Second Sight, April 8
A long-awaited blu-ray release for these ‘mind-blowing’ horrors.
Notorious at the time for its head explosion scene, Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg’s classic ‘Video Nasty’, Scanners (1981), focussed once more on his dual obsessions of Body Horror and science gone wrong – as seen already in Shivers and Rabid, and continued on in movies such as Videodrome, The Fly and eXzistenZ. This time it’s the turn of telepathic and telekinetic individuals who are shunned by society, the basis for another couple of belated spin-off films a decade or so later.
In the original, drifter Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack… of acting ability) is picked up by the organisation known as ConSec and groomed by Dr Paul Ruth (The Prisoner’s Patrick McGoohan) to tackle rogue Scanner Darryl Revok (the poor man’s Jack Nicholson, Michael Ironside) – who we’ve already seen popping one poor unfortunate’s noggin in a demonstration of power. Revok has been gathering all the Scanners together to form an army and, naturally, the powers that be are quite alarmed.
During the course of his investigations, and dodging Revok’s henchmen – who for some reason all like to use shotguns rather than their scanning abilities – Vale comes across Kim Obrist (Jennifer O’Neill) who is part of a good Scanner group. Together they discover the true nature of ConSec and the secret Ruth hasn’t shared with them, not to mention the double agent Revok has inside. It all leads to a gory Scanner battle at the end and one of the best twists in horror history.
Picking up the story some twenty odd years later, Scanners II: The New Order follows the journey of David Kellum (Stargate Atlantis’ David Hewlett in a very early role), who has ventured into the city to train as a vet. When new girlfriend Alice (Isabelle Mejias) is threatened during a hold-up in a local store, David finds he can throw people across the room with his mind and, yes, there’s that head bursting thing again. Needless to say, this brings him to the attention of shady Dr Morse (Tom Butler) and bent cop Forrester (Yvan Ponton) who’ve been getting Scanners addicted to the drug Eph 2 and have recruited psychopathic Drak (Raoul Trujillo, giving a cheesy scenery-chewing performance) to their cause. Of course there are secrets about David’s background, including a sister he didn’t know he had, and when he finds out the true nature of those trying to use his powers for ill, the stage is set again for another Scanner show-down.
The third entry in the trilogy, Scanners III: The Takeover (aka Scanner Force in the UK) sees adopted Helena Monet (Liliana Komorowska) taking her father’s experimental Eph 3 and becoming evil – which pits her against brother Alex (Steve Parrish). So, business as usual in the scanner world with psychic duelling and subterfuge.
In spite of its low-budget look, there’s a definite charm about the original Scanners movie – and of course anything Cronenberg has helmed is definitely worth a look. In particular here, though, he created a mythology so rich for mining. A pity then that the second and third movies saw screenwriter B.J. Nelson squandering that opportunity, while Christian Duguay’s direction is functional at best. There are some interesting ideas here in the expansion of the series, but somehow they just don’t seem to go anywhere and more often than not we find ourselves with simply a re-tread of Cronenberg’s story and themes.
There are a handful of extras that come with the first movie (presented in a gorgeous steelbook, £22.99, while the others are normal releases at £15.99 each) including an interview with Stephen Lack, cinematographer Mark Irwin and producer Pierre David, but the release is just begging for something from Cronenberg himself – a commentary or interview, given the struggle he had to bring this one to the screen… Or maybe that’s why he didn’t want to comment? Scanner completists will also bemoan the absence of the Scanner Cop movies, which are marginally better than the second and third films.
In any event, these movies are worth owning because they broke new ground in the genre that hopefully any rumoured remake movie (at one point David S. Goyer was attached to pen and Darren Bousman to direct) or TV series will be able to build on. With today’s effects, those scanner fights will look mighty fine… But it’s my guess that first time you saw that exploding head will always hold a special place in your heart.
The first is a classic, though something about the second two just doesn’t scan.
Scanners II: The New Order 6/10
Scanners III: The Takeover 3/10