Film / Videodrome
Television can change your mind... Videodrome will change your body!

"Death to Videodrome! Long live the New Flesh!"

Videodrome is a 1983 horror/sci-fi film directed by David Cronenberg, starring James Woods and Debbie Harry.

It is a surreal movie, one of the poster children for Body Horror. Like all of Cronenberg's movies, it has a strong intellectual undercurrent. The film deals with Marshall McLuhan's philosophies and examines the relationship between television and its audience. Cronenberg was greatly influenced by McLuhan's theories.

More specifically, the film follows the CEO of a small cable station who stumbles upon a broadcast signal that is broadcasting extremely violent and horrific things. He investigates. As you might expect from Cronenberg, things get worse...

This film provides examples of:

  • 23:
    • The first scene is Max's secretary telling him his schedule for the day, Wednesday the twenty-third. On video tape.
    • In a blink and you'll miss it type, when Max first meets Barry Convex in person for the first time at the opticians' store, you can see the number 23 in the background behind Convex in one of the shots.
  • Adolf Hitlarious: Max has a picture of Hitler in a ballerina skirt with a swastika on it and on stilts in his living room.
  • Author Appeal: Characters ranting about the power of flesh? Yep, it's a Cronenberg film.
  • Bedmate Reveal: Played for horror. When Max wakes up in his bed late in the film after an extended Videodrome hallucination, he finds someone laying next to him. When he removes the sheets it turns out to be the corpse of an associate of his, tied up and tortured to death. He calls up a friend to come over and look, but it turns out he was again hallucinating and his bed is empty.
  • Belly Dancer: A belly dancer appears in the restaurant where Masha reveals more about Videodrome to Max.
  • Black and Grey Morality: Barry Convex may be a clear bad guy, but Bianca O'Blivion is no saint either. She uses Max just as Barry did, and the only difference is that she shows a little remorse, and that her actions seem to be in self-defense. She still uses him to kill her enemies and drive Max to suicide.
  • Body Horror: As per usual for Cronenberg.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: Max eventually becomes compelled by the Videodrome tapes to murder his partners at Civic TV in cold blood. When he goes after Bianca O'Blivion, she reprograms him to kill her enemies (the people who programmed Max to become an assassin in the first place) for her.
  • Brown Note: Videodrome itself. We get to see why, and it's as horrible as it is said to be.
  • Canada Does Not Exist: Averted. Unlike many mainstream movies set in Toronto which omit specifying a particular city(or even that they're outside of the US), Toronto is actively discussed throughout the film and numerous landmarks such as the CN Tower and Red Rocket streetcars are shown.
  • Central Theme: Eyes and perception. It's little wonder that the Mega Corp. has a front as an eyeglasses manufacturer whose new Medici line uses the motto "The eyes are the window to the soul".
  • Chekhov's Gun: Max Renn loses his gun in an early hallucination inside the cavernous tumor in his stomach. Guess where he gets his gun from before the climax.
  • Cigarette Burns: Nikki puts out a cigarette on her left breast as part of her masochistic tendencies, despite Max's pleas for her not to.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: Maybe. Sort of. It depends on how you view the signals and hallucinations.
  • Double Entendre: "Civic TV, The one you take to bed with you."
  • Deconstructor Fleet: For late '70s, early '80s "mondo" exploitation movies. Oddly enough, it is now much better known than films like Mondo Cane or the Faces of Death series.
  • Exploitation Film; Civic TV's stock in trade is exploitation TV.
  • Fantastic Aesop: Not used by the film itself, but by the bad guys, who figure that if they make a torture porn show that kills the viewer, nobody will watch torture porn anymore.
  • Funny Background Event: Max hitting on Nicki while the talk show host interviews Brian O'Blivion.
  • Gorn: Played with.
  • Head-Tiltingly Kinky: Nicki gets off on mutilating and piercing herself, as well as watching Torture Porn.
    Nicki: What's this? "Videodrome"?
    Max: Torture. Murder.
    Nicki: Sounds great.
    Max: Ain't exactly sex.
    Nicki: Says who?
  • Hemo Erotic: When Max learns that Nicki is a masochist, she asks if he wants to try out something. He pierces her ear with a needle, and licks off the blood.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Done on purpose for extreme horror. At one point James Woods basically has sex with the cancerous vagina growing out of his own belly with a gun.
  • Interplay of Sex and Violence: This film is rife with it. In fact, it could even be seen as the main theme of this film.
  • Just Here for Godzilla: Invoked by Max. When he asks to see one of the last tapes in a Japanese softcore porn series, one of the distributors says that it won't make sense without seeing the entire story. Max scoffs his audience isn't interested in the story.
