Oct. 29: Videodrome (1983):
Director David Cronenberg is known for making wildly imaginative films that pioneered a sort of venereal horror, in which our bodies are our last, or perhaps only, defense against corruption. Videodrome is perhaps Cronenberg'92s best film, and it marries bizarre imagery to an almost unfathomable plot, yet analyzes the growing interaction between flesh and technology in a uniquely compelling way.'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0
James Woods plays Max Renn, the president of a sleazy cable TV station who is always looking for cheap, titillating programming for his station. After coming across a pirate video broadcast called '93Videodrome'94 that shows rape, torture and murder, Max is sure it isn'92t really a snuff film, but he can'92t figure out how they faked it
With the help of his masochistic girlfriend, Nicki Brand (Blondie singer Deborah Harry), and reclusive '93media prophet'94 Brian O'92Blivion, Max finds the people behind the all-too-real, and all-too-dangerous, program, and uncovers the dangerous plans they have for it. The signal Videodrome is broadcast on has the power to affect the viewer'92s mind, altering his perceptions, and perhaps even his physical body. These things happen to Max, who gradually loses his connection to reality and spirals further and further out of control.
Cronenberg'92s movies have always been obsessed with bodily horror, and the notion of the New Flesh. Videodrome deals with this idea the most directly of any of his films, as the Videodrome signal is supposed by some to facilitate a transition from our current state to a higher one called the New Flesh.
The movie even goes so far as to show us the New Flesh, which combines technology and the body with the television screen as the mind'92s eye. Witness the horrifying scenes in which, in the grips of either a hallucination or a physical change caused by Videodrome, Max'92s stomach splits open and he shoves a pulsating, anthropomorphic videotape into the slit. Cronenberg uses Rick Baker'92s special effects here to realize a chilling meld of body and technology, which only grows weirder as the movie progresses. Yet, paradoxically, the movie suggests that the final stage of transition to the New Flesh may be to forsake flesh altogether and dissolve completely into electrical energy.
Despite how purely bizarre and surreal the movie is, Videodrome works very well as a meditation on our growing obsession with, and dependence on television, how watching TV makes our minds malleable, and the skewed messages we get from this cathode altar can come to influence our thoughts and actions.
Cronenberg has always been particularly skilled at integrating the cerebral and visceral, and here his satirical ideas are woven seamlessly into the narrative. The movie'92s plot is so bizarre that synopsizing it is virtually impossible, but the journey the film takes you on is so immersive and compelling, not to mention weird as hell, that you may not even think about the ideas behind the film until later.
Further drawing us in, Woods gives one of his career-best performances here, keeping this bizarre material grounded in reality for the audience even as his own character'92s perceptions are spinning out of control.
When viewed against today'92s TV landscape, Videodrome has become eerily prescient, for its ideas of technological dependency if not for TV turning us into grotesque monsters. The fact that we buy this material at all is incredible, but Woods and Cronenberg make it absolutely engrossing and horrifying. Long live the new flesh, indeed.
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'97'a0'a0'a0 Scanners (1981): More of Cronenberg analyzing the mind-body connection, this film tells the story of the titular group of telepaths, and the shadowy groups that aim to control them. The Scanners were created after their mothers took experimental drugs during pregnancy, and now these people can read minds and control the actions of others. And in the case of Michael Ironside, they can make dudes'92 heads blow up.
'97'a0'a0'a0 The Dead Zone (1983): In this adaptation of Stephen King'92s novel, Cronenberg again has a protagonist whose brain rebels against him. After a car accident, John Smith (Christopher Walken) lies in a coma for six years. Upon awakening, he finds that he can see people'92s future when he touches them. When he shakes hands with a presidential candidate (Martin Sheen), John sees the end of the world.
'97'a0'a0'a0 Dead Ringers (1988): Perhaps the ultimate statement in Cronenberg'92s vision of bodily horror, this film stars Jeremy Irons as two twins, shy Beverly and outgoing Elliot, both gynecologists, who share everything, even women. When a woman comes between the two brothers, and they face separation for the first time, both face mental breakdowns.