In the not-too-distant future, Max (James Woods) is the president of Channel 83, which specializes in showing sex and violence. His interest is piqued by a Malaysian broadcast called Videodrome, which stages rape, torture, and murder. He runs into trouble when he goes looking to buy it for his station, and finds out not only is it made in America, but the savage acts are real. Meanwhile, watching the show is giving him hallucinations about hurting people, as well as bizarre situations like his gun disappearing into a hole in his stomach. Before long, the creators of Videodrome have him programmed for their own use.
It’s quite a complex movie, but its themes seem to revolve around how the media affects us, from desensitization to loss of reality. Max is looking for something not “soft” or “too sweet” but “tough” and “grotesque.” He enjoys Videodrome because “It’s just torture and murder—no plot, no characters.” Max loses his ability to tell what’s actually happening in his life; in one scene, he whips his lover Nicki (Deborah Harry) while she’s inside a TV, but then she turns into Max’s colleague Masha (Lynne Gorman), and he wakes up next to her corpse in his bed. He calls his friend over for confirmation the body is real, and nothing is there—the entire event was an illusion.
But it’s not just Max who lives in “over-stimulated times.” One of the creepier scenes in the film is when Max visits the Cathode Ray Mission, where homeless people go to watch television. As one character points out, “Television is reality,” and “Nothing is real outside our perception of reality.” This movie is pushing forty years old, but it’s extremely visionary in terms of portraying media saturation. We really do live in “savage new times,” with so much reality TV (I can think of five shows off the top of my head that revolve around people eating disgusting things to survive), and the internet. Similar to movies like Feardotcom and Untraceable that feature snuff websites, Videodrome asks the question: is something real if you’re merely watching and not acting? Or is it the only thing that’s real?
I hadn’t seen Videodrome in years, and since then it was referenced on Family Guy, when James Woods makes Peter watch it. I recommend this especially to Family Guy fans; it’s totally worth watching, even if like me thanks to that episode you always find Woods hilarious–at least when he’s acting. I couldn’t find a clip of that scene, so I included the box trap scene, which is way funnier. The movie’s way too weird and eerie to laugh at, except the use of Betamax tapes—how quaint!