Now this is when things get weird. Cronenberg, never one to shy away from the grotesque, might have created one of the most horrific films made in the 80's. I know the term visionary might be a bit clichéd, but this is one film that can only be described as such.
Max Renn (James Woods) is the producer of CIVIC-TV Channel 83 in Toronto. It's a UHF station, specializing in horror, violence, and porn. Max wants more though, and is on the lookout for the next big sensation.
His top tech Harlan (Peter Dvorski) might have found that. The show is called Videodrome, and it only seems to show a woman being rapped and murdered. No plot, little dialogue, and generally as sleazy as all get out. Max figures, since the show looks so cheap, it must be fake and wants whoever made it working at the station.
Max, appearing on a local talk show, defends his show as a societal release. The other guests are call-in psychologist Nikki Brand (Deborah Harry) and media prophet Brian O'Blivion (Jack Creley). O'Blivion is an odd one. He's in the studio only on a monitor, as he'll only appear on television if he's on television. He rambles, going on about how everyone in the future will have a telecommunication presence and how that will in some ways be more real than a flesh body.
Max and Nikki hit it off, what with Max offering to help her addiction to sensation. Harlan, meanwhile, seems to have tracked down the Videodrome signal. It seems to be broadcast out of Pittsburgh. Calling his old buddy Marsha (Lynne Gorman) only gets Max a warning. Marsha knows about Videodrome, yes, but they are not the type of people one should deal with.
Nikki takes this as a challenge though, and heads off to Pittsburgh. That's the last anyone sees her. Max learns that O'Blivion is connected to Videodrome, and in fact might be the creator. He goes to the media prophet's charity, the Cathode Ray Mission (where people sit around and watch TV all day), and meets the prophet's daughter Bianca (Sonia Smitts). Her father won't talk to Max, but he might send him a tape if he's lucky.
Max gets a tape and a lot more. O'Blivion tells him that Videodrome is supposed to be a movement, fighting for the minds of North America. Max also develops a massive hole in his chest, or does he?
Bianca tells him that a side effect of Videodrome is developing a malignant brain tumor which can produce bizarre hallucinations. Her father found out about the last part and tried to stop his partners. They killed him, but not before he recorded thousands of videotapes with his philosophy.
Max is then contacted by the Spectacular Optical Corporation and its leader Barry Convex (Leslie Carson). Convex is the current leader and producer of Videodrome. You see, Videodrome was supposed to be the first step in a post humanist revolution, but there were some kinks. Mostly the viewers would develop brain tumors and die after becoming zombies. A problem for most people, but a boon for Convex. He doesn't care for the way society is going, and if he can thin the herd of perverts and degenerates all the better.
Max is going to help Convex since he's already entered the first phase. With CIVIC TV at their disposal, Videodrome will have a larger audience to spread this electric gospel. Convex shoves a pulsating tape into Max's chest wound and orders him to kill his broadcast partners and Bianca. Will Max fall pray to this new revolution or will he leave the old flesh behind?
Looking back, I'm amazed at just how much right Cronenberg got right. Sure, Beta tapes fizzled, but an electronic world which can replace the old fleshy world? The Internet would like a word with you.
It's also utterly bleak a film as I've seen in a while. Everyone is trying to manipulate the old world and is in turn manipulated by it.