Videodrome (1983)

Videodrome, 1983;  directed by David Cronenberg; starring James Woods, Debbie Harry, Sonja Smits

Videodrome is one of the stranger films you’ll see on this list.  Directed by Canadian David Cronenberg (who knew mild mannered Canadians could have imaginations this weird and twisted?), it brings us into a world where some believe viewing moving images should supplant real life, many years before the internet and decades before the selfie.  In fact, the subtly named Brian O’Blivion is a character who runs the Cathode Ray Mission – a mission where the homeless are clothed, fed, provided shelter and encouraged to binge watch television long before that term was invented.

But the movie centers around sleazy cable/UHF TV president Max Renn, played by James Woods (shockingly against type… ha!).  Tired of the typical softcore and violent programming his station is showing, Max is on the lookout for something more shocking and more offensive for his viewers.   And maybe he’s found it in what appears to be pirated torture films broadcast from Malaysia. So he begins to broadcast this illicit programming without permission.  It’s so very violent and offensive yet his kinky girlfriend, sex therapist, S&M enthusiast and radio talk show host Nikki Brand (played by Blonde singer Debbie Harry during her maximum sexpot days) is not only turned on by the program, but wants to appear on it. What follows are a series of strange events and images that include a TV screen stretching out to the viewers, a gun made of flesh, a videotape inserted directly into Wood’s gut, mind control conspiracies, crooked defense contractors and – surprisingly – the increasingly unreliable between what is really happening and what is imagined from Wood’s Renn.   And we get all this in a taut 89 minutes.

Cronenberg created a sub genre of horror films known as Body Horror.  Using horror and some sort of bodily mutation as an allegory for the things we fear in real life – for example his biggest hit remains 1986’s The Fly, which people often view as a metaphor for aids (although Cronenberg himself has said he intended it to be a metaphor for all deadly diseases).  The director continued to hone these techniques and obsessions, even as he moved away from straight horror in the 1990s (for example, the 1990s movie Crash, about people sexually turned on by car accidents – and definitely not to be confused with the oscar winning Crash from the 2000s.  Cronenberg’s film is much better for starters).  Videodrome, along with his 1986 remake of The Fly (with Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis) are often considered his fullest realizations of body horror.

Dark and definitely not for the faint of heart, Videodrome is also eerily prescient about many of the issues we face and are obsessed with today, even when his guesses on future technology turn out to be not exactly right.  He was still pretty close.  And he knew exactly what sort of role to cast James Woods in.

Dr. Vorhees