Videodrome

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Videodrome isn’t my favorite Dave Cronenberg movie – that would be Rabid, warts and all – but it is one of his best. This is a film that predicted the rise of easily accessible pornography and the packaging of sex & violence (really sexual violence) as mainstream entertainment. Mr. Cronenberg missed the advent of the Internet, but everything else about Videodrome is spot-on.

Max (James Woods) runs CIVIC-TV, a cable TV channel. Most of his programming is sex and violence, and he is always on the lookout for new talent. When Max’s tech guy intercepts a cable transmission that consists of hardcore S&M he’s intrigued. All he has to go on is a name: Videodrome.

Max meets Nicki Brand (Deborah Harry) on a talk show, where he tells the world he’s doing it a favor by giving people a harmless outlet for their fantasies. Max and Nicki are made for each other. She’s into piercing and he has sadistic tendencies. Their sex scenes are more hair-raising than the special effects which come later; I’m amazed Videodrome got an R-rating, but this was the early 80’s.

Max soon starts seeing things. That’s because watching Videodrome gives you brain tumors. Unphased, he follows a trail that leads to the Cathode Ray Mission, founded by Brian O’Blivion. Mr. O’Blivion is dead, but he’s recorded hundreds of hours of videotape of himself so he’s still around, a sadomasochistic Casper the Friendly Ghost. His daughter is now running the shop. Videodrome and the Cathode Ray Mission are at war, and Max – whose hallucinations grow steadily worse as Cronenberg’s bizarre skin fetish rears its head – is stuck in the middle.

Videodrome was way ahead of its time. My only quibble is that a few of the special effects are cheesy and don’t do this movie justice. James Woods does a great job playing Max, a sleazy operator and pornographer who samples his own wares. Max isn’t nice, but here’s a dirty little secret: lots of times people aren’t nice. In a way having an unlikable hero makes Videodrome easier to watch, as Max loses his agency and becomes a meat package ripe for programming, deprogramming and reprogramming, a victim of the boob tube.

Shivers

A good parasite wants to keep its host healthy. I know that because I read Parasite Rex, and you should too! So why not use parasites in medical research? I’m sure this is not an original idea, but as far as I know David Cronenberg was the first to use it as a plot point in a movie (way back in 1975). If I am wrong, please let me know. I just learned how to use the strikethrough feature on WordPress.

The plot: Doctor Hobbes decides that people are too uptight, man, so he develops a parasite that turns its hosts into sex-crazed maniacs. He inserts the parasite into his personal guinea pig, a nineteen-year old girl who proceeds to infect a number of men in her apartment complex. Remorseful, the doctor strangles her and then kills himself, a scene that manages to be both violent and sexual.

Cut to our hero and heroine: Dr. St. Luc and his sidekick, Nurse Forsythe. The good doctor works at that selfsame apartment complex, located on an island and thus cut off from civilization. Dr. St. Luc isn’t a very effective hero, twiddling his thumbs as the parasite gets cracking, multiplying itself and finding new hosts. Doc St. Luc knows that the Love Bug is on the loose, but doesn’t react very quickly. Maybe he’s surprised at the speed in which the parasite metastasizes and reproduces, or maybe he’s just not the action-hero type.

Things start getting hairy. Barbara Steele is infected by the parasite in a bathtub, a scene that has since become a horror cliché. A love-crazed middle-aged woman drags the equivalent of the pizza boy into her apartment. Bizarre sex and orgies abound as crowds of passion pilgrims roam the hallways in search of their next love fix. Can the uptight Doc and his nurse girlfriend escape the Sexual Revolution?

The plot of Shivers is similar to Cronenberg’s Rabid, but Shivers is a less polished movie. Please note that there are several scenes of sexual assault, which mostly consist of panting, fully dressed men flopping on top of women.  Be aware of this before watching.

Recommended for body horror and Dave Cronenberg fans.

Rabid!

I watched David Cronenberg’s Rabid on New Year’s Day, and it was the perfect palate cleanser to a long, shitty year. Fuck you, 2016! Along with Black Christmas (the 1974 version), Rabid perfectly captures the spirit of the end-of-the year holidays and should be required viewing. Fuck you also, It’s A Wonderful Life!

Black Christmas is full of fun family exploits, if your family is from Hell: a drunken Margot Kidder making fun of her virginal sorority sister while everyone watches; the sorority’s house mother being more concerned about her missing cat than her missing charge; the homicidal maniac displaying his latest victim in the attic window like an oversized Christmas ornament with nobody noticing or caring.

