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Videodrome is a 1983 Canadian science fiction body horror film written and directed by David Cronenberg, starring James Woods, Sonja Smits, and singer Deborah Harry. Set in Toronto during the early 1980s, it follows the CEO of a small cable station who stumbles upon a broadcast signal featuring extreme violence and torture. The layers of deception and mind-control conspiracy unfold as he uncovers the signal's source and loses touch with reality in a series of increasingly bizarre and violent organic hallucinations. The film has been described as "techno-surrealist". Max Renn (James Woods) is the president of CIVIC-TV (Channel 83, Cable 12), a Toronto UHF television station specializing in sensationalistic programming. Displeased with his station's current lineup (which mostly consists of softcore pornography and gratuitous violence), Max is looking for something that will break through to a new audience. One morning, he is summoned to the clandestine office of Harlan (Peter Dvorsky), who operates CIVIC-TV's pirate satellite dish which can intercept broadcasts from as far away as Asia.
That's James Woods describing Videodrome, the pirate TV show his programming exec Max discovers being broadcast, ostensibly from Malaysia. The show features people -- mostly naked women -- being electrocuted, beaten, and eventually killed. That's the show. Woods's Max becomes obsessed with the show, which he quickly discovers is real -- not make-believe. And it's not Malaysian, it's from Pittsburgh. And there's something underneath the regular track... something sinister that ultimately reveals a dark conspiracy.
Or is it all a hallucination?
Between bouts of rough sex with girlfriend Nicki (Blondie singer Deborah Harry), Woods plays P.I. with a host of interesting and absurd characters. Director David Cronenberg ultimately turns in a film that is frequently nonsensical, but was years before its time. Not only is there a prescient story about the perils of media overexposure and its desensitizing effect within, Videodrome also forecasted the reality TV craze that would emerge a decade later.
Videodrome is probably better known for its Rick Baker-designed special effects, which are heavy on throbbing videotapes, tables, and televisions, culminating in a man-meets-machine creep-out that defined a new genre of horror/sci-fi. Cronenberg himself would borrow the ideas again in eXistenZ. The Matrix is directly inspired by Videodrome's story and effects.
DVD extras on the two-disc set from Criterion include two commentary tracks -- one from Cronenberg and DP Mark Irwin, one from Woods and Harry -- plus a short film called Camera, a handful of documentaries and interview clips, the complete footage of the 'Videodrome' tapes as seen in the film, and the usual photos and trailers.