From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
A quote by Marshall McLuhanesque Brian O'Blivion:
- "The television screen is the retina of the mind's eye. Therefore, the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain. Therefore, whatever appears in the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore, television is reality, and reality is less than television."
The film's story begins by showing the daily grind of Max Renn (James Woods), the president of CIVIC-TV (Channel 83, Cable 12), a sleazy local UHF TV station, on his never-ending search for new material to titillate his viewers. The station's pirate satellite dish picks up transmissions of a sadistic, plotless program called Videodrome that depicts only torture and murder in a bright orange room: snuff TV. He encounters Professor Brian O'Blivion (Jack Creley) (a character loosely parodying Marshall McLuhan) on a chat show, who communicates only through video recordings of himself. Renn asks a colleague to find out more about Videodrome, and is told that O'Blivion is behind the program. He visits the "Cathode Ray Mission", run by O'Blivion, and meets O'Blivion's daughter Bianca, who tells him that her father died 11 months ago. He is later sent a tape by O'Blivion, who warns Renn of a political or social force called only "Videodrome". He slowly realizes that he has begun hallucinating graphic acts that show the malleability of the human form, and is told by Bianca O'Blivion that those hallucinations are the side-effect of the "Videodrome signal", a malicious TV signal which causes brain tumours on the viewers. In one scene, Renn sees his own belly become a receptacle. His missing lover, a radio therapist Nicki Brand (Deborah Harry) with a penchant for self-mutilation, appears in his recurring visions of the Videodrome room.
Renn is contacted by Barry Convex of Spectacular Optical, who produces Videodrome. He is asked to wear a headset which records one of his hallucinations. Because the film takes place entirely from Renn's point of view, it becomes difficult to tell what is real and what is hallucination. Later on, Convex and his partner Harlan tell Renn that, by inserting the Videodrome signal in violent TV shows, they're trying to keep North America "pure" so it can "survive the tough times". A vagina-like opening appears in his stomach, allowing the villains to mentally program him by inserting video cassettes into it. As the film goes on, the video cassettes begin to look increasingly amorphous. Under the influence of his programming he takes a gun, which merges with his hand to form a literal "handgun", and shoots his former business partners. He is then reprogrammed by Bianca O'Blivion to turn against Spectacular Optical, so that when one of the villains attempts to insert another tumour-like cassette into him he is able to fuse a grenade to the man's arm (i.e., a "hand grenade") which explodes and kills him. He kills Convex during a trade show, causing Videodrome tumors to erupt from his head and torso, and shouting "Death to Videodrome! Long live the new flesh!" to the audience.
Renn finally takes refuge on a derelict boat in an abandoned harbor, where Nicki appears to him on a television set. She tells him that he has weakened Videodrome, but that in order to completely defeat them, he has to "leave the old flesh". He then sees a TV set showing an image of himself pointing his handgun at his head and saying "long live the new flesh". His on-screen image shoots himself and the TV explodes, spilling human intestines all over the deck. He then repeats the action he has just watched, pulls the trigger, and the screen goes blank.
Cult film status
Videodrome's cult film status has made it a popular source for sampling and homage in industrial and heavy metal music. It ranks tenth on the Top 1319 Sample Sources list  and has been sampled in at least 32 individual songs.
- Skinny Puppy used "You'll forgive me if I don't stay around to watch... I just can't cope with freaky stuff" as an ominous intro for Draining Faces, on 1987's
- The Belgian techno band Front 242 used a number of samples from Videodrome in their album Official Version. For example, Barry Convex's line at the SpecOps trade show, "You know me, and I sure know you. Every one of you!", is sampled as the intro to Masterhit, and the word "television", off O'Blivion's first speech in the movie, can be heard at the end of Television Station.
- The punk band Big Audio Dynamite used Barry Convex's line, "I hope you realize you're playing with dynamite", as an intro to their song C'Mon Every Beatbox, referring to the movie as well as their own band name.
- Japanese film director Hideo Nakata has said that the scene of the malicious ghost Sadako coming out of the television in the film Ringu was inspired by Videodrome.
- Videodrome pioneered the technology used to film a television screen with minimal flicker. In earlier movies, film footage was superimposed onto blank television screens.
- The pornographic video Samurai Dreams was made specifically for the film. While only a few seconds of video was used, the entire tape ran for approximately 5 minutes, and is available for view on the Criterion Collection DVD of Videodrome.
- The Videodrome "murder/torture/mutilation" video consists of over 11 minutes of footage, and involved devices which, according to Cronenberg, are "as lethal as wet noodles". After the movie was released, men claiming to be the actresses' boyfriends reportedly called the producers to ask for the unedited footage. 7 minutes of Videodrome footage is included on the Criterion Collection DVD.
- Woods' character name, "Max Renn", is based on the motorcycle brand Renmax. Deborah Harry's character name, "Nicki Brand", is a pun on the words "Nick" (to cut) and "Brand" (to burn), both of which describe the self-inflicted wounds made by her character throughout the movie. Leslie Carlson's character name, "Barry Convex", is a reference to a convex lens. O'Blivion's presumably self-chosen name, obviously, refers to oblivion.
- The entire concept of brain tumor-inducing television programs is based on an urban legend dating back to the 1940s, when people believed television waves would cause brain tumors. Canadian-based rumors of mind-controlling television from right-wing extremists in the United States also inspired the plot line.
- Marshall McLuhan, the 1960s-era communications theorist on whom the character of Professor Brian O'Blivion was based, actually had a benign growth in his brain. Author Philip Marchand, in his 1989 biography of McLuhan, "The Medium and the Messenger", writes that the growth was a meningioma located under McLuhan's brain. Marchand quotes a McLuhan associate as describing the growth as being "as big as a tennis ball" and he reports that it was causing McLuhan to suffer blackouts and seizures. Doctors warned that blindness and insanity would result if the growth were not removed. In spite of initial resistance to the procedure from McLuhan who feared doctors and surgery, the growth was removed in a marathon seventeen and a half hour operation in a New York hospital in November of 1967. According to Marchand, the operation, led by US brain surgeon Lester Mount, was the longest neurosurgical operation in the history of American medicine to that time.
- Body horror
- Motif of harmful sensation
- List of Films about Television
- List of films that break the fourth wall