Julien Neaves, Editor
Last week, January 14 to be exact, cult classic Sci Fi horror Scanners turned 40. This mind-blowing (figuratively and literally) movie is a personal favourite, so giving it the retrospective review treatment was a no brainer (no pun intended). With a four-decade old SPOILER ALERT let’s brainstorm this bad boy!
The film is about a homeless outcast named Cameron Vale who is part of the titular group of telepathic and psychokinetic people. Vale is recruited by a doctor to track down a former mental patient and evil scanner named Darryl Revok and during this mission uncovers a secret group of Scanners and a vast conspiracy.
Let me start off with the real star of Scanners, and I’m not talking about any of the actors. No, the real belle of this macabre ball is the astounding practical effects. The film is directed by body horror master David Cronenberg (Videodrome, The Fly, Naked Lunch) and features some intensely graphic scenes.
Sure, when everyone thinks of Scanners they think of the head-exploding scene where extreme tension builds up to a guy’s cabesa exploding like someone stuck some C4 into a pumpkin and ignited it. And the iconic scene still packs quite the visual wallop to this day. But there are also the scenes in Scanners of people being gunned down in showers of blood, people being immolated and the final battle which was extremely gory, thoroughly disturbing and highly riveting. So yeah, Scanners is not recommended for those with sensitive stomachs.
Adding to the film’s unnerving atmosphere is the music by Howard Shore, a consistent Cronenberg collaborator who would go on to score two little-known trilogies, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. I’m pretty sure you’ve never heard of them. Anywho, Shore opens the film with a grand and bold theme that lets you know from early o’clock that some sh— is about to go down. He then proceeds to add discordant and extremely disquieting sounds whenever the scanners are using their abilities. It’s almost enough to give one a nosebleed, but it is definitely effective.
In terms of acting, it is a mixed bag. Patrick McGoohan, best known for trippy Sci Fi series The Prisoner, does solid work as the haunted Dr Paul Ruth. Genre mainstay Michael Ironside is deliciously despicable as Revok, one of his earlier film roles. The look on his face when he is making heads explode, forcing people to commit suicide or setting his brother alight is simply chilling. And the scene in the mental hospital is some Psycho-level stuff.
On the flip side, Stephen Lack is a bit lacking (sorry, couldn’t resist) as the protagonist Cameron. His line delivery and emoting at times is somewhat robotic, though to be fair some of the dialogue does not do him any favours. Jennifer O’Neill as female scanner Kim Obrist is better but she doesn’t do much other than react to dead people and act as a sounding board for Cameron. But as corrupt and creepy security chief Keller says she is very attractive, so that is a plus. And speaking of Keller, played by Lawrence Dane, he definitely graduated from generic bad guy community college.
The film does keep a brisk pace and there was actually more action than I remembered. There are some odd things though, like Dr Ruth sudden internal monologuing which turns into very loud external monologuing, leading to his execution by Keller. And Cameron’s ability to “hack” a computer because it has a “nervous system” is just kind of silly, but the explosive effects and the lasting image of the melting phone receiver do make up for it. And speaking of lasting images, the final scene where Kim finds Cameron’s burnt corpse and then finds Cameron inside Revok’s body but with Cameron’s eyes was just the perfect dose of weirdness to end the crazy proceedings.
I can understand why this weird, bloody and extremely dark film was not a hit when it was released but has gone on to become a certified cult classic. Scanners spawned two sequels, The New Order a decade later and The Takeover a year after that, and the spin-off films Scanner Cop and Scanners: The Showdown, but none of them truly recaptured that Cronenberg magic. There was also talk of a remake but to date nothing has materialised, and I think that’s a shame. The core story is strong enough to be revisited whether in film or a TV series, though I don’t know how they could ever top that exploding head. But I’m sure if they put their heads together they can figure it out.
Julien’s Score: 7.5 out of 10
For my review of Sci Fi cult classic Enemy Mine you can click here. And for more than 150 Sci Fi Film and TV reviews you can click here.
Julien “Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”.
I can also be found posting on Instagram as redmanwriter and talking about TV and movie stuff on Facebook at Movieville.