Monday, 22 February 2016

Videodrome (Guest Review)

By Sam Graham

The lesson of this review is be careful what you agree to when you've had a few. I'm not just talking about how I wound up volunteering to review David Cronenberg's 1982 film Videodrome, but also how James Woods must have undoubtedly felt whilst reading the script for it.

Videodrome is the kind of film you read the Wikipedia for immediately after viewing - kind of like how everyone has all of a sudden 'always' been a huge fan of Deadpool - to see if you understood any of its trippy bullshit; only to find out that you didn't, you missed the point entirely, and that you really should rethink your life. Anyone who's familiar with Cronenberg's work should have an idea of what they're getting into with this film. If you don't, Cronenberg is the guy who once made Robocop snort so much insect repellent that he followed his typewriter-beetle's orders and shot Bilbo Baggins. Yep, you read that right.

And it's got James Woods!  Oh dear god James Woods. When James Woods is in a film, it's a guaran-damn-tee you're in for a good time. Even if the film is shite, you can still enjoy it for his performance, like Cat's Eye (1985). In every film I've seen he plays this smarmy lothario, so far up himself, but always on the verge of letting it slip that underneath he's a complete psycho. So much so that I'm convinced he's never done a day’s acting in his life. He's actually like this. Just watch The Specialist (1994) and Vampires (1998) and you'll see what I mean.

Now, bear with me on this one, because here is the plot: James Woods plays the director for a small-time TV channel that puts out soft porn, but he's looking for something edgier than the average Friday night softie you once got caught taping off Channel 5. His search takes him to bootlegging some snuffporn called Videodrome. As well as that, Woods spends his free time nailing Nicki Brand (Debbie Harry), who I reckon was only cast so she could get her tits out and get the male Blondie fans to come running. While at Woods' house she puts one of his Videodrome tapes on and reveals that she digs the kinky shit when she asks Woods to cut on her. He obliges of course, because he's James Woods, and sticks pins through her ears whilst spooning on the carpet...They probably fuck too, I reckon.

All that Videodrome gives Woods a headache and causes him to hallucinate. During these hallucinations he gives his assistant a slap, but doesn't really, and a wizard's sleeve-sized hole opens up in his stomach. Woods does what any sane man would do at this point and stashes a gun in there for safe keeping. When in Rome I suppose. He probably didn't even really screw Debbie Harry, but we've all had that hallucination before, so it's OK. Woods is led to a televangelist called Brian O'Blivion (I see what he did there) who aside from talking like a first year creative writing student, and being dead, tells Woods that he created Videodrome, and prophesises that one day, future society will just be a bunch of people's pseudonyms on a screen...My gamertag is Long_Live_The_New_Flesh. What's yours?

Woods is later told that Videodrome isn't just a snuffporn program, oh no. Deep breath for this one. It's a subliminal signal inserted underneath violent and arousing imagery, that gives the viewers brain tumours which cause hallucinations such as the VHS sized hole in Woods' stomach created by an optician company; which fronts an arms maker in order to rid America of its deemed 'lower' citizens by infecting them with Videodrome tumours, thus purging the country of its fixation with sex and violence. I believe “You fucking what?” are the words you're looking for. 

Naturally when Woods finds out he was a Guinea pig for all of this, he's a bit miffed. Before he can do anything about it though, someone shoves a betamax tape into his wizard's sleeve which programs him into shooting his workmates with that gun he stashed inside himself earlier, which is now covered in stomach-hole goo. Convenient that. He also goes to kill O'Blivion's daughter who now runs his estate. Miss O'Blivion's on to him though and makes a TV grow a gun and shoot Woods in the stomach, thus turning him into 'the video word made flesh', and reprogramming him to take down Videodrome. I know it's a little skewiff at this point, so try to think of Woods as like a chipped Playstation. The guys in charge of Videodrome try to re-reprogram Woods, but he's having none of it this time. Woods' stomach hole eats guys hand when he sticks it in, and the guy explodes!

Woods travels to an event where the opticians are unveiling their new line. He sits there looking smug for a while, doing his best James Woods impression, then gets on stage and shoots the main guy responsible for Videodrome until he explodes in a load of cancerous tumours. Then Woods legs it to a derelict boat and you get to see him shoot himself twice. Once on James Woods' telly, and then a second time on your own.

This film is as weird as it sounds. It takes a couple of watches to get it, as in the first sitting you'll be too mesmerised by the sheer strangeness of it all. Give it a month and watch it again and it's much clearer, because it's a clever film that was quite ahead of its time with the social commentary. O'Blivion basically predicted social media quite accurately, and the film tackles the debate of whether violent media makes violent people a whole 17 years before the Columbine Massacre. Remember, this film was made in a time when people were still suing rock bands for Satanism.

It also touches on the concept of torture porn, but not in the way that films do these days.  Nowadays your average torture porn film like the Saw, or Hostel sequels get the moniker by showing violence with the same fervour that hardcore porn shows two (or three at a time, or five-on-one) soulless husks banging into each other like a bunch of sweaty Stretch Armstrongs. “Yeah, and now if we can get the camera actually inside the gash, that'll be great.” Said the porn director. And Eli Roth.

Videodrome's idea of torture porn is more to do with the pornographic nature of torture. About finding pleasure in pain, and asking how much pain does it take before it crosses the line and becomes pleasurable. It also asks just why do we get so much pleasure out of watching pain? PLEASE NOTE: Neither myself, or Iron are liable for any cock-biting injuries you may endure in your attempts to become the video word made flesh.

When I told people I was to review Videodrome I head this a lot: “What's that?” and instead of accepting that I'm a social pariah that prefers the dim light of 80's horror to snapchats of myself taking a shit, I realised that Videodrome has somewhat fallen into obscurity due to its grim plot, ghastly special effects, and general weirdness. It's a shame because it really is a gem of a film.  The story is Hitchcockian with its grand conspiracy surrounding social culture, the acting is all pretty solid, and the practical effects are some of the best I've seen. You can tell a lot of effort went into making them so gross to look at. From James Woods' stomach hole to a guy’s skin rupturing as blood and tumours burst out all over his body. Cronenberg always brings his A-game when it comes to the gore.

It's not for everybody however. It is a pretty slow film, and the tone is pretty bleak. Also, because we live in the future now, the VHS is obsolete, so watching this with someone in their late teens will make you feel like a bouncer at a school disco. It alienates the younger audience who will have never known the perils of having to unscrew the top of the VCR because your dad's porn tape got mangled in the heads, and now he's gonna know who's not been rewinding it.

I like to think of it as a cult film fan's cult film, so it’s not the film you'd use if you were going to introduce someone to the genre, but it's got enough gore for the gore-hounds, an intricate plot for those who want something thought-provoking, and Blondie's knockers for everyone to enjoy!

"Now you sit there and watch Videodrome, you sanctimonious prick."