Monday, April 11, 2011

30 Day Horror Challenge Day 11 - Your favorite science fiction horror film

When I was back there in film school, there was a person there who put forth the proposition that you can fully explain a David Cronenberg film. Explain a Cronenberg film. YOU CANNOT EXPLAIN A CRONENBERG FILM! His films are obtuse, esoteric, and incredibly subtext laden. They are also bizarre and grotesque. Above all, though, they are true deep mind trips, movies that you will definitely be mulling over long after the credits have rolled. Personally, I love me some Cronenberg, and Videodrome is his masterpiece.

In this film James Woods, who seems to be the go to guy for sleazy characters, plays Max Renn, who runs a TV station intent on pushing the boundaries of sex and violence on TV. He discovers a show called Videodrome, a snuff torture show coming out of Pittsburg. While I’ve never heard him say it, I would be wiling to bet that this is Cronenberg giving a little tip of the hat to George Romero. Slowly, Max becomes obsessed with the show. He learns from Brian O’Blivion, a character that only exists on video, that Videodrome is part of a plot to kill off those who seek this type of entertainment. Max then begins a series of hallucinations in which he literally becomes one with the media technology. On the orders of O’ Blivion’s daughter, he assassinates the producers behind Videodrome but to truly overcome it, he must take one final step and fully become one with the “new flesh.”

The difference between this and many other science fiction and horror movies is that while the film does veer into the fantastic, its main concept is rooted in cultural reality. It is all about society’s relationship with the media; being controlled, becoming addicted, and eventually losing our identities and being assimilated into it. The movie came out in 1983. The home video revolution was just beginning. Cable and satellite TV were becoming widespread. There was a public outcry about the effect violent and sexual media were having on the minds of the populace. It was not set in a dystopian future, but a dystopian present. It also has the distinction of being one of the few science fiction movies that hasn’t become trite and outdated. Remember when all of the movies set in the future took place in the year 2000? Some future, huh? Where’s my flying car? Anyway, Beta tapes and the rest of the technology in the film may be ancient history, but the central thematic questions are, if anything, far more relevant in 2011 than they were in 1983. With the rise of on demand TV, cable with hundreds of channels, the internet, smart phones, etc, the media is even more ever present in society and people are even more addicted to it. The analog world Videodrome took place in was just the precursor to the age of the digital revolution we live in today. Media conspiracies and brainwashing? Hello, have you watched the news lately?

Cronenberg was more or less a prophet, predicting a future where mass media would think for us and basically be inseparable from real life. There’s a character that created a library of video tapes of himself, and no one knows he has actually died because he only ever existed on screen. Doesn’t facebook basically do the same thing today? His daughter says about him “My father has not engaged in conversation for at least twenty years. The monologue is his preferred mode of discourse.” How many internet celebrities, TV talking heads, podcasters, and bloggers could that be describing? Max eventually develops what can only be described as an abdominal vagina that video tapes are forcibly inserted into. The symbolism there is about as subtle as a punch in the face. He has literally ceased to be anything more than a media receptacle. Can you honestly say you don’t know people like that? Me neither.

You can’t talk about Videodrome without talking about the amazing effects. Like Tron one year earlier, if you’re gonna make a movie where technology isn’t just a main plot point, but almost a character in and of itself, you’d better bring some ground breaking effects to the table. The scenes of Sam entering the TV screen and the gun hand extending out of the TV were unheard of at the time. Even a new process for showing a screen on screen without flicker was developed for this flick. There has always been a strong current of body horror running through Cronenberg’s work, and here the sheer wizardry of Rick Baker really make it come alive. From the pulsating “ab-gina” to bodies being torn apart from the inside to guts exploding out of a TV to the biomechanical gun’s tendrils burrowing under Max’s skin, it’s all absolutely stellar. It’s a good thing they’re fighting for the “new flesh,” ‘cause after Mr. Baker’s done with it, the old flesh is pretty much screwed.

I could go on forever about this movie. In fact, I did write extensively about it in my film analysis classes. I will mention for the record, that the acting is great and the movie is perfectly cast. Cronenberg movies always deliver the horror goods, often with a sci fi slant, but they rise above just run of the mill fright flicks. They’re much more cerebral. They all have something to say, and they say it in a way that is quite thought provoking. The ideas are not crammed down your throat. Instead you watch, knowing that this all means something more, but exactly what that is you’ll have to figure out on your own. What one of the characters said about Videodrome the show is also true for Videodrome the movie; “It has a philosophy. And that is what makes it dangerous.” Two severed thumbs up. Nathan says check it out. Long live the new flesh!

1 comment:

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