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David Cronenberg is the poet laureate of the VHS generation. His string of successful body-horror mindfucks – SCANNERS, THE FLY, DEAD RINGERS – could reliably be found on the dusty horror shelves of any halfway-decent rental shop, between the glut of cheap slasher films and cheaper Euro-horror imports. But where his titles seemed familiar enough to blend in with their surroundings, they hid some of the most literate, surreal, and truly unclassifiable films of the decade, surely baffling countless thrill-seeking teenagers just looking for gore and nudity. The most eloquent expression of this perhaps comes from THE SIMPSONS’ Nelson Muntz, walking dazed out of a screening of NAKED LUNCH: “I can think of at least two things wrong with that title!”

I have probably seen VIDEODROME four or five times. With each viewing, I’ve become more and more convinced that it might be the ultimate film of the 1980s – even though I’m still not sure I can explain what it’s even about. The back of the omnipresent VHS case describes it as “a pulsating science fiction nightmare about a world where video can control and alter human life.” While technically mostly accurate, that doesn’t begin to convey the deep weirdness that courses through this film’s veins. It doesn’t mention Professor Brian O’Blivion, a sort of Marshall McLuhan/Sun Myung Moon hybrid who runs a ministry to provide television to the homeless. It doesn’t touch on the central conspiracy, revolving around a shadowy eyewear company which distributes commands via throbbing, biological Betamax tapes. Most egregiously, it fails to use the phrase “VCR chest vagina.”

What I’m trying to say is that, if you passed this over on the video shelves, you almost certainly had no idea what you were missing, and if you rented it, you almost certainly had no idea what you saw. There has never been a film quite like VIDEODROME, and it’s unlikely there will ever be one (including that remake they keep threatening). Ultimately, VIDEODROME as a movie behaves quite similarly to the pirate broadcast at its center: strange, impenetrable, violent, and highly addictive.

I’ll see you in Pittsburgh.

VIDEODROME (1983) dir. David Cronenberg
Saturday, 8/16, 11:30 PM

Brattle Theatre
40 Brattle St.
Cambridge, MA 02138

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