Forgotten Friday Flick – “Scanners”

We’re keeping the early creepy cinematic conundrums of Canadian auteur David Cronenberg going this week with past picture pick guaranteed to bend the mind – welcome to Forgotten Friday Flick!  Head-trips and telepathy carnage are the order of the day as we delve into a strange story about people who use their brains to do damage.  Seems a gang of both good and bad telekinesis folks are out and about and trying to do each other in – plus anyone who gets in their way.  There’s a new breed of human weapon on the market so watch out – they call themselves…Scanners!

Cameron Vale is a homeless social outcast with some seriously dangerous mind control powers that have plagued him and almost driven him insane.  So when he is brought in under the care of Dr. Paul Ruth, who heads up a program involving telepathy ridden folks called scanners and given a drug called ephemerol that lessons the harsh effects, Vale is understandably grateful.  But Ruth, who works for a private security firm known as ConSec, wants something from Vale in return for his help – rogue scanner Darryl Revok.  Seems Revok aims to do serious damage with his own scanners abilities and they want Vale to infiltrate his heavily guarded organization and stop Revok for good.

Sounds like a simple story with a mind-control angle, but once again in the hands of someone interested in what lies beneath the surface like David Cronenberg, Scanners dares to dig deeper.  From the odd and almost paternal relationship between Vale and the quirky Dr. Ruth to the hidden evil agenda of scanner outcast Darryl Revok (guy drills a hole in his head!), all the characters here go past the normal predictable sci-fi staples to create a weird world that always has an eerie sense of urgency and always feels slightly off kilter.  So when the inflicted do eventually wield their titular telekinetic weapons, it’s a natural extension of the already wacky world that has been constructed so carefully by the famed filmmaker.  (Not to mention that Howard Shore’s score keeps things nicely heightened hitting all the right notes!)

And a thing of beauty the visuals of such powerful brain bashing telepathy are here as the gore gags of Scanners are a star all their own. Infusing the work of practical make-up legends like Dick Smith and Chris Walas and creating some of the most iconic sequences ever (nobody ever exploded a head better!), Scanners has effects work that no only holds up in today’s CGI heavy world, but still surpasses it by a landslide.  (Those bulging veins are creepy as hell!)

But as always it’s the character work that makes a Cronenberg film so utterly effective and Scanners has a cast that kills it.  From Steven Lack’s babe in the woods Cameron Vale to The Prisoner alum Patrick McGoohan as the obsessive Dr. Ruth (with a little Jennifer O’Neill as a deadly mind hottie thrown in to boot!) everyone here manages to dig slightly below surface level to create characters that aren’t cardboard cutouts.  But of course the standout here is in the form of early Michael Ironside as the surly and sadistic evil doer of the story Darryl Revok – the first in a long career of five-star turns the charismatic Canadian actor would go on to become famous for.

Scanners did spawn some less than effective Cronenberg free sequels that were way more style than substance (though at least the second one had a David in the form of Pin and Cube actor David Hewlett!), but none had the visual and visceral power of the original film.  Because even though Scanners was a cool and novel sci-fi idea that definitely kept the viewer thinking, it was ultimately the curious Cronenberg layering that blew the mind.



I'm a passionate and opinionated film critic/movie journalist with over 20 years of experience in writing about film - now exclusively for WhySoBlu.com. Previous sites include nine years at Starpulse.com where I created Forgotten Friday Flick back in 2011, before that as Senior Entertainment Editor for The213.net and 213 Magazine, as well as a staff writer for JoBlo.com. My other love is doing cool events for the regular guy with my company Flicks For Fans alongside my friend, partner and Joblo.com writer James "Jimmy O" Oster. Check us out at www.Facebook.com/FlicksForFans.

1 Response to “Forgotten Friday Flick – “Scanners””

  1. Aaron Neuwirth

    Nice write-up! As a huge Cronenberg fan, I’ve always wanted to like Scanners more than I do, but the problem has always been Steven Lack for me. I get what’s needed of him and what he’s trying to do, but I’ve always felt Cronenberg chose him for his big eyes, rather than acting ability.