Written and directed by David Cronenberg; a Universal release.

“The battle for the mind of North America will be fought in the television arena—the videodrome,” says Brian O’Blivion, a bizarre and McLuhanesque character in Videodrome, a compelling and disturbing film about the effects of TV.

The film follows the adventures of Max Renn (James Woods), owner of a sex-oriented cable station, who eloquently defends its fare on psychological (“a harmless outlet for people’s fantasies and frustrations”), sociological (“better on the screen than on the streets”), and economic grounds (“We’re small, and in order to survive we have to give people something they can’t get anywhere else.”).

Max cannot, however, defend himself from “Videodrome,” a sadomasochistic show that catches his darkened eyes. “Torture, murder, mutilation,” says Max, glowing. “Brilliant, absolutely brilliant! And almost no production costs.… I think it’s what’s next.”

What’s next for Max, though, is trouble, as the show attacks his mind and body. He loses touch with reality, sees his body disfigure, watches his television come alive, pairs sex with violence in his own life, murders his business partners, and finally takes his own life, intoning, “Death to Videodrome; long live the new flesh.”

The film, which begins as an intriguing examination of the fruits of perverse entertainment, degenerates into the type of sick fare it seems to condemn. Blood gushes, entrails sail, and the viewer is never far from the sight or sound of women being brutalized.

Such should be expected from David Cronenberg, who has turned a pretty profit with a string of films (They Came from Within, 1975; Rabid, 1977; The Brood, 1979; and Scanners, 1981) all packed with sex, horror, and stomach-wrenching special effects.

Cronenberg got his professional start with Cinepix, a Canadian purveyor of sex flicks; and like Max Renn, he defends his films on the loftiest of grounds, calling them “films of confrontation,” “art,” and “catharsis.”

But like Renn, Cronenberg may be unleashing unseen demons as he philosophizes all the way to the bank.

Reviewed by Steve Rabey, a writer living in Dayton, Ohio.

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