I was having trouble coming up with anything in this category until I reframed it as “Favorite Mindfuck Film.” Then the choice clearly had to be a David Cronenberg film, and what film is more exemplary of his particular brand of madness than Videodrome? Aside from James Woods and Deborah Harry at their best, what I love about Videodrome is the way it lends itself to endless readings. The movie was made in the early days of home video, but its themes apply just as easily to our current web-dominated world—Themes such as the blurred line between media and reality, thought-control, and violence as entertainment.
I won’t even pretend to understand what Videodrome is all about, and I’ve never been able to decipher a coherent message from the film. That, perhaps, is its brilliance. Each time I think I’ve grasped a clear message, I find another way that the film subverts it, which leads me to endlessly puzzle over the enigma that is Videodrome.
I realize I’ve been discussing the film almost entirely in the abstract, so for those who haven’t seen it, Videodrome deals with a television station that airs programs appealing to people’s baser instincts (mostly softcore porn and violent content). James Woods plays the president of the station who is looking to find something even edgier and sleazier, and finds it in a pirate broadcast called Videodrome. The program consists entirely of torture and murder, which he mistakes as being staged, but is actually real. When he begins pirating and airing the broadcast, he eventually learns that watching Videodrome causes brain tumors in viewers. These tumors cause them to hallucinate weird crap like beta machines forming in their chest cavities. One could read this as symbolizing the destructive nature of violent entertainment, but that reading is undermined as Woods delves deeper into the mysteries behind Videodrome and discovers a government conspiracy at the heart of it all. The halluncinatory sequences make the audience question how much of this conspiracy is real and how much is paranoid delusion.
I suspect that the film sets out to pose intriguing questions rather than to send any clear message. Regardless, Videodrome is a fascinating piece of work that is meant to be experienced rather than understood.
First off, props to Brandon for his pick. Hardware is one-of-a-kind and very effective. But it’s been so long since I’ve seen it that I have to go with Event Horizon. I know, neither Event Horizon nor its director Paul W.S. Anderson have exactly a sterling reputation, but damn it, I can’t help loving them both. The atmosphere that Anderson and crew give to the Event Horizon (the titular starship of the film) is oppressive and sinister. The hallucination sequences are creepy and effective, and the cast delivers on the gravity needed to sell the premise.
The premise is this, the Event Horizon, a ship was designed to open a gateway in spacetime (and thus travel faster than lightspeed), but ended up opening a gateway into another dimension, one that is pretty much synonymous with Hell. While the premise is nothing spectacularly original, the film presents it with style and an overwhelming sense of dread. The action and suspense sequences work well, and I’m puzzled as to why so many people disliked it. But dislike it they did, and it ended up being a huge box office bomb (Videodrome bombed too – why is it my favorite movies tend to be box office failures?)
It’s too bad that DVD technology was just starting to be introduced when Event Horizon was released, because apparently the original cut of the film was much more violent and test audiences were too disturbed by it (a sure sign of a good horror movie), but the studio saw no real reason to preserve the cut footage. These days directors shoot footage they know won’t make the theatrical cut, because they know they can give you the real deal when the Unrated DVD comes out.
While there will always be a special place in my heart for cheesy Satanic/occult flicks, I had to go with a sincerely awesome one. Alan Parker’s Angel Heart is just about perfect in every way. Mickey Rourke at the height of his coolness, Lisa Bonet at the peak of her hotness, and Robert DeNiro when he was still menacing. There’s also an indescribable quality about the cinematography that I love. Everything looks gritty and sweaty and dirty—just the right atmosphere for an occult-themed neo-noir film.
The outstanding sequence of the film is the notorious, blood-soaked sex scene between Rourke and Bonet that earned the film its X-rating. Yes, Angel Heart is so old they still used X. The other aspect of the film that may be a bit dated is the ending. Don’t get me wrong, the ending is great and perfectly suited to the film, but these days it might a little predictable. Back in 1987 though, it was fresh and surprising.
Well, it seems I’m starting to run out of steam with this entry, so I’ll break it off here and tackle the next three films tomorrow. Adieu