  • Killed to Uphold the Masquerade: Nicki went in search of Videodrome. The people behind it filmed her then killed her, and used her image to manipulate Max.
  • Lady in Red: When Max is on a talk show to defend his low-brow network, he notes that that the red dress of Nikki, one of his co-guests, is quite alluring. They strike up a relationship not long after.
  • Loveable Rogue: Max Renn may be a snarky dealer of smut, but he is charismatic and friendly and never really did anything wrong until Videodrome screws him up.
  • Made of Explodium: Harlan dies with his body spontaneously combusting.
  • Man in the Machine: One of Cronenberg's favorite tropes is played out here. Aside from "Max becomes a living VCR", at one point, Convex has Max wear a gigantic recording device over his head, making him look like a man with a robot head.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Yes, they're visions, but... is that really Nicki talking to him beyond the grave, or just his own psychosis?
  • Mega Corp.: The Spectacular Optical corporation is revealed to have stolen Videodrome (a mysterious force that can give people the power to warp reality) from its creator, Dr. Brian O'Blivion, and assassinated him with it. While O'Blivion wanted to use Videodrome to help the human race, Spectacular Optical uses it to further their own evil goals of world domination. According to its CEO Barry Covex, the company makes everything from cheap glasses to missiles.
  • Mind Screw: The blurring between fiction and reality only increases during The Climax.
  • The Mole: Harlan is revealed to have been a plant sent in by Barry Convex in order to expose Max to Videodrome
  • Moral Event Horizon: Invoked by Masha.
    Masha: Videodrome. What you see on that show, it's for real. It's not acting. It's... snuff TV.
    Max: I don't believe it.
    Masha: So... don't believe.
    Max: Why do it for real? It's easier and safer to fake it.
    Masha: Because it has something that you don't have, Max. It has a philosophy, and that is what makes it dangerous.
  • Moral Guardians: The purity league headed up by Barry Convex.
  • Mr. Vice Guy: While Max is mostly a good person, he is quite a sleazy guy, whose vices are mostly associated with lust.
  • Mrs. Robinson: When Max jokingly offers to shower naked with Masha to get her to investigate Videodrome, she chuckles and says that while Max probably has a hot bod, she prefers younger men, giving the young bearded waiter a brief lustful gaze.
  • New Media Are Evil: Deconstructed. This turns to be Barry Convex's plan with Videodrome all along: to make people fear the evolution of media. Bianca is against it, but her beliefs are just as extreme.
  • Names To Run Away From: Nouns: Brian O'Blivion and his daughter Bianca O'Blivion. While their alignment is very hard to make out due to the unreality of the movie and Brian is a resonant phantom living in the television world, they are engaging in a counter war against the brain-destroying, people-corrupting Videodrome syndicate by reprogramming the "video word made flesh" (an outside innocent, sleazy TV executive Max Renn) for their own sinister purposes.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • Brian O'Blivion is a parody of Marshall McLuhan, whose ideas are the central theme of the movie. He only exists in video tapes, parodying McLuhan's famous proclamation: "I refuse to appear on television, except on television," a line O'Blivion quotes verbatim in his first appearance.
    • CivicTV and its head producer Moses is an Expy of infamous Toronto cable network Citytv and its co-founder Moses Znaimer.
  • Non-Actor Vehicle: Deborah Harry.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The orange letters of the title card of the titular TV Show, with nothing but the buzz of your cathode ray-tube to accompany it.
  • Organic Technology: The television sets start to breathe and pulsate, the video cassettes are eventually made out of living flesh, and Max's hand morphs together with his gun.
  • Phallic Weapon: When Max grows a cancerous vagina on his abdomen, he uses his gun to have sex with it.
  • Place Worse Than Death: Pittsburgh is treated this way throughout the film. It is where the Videodrome signal comes from, and "See you in Pittsburgh" is later used in lieu of the regular "See You in Hell".
  • Playful Hacker: Harlan, who even has signs around bragging about being a video pirate. It's an act.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: "See you in Pittsburgh."
  • Punny Name: Brian O'Blivion? Barry Convex? Is this a comedy? No. Possibly a Shout-Out to Thomas Pynchon. Justified in the first instance because Brian O'Blivion has explicitly renamed himself.
  • Raster Vision: Averted in here. Videodrome is credited as being the first film to feature low-flicker television.
    • Used in stylized form on the poster's logo, however.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: A nasty one delivered by Harlan.
