remember being in a video store and noting the tapes on the same shelf as VIDEODROME, marking them as “no-go” videos, as if they’d been infected by its horror.
Simply put, I was way too young to have seen Cronenberg’s film when I did. My parents weren’t crazy enough to show it to me. Rather, it was the fact that A&E used to show movies more-or-less unedited in the afternoons and one summer day, after having loved other A&E discoveries like NIGHTHAWKS & STREETS OF FIRE, I decided to watch this cool-looking movie about TV starring James Woods (who – back in 1993 when I saw it, was still pretty cool).
What a horrible, horrible mistake. Now, the film itself actually didn’t scare me as I was watching it. I sat through it just fine. But, what came after – basically wave after wave of disorienting panic, paranoia and inertia – arguably kicked off a life-long struggle with such feelings. Yes, David Cronenberg is responsible for all my anxiety issues over the years (no – not really).
It took me about twenty years before I finally sat down and rewatched VIDEODROME all the way through. Over the years I had told people that yeah, I loved it (avoiding it when it got re-released on Criterion was tough as everyone started re-appraising it), but truth be told I had only revisited it in bits and pieces. So, I sat down to watch what’s still a deeply disturbing sci-fi/body horror mash-up. I rewatched it again a few months ago after listening to an episode of the podcast 80’s All Over, and realized, to my disbelief, how prescient it had been about our relationship with audio/visual content, with the YouTube generation not a far cry from what the character Brian O’Blivion describes when he states:
The battle for the mind of North America will be fought in the video arena: the Videodrome. The television screen is the retina of the mind’s eye. Therefore, the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain. Therefore, whatever appears on the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore, television is reality, and reality is less than television.
I should also mention that the performances are top shelf, with James Woods at his scuzzy best as the seedy Max Renn. It’s no wonder he became one of Hollywood’s most beloved character actors for a time (his career would be a lot different now if he could have stayed off Twitter), while Debbie Harry is iconic as Nikki Brand. Funny though, even if I’m now cured of my VIDEODROME anxiety, when I saw Harry play with Blondie in Montreal at Osheaga this year, I must admit that, briefly, a chill of pure terror went up my spine. I guess in some ways VIDEODROME broke me and I’m still shaken up by it.
I loved working with David [Cronenberg] and so on, and it was a prescient movie as it turned out, but at the time he offered me that movie, we only had 70 pages of the script! I literally called David up and said ‘what do you think of the ending?’ and he said ‘I’m not crazy about it’. I said ‘I’ve got some ideas’, and he said ‘come on up, we’ll shoot some more’.
So I flew up to Toronto to shoot another ending. We shot three endings. I didn’t even tell my agent! And I think the final ending of Videodrome was my idea, that it was a self-fulfilling prophecy that he’d just explode, or implode essentially. And he said ‘yeah, I think that’s what we’re trying to say’. – James Woods – Den of Geek
Scariest Part: To quote Alex Maidy: “stomach vagina gun storage abdomen.”
Max Renn: “I am the Video Word made Flesh.”
Bianca O’Blivion: “My father has not engaged in conversation for at least twenty years. The monologue is his preferred mode of discourse.”
Nicki Brand: “Would you like to try a few things?”
Barry Convex: “I’ll come back for you later. You’ll forgive me if I don’t stay around to watch. I just can’t cope with freaky stuff.”
Max Renn: “I want you to stay away from it! Those mondo weirdo video guys, they’ve got unsavory connections, they play rough. Rougher than even Nicki Brand wants to play… You know, in Brazil, Central America, those kinds of places, making underground videos is considered a subversive act. They execute people for it. In Pittsburgh, who knows?”
Brian O’Blivion: “I was Videodrome’s First Victim!”
And of course…
Max Renn: “Long live the new flesh!”
Gore and Nudity: Rick Baker’s gore fx are absolutely nauseating, including the stomach bit, the videodrome mutations and more. There’s also a fair share of nudity, but not for titillating effect.
Sequels, Spinoffs or Follow Ups: None (thank God) although much of Cronenberg’s later work, including THE FLY, DEAD RINGERS and (especially) EXISTENZ feel cut from the same cloth.
Roger Ebert in 1983: The characters are bitter and hateful, the images are nauseating, and the ending is bleak enough that when the screen fades to black it’s a relief.. Videodrome, whatever its qualities, has got to be one of the least entertaining films of all time.
Roger Ebert in 2011: Cronenberg’s “Videodrome” was uncannily prophetic.
Scare-O-Meter Score: I mean, considering that the film literally sent me into a mental tailspin it tooks months to escape, how could I give VIDEODROME anything other than a 10? I’ll say this, I was too young and too fragile to see this film, even edited for television. To me, it opened doors that couldn’t be closed, but then again, I think my strong reaction to it also helped pave the way towards what I do now, so in many ways I’m grateful, if not nostalgic, to the way it traumatized me. (10/10)
My Favorite Scary Movie – THE EVIL DEAD (1981)
My Favorite Scary Movie – THE CHANGELING (1980)
My Favorite Scary Movie – JASON GOES TO HELL (1993)
My Favorite Scary Movie – THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974)
My Favorite Scary Movie – THE BABADOOK (2014)
My Favorite Scary Movie – DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)
My Favorite Scary Movie – DON’T LOOK NOW (1973)
My Favorite Scary Movie – THE THING (1982)
My Favorite Scary Movie – THE EXORCIST (1973)
My Favorite Scary Movie – THE BURNING (1981)
My Favorite Scary Movie – SUSPIRIA (1977)