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January 18, 2011

Random Horror Throwdown - Videodrome vs. The Stepfather

OH HAI Random Horror Throwdown.  Long time no see!  Yeah, I know, we used to hang out like every week.  Yeah, I remember that time when I made you go away and then brought you back a couple of months later then stopped hangin' with you again.  Well...I guess I missed you.

So you're back, and you've brought two of the '80s more sadistic films with you?  Oh, OK.  Let's see what happens when James Woods and Videodrome go head to head with the recently remade The Stepfather.....


The Movies: 

Videodrome (1983, Dir. by David Cronenberg.)
Starring: James Woods, Deborah Harry, Sonja Smits.
IMDB Synopsis: A sleazy cable-TV programmer begins to see his life and the future of media spin out of control in a very unusual fashion when he acquires a new kind of programming for his station.  (Note from The Mike: I'm glad SOMEONE understood this movie!)

The Stepfather (1987, Dir. by Joseph Ruben.)
Starring: Terry O'Quinn, Jill Schoelen, Shelley Hack.
IMDB Synopsis: A family-values man named Jerry Blake marries widows and divorcées with children in search of the perfect family. As soon as his new family members show signs of being human and not robots who will march unquestioningly to his tune, his dreams of domestic bliss begin to crumble, and he kills them. (Note from The Mike: Way to survive this movie = Walk slowly and repeatedly say (in monotone) "I'm a robot. I'm talkin' like a robot. I'm a robot."  It just might save your life.)

The Directors:
Let's talk about Joseph Ruben for a minute.  The guy seems to be a jack of all trades when it comes to middle of the road genre cinema.  He's got that weird Dreamscape flick with Dennis Quaid, he's got the entirely memorable The Good Son, he's got Woody and Wesley's Money Train, and he randomly popped up in 2004 with The Forgotten.  Man, I kind of dug The Forgotten.  Yeah, I know, it's got a ridiculous, ridiculous, ridiculous twist....but there are a couple of moments that are golden.  And I do so love Julianne Moore.

Then there's David Cronenberg.  I've had an off and on relationship with Cronie's films, but I totally love A History of Violence and Eastern Promises.  I'm still catching up with some of his early stuff (I've never really gotten over how awful that lead actor in Scanners was, and have thus delayed seeing some of his work), but I'm willing to give his filmography and its weird twists and turns the edge over Ruben's random yet unmemorable filmography.  On the bright, I'd say these are the two best films from each director (though I might argue for Violence on some days), so at least we've got their peaks to talk about.  Chalk one up for Videodrome. (1-0, Videodrome leads.)

The Plots: 
That synopsis of Videodrome really does do the film a bit of justice, although any attempts to sum up what it's saying are surely missing 8,593 possible variables that one could glean from Cronenberg's film.  Saying that I think Videodrome has a lot of hidden messages is like saying The Mike has a lot of favorite's the most true thing one could say on the topic.

The Stepfather, on the other hand, has a distinct plot that not only makes perfect sense to me, but is perfectly creepy.  What if some dude was not only entering your life as a new father, but doing so with the intention of killing you if you didn't meet their standards?  Isn't that freaky to think about?  It's like Hitler without a Reich.

So, while I know there's a lot more to Videodrome than I'm letting on, I'm gonna go ahead and throw a point in the direction of The Stepfather for providing a SIMPLE but effective scare with its premise.  (1-1.)

My Experience With the Films:
The Stepfather spent a long time on my "To Do" List.  I remember reading about it when I started studying up on cinema as a teen, but by that point the VHS was out of print and newfangled means of acquisition weren't here yet.  So I knew it was out there, and it got built up as this elephant in the middle of the horror room that I couldn't deal with.  It was wicked sad.  Then it finally hit DVD and I was vindicated.  It was wicked glorious, and the film didn't let me down.  In fact, it was a little more brutal than I'd imagined it would be.