Rabid is a different type of holiday movie. Those who work in retail are all-too-aware that the passing of Thanksgiving signals a sinister transformation in the general public. As the holidays loom ever closer, seemingly normal folks become frenzied lunatics, frothing and screaming and fighting and acting like the infected in Rabid. The week between Christmas and New Year’s is the worst, with people lurching around like drunks on a three-day bender, running on Jack Daniel fumes, airplane glue and Red Bull.

If you love the holidays I apologize…but it’s still true.

The plot of Rabid: Rose (Marilyn Chambers) and her boyfriend Hart get into a motorcycle accident. Luckily the accident occurs near Dr. Keloid’s clinic. Yes, the good doctor runs a plastic surgery clinic, but Rose won’t survive the trip to the hospital. Most of the people in Keloid’s clinic are repeat customers, seemingly addicted to plastic surgery. Interestingly, Cronenberg’s wonderful The Brood features characters addicted to psychotherapy.

Keloid uses an experimental plastic surgery technique, paired with a healthy dollop of pseudoscientific psychobabble, to graft skin onto Rose’s burn wounds and thus save her life. I sure don’t understand what he does, but best not to sweat the details. The gist of it is that Rose wakes with a fleshy needle penis embedded in her armpit. Piercing people with said fleshy needle penis gives Rose blood and sexual pleasure and turns her victims into frothing, raving maniacs who infect others with their saliva.

The plague spreads to Quebec, where authorities cordon off the city and shoot anyone who’s infected. A stone-faced doctor says to a television interviewer – ‘this may not be palatable to your viewers, but – ” Indeed.

Many of the deaths are quite lively, let’s put it that way. Still, life in the big city goes on as normally as possible. When a crazy attacks, the men in the hazmat suits shoot him and throw him in a dumpster. Passerbys do a fine job ignoring the hassle and getting on with their lives, which I believe to be very realistic. Yes, it’s the zombie apocalypse, but people still have to get to work.

Rose bunks with a friend in Quebec, who’s begging to be killed and doesn’t know it. Rose doesn’t want to kill her so she goes to places like the mall and sleazy movie theatres seeking prey. She tells a creep at a porno movie, ‘I like these type of movies but am afraid of being hit on by creeps.’ The creep puts an arm around her shoulder, she leans into him and it’s Game Over.

One of the interesting things about Rabid is that it’s unclear how aware Rose is that she’s a monster – or if she even is a monster. Earlier in the movie she accidentally kills a woman in a hot tub and hides her body in the freezer, so there must be a kernel of self-awareness. Still, as Rose tells her boyfriend when they meet up again (a meeting that does not go well), ‘none of this is my fault.’ And she’s right.

So whose fault is it? Rabid doesn’t blame anyone. Doctor Keloid was just trying to save Rose’s life. Rose needs blood to stay alive. Life is complicated and then you turn into a frothing maniac and the guys in the hazmat suits shoot you and you die.

Highly recommended!

Day Nineteen: The Brood

Directed by David Cronenberg, The Brood is a 1979 Canadian horror movie. Back when video stores still existed, I saw this movie whenever I browsed the horror section but never rented it. I’m still not sure why. Maybe the cover freaked me out? Anyway, I finally watched The Brood on Hulu Streaming.

The plot: Frank Carveth notices bruises on his young daughter Candice’s back after a visit with her mother. Nola, Frank’s soon to be ex-wife, is in deep therapy with controversial psychiatrist Hal Ragan, the founder of Psychoplasmics. Psychoplasmics seems to be a form of therapy that involves the release of negative emotions, which manifest in physical symptoms such as hives, cancer and deformed dwarf-children. Hey, it was the 70’s. People believed all sorts of weird shit.

A deformed dwarf-child murders Candice’s grandmother; since we learn the old woman abused her daughter, it’s hard to feel sorry for her. The creature is asexual, feeds on the nutrients in the hump on its back and has no bellybutton. Pretty soon people Candice despise are popping up dead left and right, murdered by the Brood. Could Psychoplasmics be involved?

Yeah, I really dug The Brood. This movie is proof that you can make a horror flick without tons of makeup or special effects. The Brood look like kids wearing Halloween masks, but Cronenberg manages to make them creepy. Honorable mention goes to Oliver Reed, who is wonderful as therapist Hal Ragan. Be warned that the violence in this movie is unsettling. There’s a scene in a kindergarten class that’s extremely disturbing.

What I liked best about The Brood is the emotional rawness. A potential romantic interest of Frank’s drops him because she doesn’t want to deal with the shit he’s going through. Apparently Cronenberg was going through a nasty divorce when he directed The Brood, which doesn’t surprise me. This movie deals with primal emotions.  Hatred is what gives the Brood life.  Frank and Nola despise each other and Frank literally cannot hide his hatred, even to save his daughter’s life.  Highly recommended!