    Harlan: North America's getting soft, patrone. And the rest of the world is getting tough. Very, very tough. We're entering savage new times, and we're going to have to be pure... and direct... and strong... if we're gonna survive them. Now, you and this, uh, cesspool you call a television station... (increasingly pissed) and, uh, your people who wallow around in it... and, uh, your viewers... who watch you do itó you're rotting us away from the inside. We intend to stop that rot.
  • Recorded Spliced Conversation: Professor Brian O'Blivion is a pop-culture analyst/ philosopher who believes that television will eventually replace all aspects of everyday life. He frequently appears on talk shows to debate his philosophy, but only if he can telecommute and by having his image broadcast into the studio on a TV next to the other participants. Protagonist Max goes to Professor O'Blivion's base of operations at the "Cathode Ray Mission" in order to interview him personally, but discovers that Professor O'Blivion was murdered and his daughter, Bianca O'Blivion, has been using an archive of thousands of her father's pre-recorded tapes to fake his continued appearances on television.
  • Science Is Bad: The seeming surface moral is that modern information technology is eeevill. But, later it turns out: not so much.
  • Secret War: There is a hidden battle going on between Bianca O'Blivion and Barry Convex, with Max caught in the middle as a Manchurian Agent for both.
  • Shout-Out:
    • To several famous exploitation movies.
    • CIVIC-TV is a play on City-TV (a Toronto-area station that played porn movies at the time when Videodrome was made.note ).
  • Show Within a Show: Videodrome, which is ostensibly a Snuff Film, but later turns out to be a sinister movement.
  • Smug Snake: Barry Convex.
  • Spiritual Sequel: eXistenZ. This is made particularly clear because it starts with a scene that looks very like the climax to this movie. Not to mention that both films make use of a disturbingly biological handgun.
  • Snuff Film: Videodrome is snuff television. Or that's how it appears at first...
  • Starts with a Suicide: Inverted. The film ends with Max shooting himself to (he believes) be joined with Nicki in Videodrome. Whether or not he's hallucinating there is an open question, however.
  • Surreal Horror: As Max's psychological descent steepens, plot points and settings grow more and more absurd.
  • The Tape Knew You Would Say That: TV prophet Brian O'Blivion communicates solely through videotaped messages-even in order to participate in an interview early on in the film.
  • The Television Talks Back: Nicki disappears when going to check out Videodrome, then appears to Max in his TV, and asks for a kiss. He does...and then things start to get really bizarre. Brian O'Blivion also starts to directly converse with Max in this way later on.
    Max: Be careful. It bites.
  • There Are No Therapists: The only person coming close in the movie gets corrupted the fastest.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: The film is shown from the perspective of the protagonist, Max Renn, who has certainly gone batty at some point. Everything up to the first Brian O'Blivion tape he watches can be assumed to be real as he's still only slightly affected by the signal. But when Bianca tells him that his life could become "100% video hallucination", suddenly it looks more and more likely that the bizarre plot twists (i.e. an evil conspiracy operating out of an opticians', his best friend being part of this conspiracy, murdering people with flesh/metal hybrid weaponry) is all part of a massive psychotic break triggered by the Videodrome signal. Maybe.
  • Too Kinky to Torture. Nicki. In fact, to her torture is kinky.
    Nicki: (looking for a porno to watch with Max) What's this? "Videodrome"?
    Max: Torture. Murder.
    Nicki: Sounds great.
    Max: Ain't exactly sex.
    Nicki: Says who?
  • Torture Porn: Subverted in-universe. When Max first sees the pirated Videodrome transmission, he thinks that it's the most realistic torture exploitation he's ever seen, which is exactly what he thinks his channel's viewers will want. Only later does he realize that Videodrome's 'actors' don't ever return, and is a real Snuff Film operation.
  • Unreliable Narrator: See Through the Eyes of Madness, above.
  • Vagina Dentata: Just about the only trope played straight. Except that it's on a man. In his abdomen.
  • Visual Pun: Max's handgun becomes overtly literal later on. There's also a literal hand grenade at one point.
  • Zeerust: To a modern audience, the idea that television is the primary medium by which media influences the human mind seems quite antiquated, what with the rise of the Internet and social media. The potential remake of Videodrome addresses this issue by using the Internet and nano-technology as the means by which society is controlled. Television itself has also evolved beyond signal broadcasts since the rise of cable. Those adorable video cassettes and V.C.R.s really sweeten the deal.