I remember seeing David Cronenberg’s 1983 film Videodrome on cable as a kid, thinking it was gory, kinky, and awesome because it featured Debbie Harry, but not really getting it. Which of course describes most Cronenberg films.
I love it even more now for its totally 80s feel—the Atari joysticks on James Woods’ television in every scene, the obsession with “new” technologies like cable TV and VCRs, and Debbie Harry’s small role in the film, not a year after she and the rest of Blondie called it quits (sadly, there’s no Debbie solo track featured in the film).
At the same time as it is a clear time capsule, this twisted tale of video sex is so amazingly loaded with prophetic themes. Cronenberg delves into the endless possibilities of having sex shows in the privacy of your own home thanks to modern technology, and the extreme fantasies you can explore. Sure, in this film, its access to an all porn/violence/torture cable network, but it’s no different than the insanity that is now available to anyone on the Web.
And the themes of individuals becoming consumed with the cold, artificial pleasures technology can offer have all come true. Not to mention the concept the film explores of individuals becoming desensitized by overexposure to sex and violence in the media, and as a result, needing to search out visuals that are even more vile in order to obtain gratification. In the 80s, a little murderous freckled doll with red hair was enough to thrill us. These days, we need to see scantily clad, beautiful people being chained up, violated, and mutilated.
But just as Videodrome was a social commentary on our need for more repulsion in our entertainment at the time, this bizarre sci-fi/horror was pretty damn repulsive itself, not to mention really gay! I don’t know how it got past the censors back then. Let’s see. James Woods inserts his head in a fleshy soft television set to penetrate Debbie Harry’s onscreen “lips” (not too metaphorical).
In a sex scene that seems rather irresponsible in hindsight considering AIDS had just become a dark shadow on the nation at the time, James pierces Debbie’s ear with a long needle and then licks the blood off the needle. The skin of James’s hand engulfs a gun and becomes a vein-lined phallus that he likes to stick in the giant va-jay-jay lips that open on his stomach.
Several times, he even has another man take a fist holding a pulsing, breathing, moaning VHS tape and ram it into his belly va-jay-jay as he stares deeply into the man’s eyes with a look of oh-so pleasant pain that I’ve only ever seen in gay pornos. Yeah. Videodrome is one freaky 80s retro treasure that saw the future.