On the other hand, I was too young - at least mentally, I was probably 17-18 in human years - when I saw Videodrome.  I thought something like "Whoa, that was weird, but at least I saw Debbie Harry's boobs" and wrote it off as a mindscrew that was trying to be more than it is.  I'm still not convinced that this opinion isn't right, but over the years the film randomly popped up in my brain to say hello.  I never invited it, but it just showed up.  It's like the Cosmo Kramer of the horror part of my brain, just barging in and asking weird questions that I don't understand.  And I would ignore it, but I would also kind of start to like having it around.  And then I'd revisit it.  And revisit it again.  And again, and each time more frequently.  And then I realized that Videodrome and I were homeboys.

This is a tough category to handicap, but the fact that I compared Videodrome to Kramer means something.  Give it a point. (2-1, Videodrome leads.)

What's the deal with The Stepfather's remake?
Well, the deal is that it's not good.  Not good at all.  It manages to offer the same message as the original, holding on to that "if you don't meet the criteria you meet your end" thing, but it goes mega vanilla with Dylan Walsh and whoever the dude that played the suspicious son was.  It's a great excuse to show Amber Heard in 27 different bikinis, true, but it's a pretty bad horror movie by even the standards of the late '90s, let alone the decade in which horror has gotten some of its balls back.

What does the remake have to do with scoring this battle?  Well, nothing really.  But it's worth considering.  Is it better to be a film that inspires others to copy your idea, or is it better to be a film that's so unique and incomprehensible that no one dares try?  I'd argue The (original) Stepfather does the former, and it offers its idea so well that some could say it's worth repeating.  On the other hand, I'd argue that Videodrome does the latter, and that's a good thing too.  So....I don't know.  I'm not answering this question.  You ponder it and let me know what you think.

The Casts:
Man, I do so love John Locke.  I mean, Terry O'Quinn.  I've only seen like 7 episodes of Lost, and even before I had seen any of them, I still only knew him as John Locke.  People be talkin', y'know.  Anyway, Locke/O'Quinn is as good as anyone can be in The Stepfather.  Plus, the flick's got horror heroine extraordinaire Jill Schoelen, and Shelley Hack.  Not too bad.

Videodrome's got James Woods, who's no slouch either.  But really, it mostly makes me want to talk about how much I love Deborah Harry and Blondie.  Has there ever been a better female rock star than Debbie Harry?  I say no way Jose.  I just adore her.  And though it's a bit weird to see her in this overerotic role now that I adore her music so much more than I did as a silly teen, I still love the fact that she's here in this weird movie chillin' with James Woods and being a party to the invention of the stomach VCR.  Sooo...I'm giving this point to Videodrome.  And I don't care that it's solely because I love Blondie. (3-1, Videodrome leads.)

This Choice is Like:
There's a sport (which is pictured above) called Jai Alai.  I have no idea what the hell it is.  But seriously...look at that image.  Don't you want to love that?  Isn't it epic?  Doesn't it inspire such thought in you?

If you answered yes to those questions, you're with me.  And that reaction also sums up my feelings about Videodrome.  I can watch it and watch it and watch it, and even if I never find out what it really is....I still can't stop trying to love it.

I feel like this matchup should have been closer - The Stepfather is one heck of a real world horror film - but once you've seen Videodrome...much like the show that is the subject of can't really shake the mental infection it provides.  I will forever think of it as the Cosmo Kramer of cult cinema.  (3-1, Videodrome wins!)


Enbrethiliel said...


Well, now I know I've got to see Videodrome . . .

I saw The Stepfather and its sequel last year and don't know why I never wrote a "Twelve Things" post about either of them. =S I really liked the original and was intrigued at the filmmakers' decision to let us know the Stepfather's true nature at the very beginning of the movie.

Michele (TheGirlWhoLovesHorror) said...

Videodrome hurt my brain too much the first time I saw it, which is keeping me from seeing it again and trying to love it like everyone says I should. But Stepfather is a giant steaming pile of gloriousness that I loved from the first frame, so that one would win in my throwdown.

Seriously, just what the HELL is Videodrome anyway??? Does anybody know? Anybody? ..............

Fred [The Wolf] said...

VIDEODRONE is awesome! Then again, I'm a sucker for Cronenberg.

THE STEPFATHER is no slouch either, but it can't compete with VIDEODROME. A crazy person with a dad complex vs. James Woods with a vagina on his chest - not really a fair contest.