The 13th Floor

The VHS Atrocities of Psychic TV’s FIRST TRANSMISSION [NSFW]

Not long ago, I explored the dark and mystifying lore of “snuff cinema” in its many forms — including works of alleged onscreen murder and mutilation which, though stomach-churning in their realism, were either hoaxes, misrepresented footage or works of transgressive underground “murder art.”

In another feature, I examined a notorious example of the latter — the so-called “BROKEN Movie” which served as a horrific framing device for Nine Inch Nails’ 1992 EP of the same name; the mock-snuff video was co-directed by NIN frontman Trent Reznor and the late Peter Christopherson, once a member of pioneering industrial bands Throbbing Gristle and Coil.

I recapped those stories in order to prepare you for a look at FIRST TRANSMISSION — a massive, bizarre, perverse and often shockingly grotesque multimedia project from Psychic TV, the solo project of yet another Throbbing Gristle co-founder, Genesis P-Orridge.

Image Credit: Sheila Rock

Psychic TV was more than just an experimental band — they were but one facet of a metaphysical collective founded by Genesis, entitled “Thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth,” which boasted a worldwide following and published their principles in a manifesto entitled THE GREY BOOK. Among the pages of this strange tract was an ad for FIRST TRANSMISSION — a multi-volume series of VHS tapes released in 1982.

The ad in THE GREY BOOK included a mail-order form, through which Temple members could purchase the tapes… and almost immediately their infamous reputation began to spread, as bootleg copies of FIRST TRANSMISSION (the originals of which were often found in indie music shops and occult bookstores throughout the ‘80s) became highly sought-after items among underground tape-traders.

Christopherson reportedly shot a great deal of the footage in this series, which in many ways foreshadows his notorious work on BROKEN — particularly the scenes which seem to depict the extremely graphic ritual mutilation of a naked young man; unlike BROKEN, however, the subject seems willing to undergo these horrific procedures.

P-Orridge also appears in the video, as well as acclaimed director Derek Jarman — who presents the video’s ominous prologue — and several other noteworthy figures in the UK’s underground art and music realm of the early ‘80s.

In fact, it’s been claimed that Jarman’s participation enabled the project to be at least partially financed by the UK’s Channel 4 — which, if true, would be a shocking revelation indeed, since the video contains scenes of explicit sex and graphic violence that many viewers (even today) insist depict an actual onscreen murder.

That “murder” has been thoroughly debunked, however; the “victim” is apparently Geoff Rushton, Christopherson’s partner in both art and life, who — under the name John Balance — would form the iconic industrial band Coil.

The pair’s intense fascination with BDSM, body modification and the “modern primitive” arts would eventually inspire much of the sadomasochistic imagery in Clive Barker’s HELLRAISER… for which Barker, a personal friend of Christopherson and Balance, commissioned Coil to compose a musical score. That score was ultimately rejected, but the recordings actually exist… and they’re pretty cool, actually.

But let’s get back to the subject at hand…

This video series, which is roughly four hours long and spanned four videotapes, is incredibly hard to track down in its complete form, but recently some excerpts have surfaced online, including an uncut VHS rip of the first volume (more on that in a moment).

The complete four-hour set contains lengthy montages of strange ritual practices, questionable “surgical procedures,” home movies featuring drug use and bodily scarification, archival footage of Rev. Jim Jones, digitally-obscured interviews, psychedelic montages and performance-art segments, and eerie scenes of a dominatrix playing with what appears to be a large black slug… then inserting it somewhere I can’t mention.

On the final tape, P-Orridge (pictured below right) is joined in what looks like a pub or diner by Christopherson (below left), and over the course of an odd but surprisingly laid-back interview, the pair offer viewers an “introduction” to the tenets and philosophy behind Thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth.

Most of the aforementioned material is overshadowed by the grotesque snuff-style footage showcasing the mutilation of Rushton (culminating with the bloody removal of yet another body part I can’t mention), which even today has the potential to shock jaded fans of hardcore horror, thanks to its gritty, obscene gonzo realism… it’s no surprise Christopherson was nicknamed “Sleazy” by his peers.

To say this video is not for everyone is probably the understatement of the decade — but it’s still a fascinating history lesson in transgressive underground filmmaking, from an era where word-of-mouth was the only means by which this kind of content could develop a “viral” reputation.

Here’s the part I mentioned about that online footage from FIRST TRANSMISSION… there’s no way in hell I could embed that YouTube video here without getting in all kinds of trouble, but I can at least provide you with the link to the first volume — along with a warning: This is probably the least work-safe video you’ll ever see on YouTube. I wouldn’t be at all surprised, despite the 18-and-over age restriction, if this clip were eventually taken down in the near future.

So if you think you’re up to the challenge, you’d better check it out soon… at this this link.