Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Film Geek Cage Match: "Kill Bill" vs. "Videodrome"

"Kill Bill Vol. 2" Movie Poster
Flickchart is an amazing site for a film dork like myself.  It gives you a series of "A or B" choices among all of the movies ever made.  You can dismiss films you haven't seen, and as you continually make choices, it populates your personal ranked list of films.  It also combines the list of all registered Flickcharters into a mega-list (currently The Dark Knight is the most loved film amongst members).

The real fun of Flickchart is in those impossible choices.  As the site founders say "If they're all five-star films, which is the best?".  Today's #mindblow matchup for me was "Kill Bill Vol. 2" vs "Videodrome".  Both are among my favorite films, and among their director's best work.  But in the end, THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE.

Both parts of the "Kill Bill" epic are presented as separate choices in Flickchart, and while the four hour combined version is there, it's also a version I haven't seen.  I rank "Kill Bill Vol. 2" as if I was ranking both films as one, since it's the part I prefer (I rank "Kill Bil Vol. 1" slightly lower).  While "Pulp Fiction" is in my opinion the best movie ever made, the "Kill Bill" films are probably the purest distillation of what makes Tarantino such a bloody great director.

"Kill Bill" is a bubbling cauldron of several genres, but mostly martial arts and revenge thriller.  Many critics only saw the directorial flash, but I responded to the deeper elements of the screenplay (mostly present in part two).  I even like the film being split into two parts: In part one we think we know the score, but in part two we realize that Bill is much more complex than we realized.  A film that began with bloodshed, violence, rape, and mayhem shifts gradually to being about actual characters with complex motivations.  At the same time, the saga is satisfying on a basic pulp level as well.  Tarantino knows how to pull out the colorful sunset and spaghetti western music at just the right moment to make the film's climax ludicrous and heart-wrenching all at once.

Meanwhile, "Videodrome" is an altogether different beast.  An early masterpiece from David Cronenberg, it was decades ahead of its time.  The film cracks open so many juicy philosophical issues that it befuddled most viewers in 1983.  Today it makes much more sense, but remains uniquely unsettling.

"Videodrome": James Woods gets very
personal with Debbie Harry's lips
In "Videodrome", James Woods plays Max Renn, the sleazy owner of a Canadian cable station that traffics in graphic sex and violence to increase ratings.  Through a pirate satellite dish he intercepts a vile program that consists solely of grainy footage of rape and torture performed by hooded figures in a bright orange room.  Max becomes obsessed with the show, and is sure that it's "what's next".

As he investigates the nature of the mysterious program, its true nature is discovered: the show contains a buried signal that induces brain tumors and physical mutations in those who view it.  A cassette slot opens up in Woods' stomache through with tapes can be inserted to control his brain.  The insanity only piles on from there, and Wood's journey from "anti-hero" to "completely broken shell of a person" is spectacular.

Both films are slightly sloppy and by no means perfect, despite my unending love for them.  I feel that "Kill Bill" is a home run on an emotional level while "Videodrome" is equally successful on an intellectual one.  Tarantino's films are pure joy for their audience, while Cronenberg's are out to make the viewer squirm.  On a given night I might be in the mood for one or the other.

In the end, I had to choose "Videodrome" for a few reasons.  First, as satisfying a film as "Kill Bill" is, "Videodrome" strikes a nerve in my psyche that no other film does.  What makes it so special is that despite the creepy nightmare fuel that it presents us with, the movie is inescapably Canadian.  There's something about the wholesome, inoffensive feeling of early 80's Toronto that makes it the perfect background for a transgressive horror film.  Surprisingly, there isn't much actual violence in the film.  What little violence there is, however, is even more shocking because of the sheer banality of the world it happens in.  The aggressively low-tech practical effects help even more, despite a few shots that are unconvincing.

In addition, "Videodrome" is shorter and more focused, with more consistent performances (the acting isn't "good" as much as uniformly weird, though Woods is phenomenal).  In addition, the ending of "Kill Bill" is just a bit off, while "Videodrome" ends with one that is harsh, powerful, and ambiguous.  Despite the bleak imagery, it's entirely unclear what happens immediately after the cut to black, and I always find myself smiling.


  1. You are a genius and a better writer than anyone out there. I agree with you. Don't let life imitate art like Woods does by falling from anti-hero to a completely broken shell of a person. Instead, keep thinking these thoughts and holding them as correct until proven otherwise. I'd challenge the naysayers and have your back man.

  2. Wow, thanks for the vote of confidence Gino! And thanks for being a loyal reader of my blog. Spread the Metal!