From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
“10 Seconds: The Pain Begins. 15 Seconds: You Can't Breathe. 20 Seconds: You Explode.” And the bodily explosions aren’t even the best part! In Scanners we witness David Cronenberg really maturing as a filmmaker and almost reaching the peak of his sci-fi exploits. This supernatural thriller has some great – and not so great – characters, fantastic effects and a very rich plot.
The so-called scanners are people with the ability to get into another person’s head, forcing them to act against their will or causing a biological breakdown. The movie begins with the abduction of a scanner, Cameron Vale, who is living in squalor due to his freak syndrome. Some scanners can be more powerful than others and many have difficulty controlling their abilities; often driving themselves mad with the thoughts of others running through their minds. A security corporation, ConSec, is trying to employ those with telepathic powers, while a militant underground group of scanners wants to put themselves at the top of society. Patrick McGoohan, of TV’s The Prisoner, plays a doctor working for ConSec that takes the powerful derelict scanner, Vale, under his wing and teaches him to harness his power with the help of a drug temporarily relieving telepathic and telekinetic abilities. However the fanatic leader of the scanner underground, Revok (played by always-bad guy Michael Ironside) infiltrates ConSec so he can recruit the mighty Vale. When a ConSec employee attempts to scan Revok’s mind we see one of the greatest and most famous head expositions in film history (up there with The Prowler and Maniac)! The only scene that possibly tops this is the beautifully intense and bloody climatic psychic battle between hero and villain. The movies follows Vale as he tries to track down Revok while fighting against fanatical scanner goons who want to kill all peaceful telepaths and anyone who gets in their way.
Scanners would still be great entertainment if it were just a bunch of heads exploding and people getting thrown around rooms through mind control, yet it also has an intriguing narrative and many theoretical aspects. For example when two characters are reading each other’s minds while one is killed the other comments, “Now, I know how it feels to die.” In another exciting scene Vale uses his scanning abilities to hook up to the network of a computer through a phone line and scans it. This technological theorization was ahead of its time for the early 1980s. On top of these conceptual features what Scanners really has going for it is its elements of corporate espionage. Therefore the movie’s production value shouldn’t only be appreciated for its makeup effects but also for its creative story line.
Cronenberg wrote this movie under much strain– he began filming even before completing a script and had to deal with a new level of action-oriented moviemaking that he had not produced prior. Thus, anyone interested in the Canadian filmmaker should make particular note of Scanners for its exploitation aspects as well as its unique and interesting scripting – opposing facets that are typical of Cronenberg’s best pictures. On top of these distinctive qualities the movie has some authentically wonderful retro sets and costumes. Every building is reminiscent of a 70s’ college lecture hall with lush colours and an ultra-modern design. In addition Howard Shore provides an intense and engrossing film score. All these characteristics are typical of Cronenberg’s films of the period and topped only by his follow up Videodrome.
The only arguable problem with Scanners is the actor who plays Vale’s wooden acting that pales in comparison to the enjoyable melodrama of the other characters. However it is interesting to watch the protagonist be transformed from a crazed misfit in rags to a clever and smartly dressed detective.
Scanners provides its viewer with many interesting juxtapositions. There is such a high level of gore that one wouldn’t expect much from the plot, but Cronenberg gives us blood with a backdrop of mystery and intrigue. And the movie’s retro looks contrasts with its futuristic themes of technological capabilities and human evolution. If anyone is looking to watch a head explode with a captivating story behind it Scanners is for them!
Reviewed by Shane D'Antimo