falderal : a moving images blog
Scanners ; 1981  ·  Posted by Tallulah

Posted by Maddy

Director: David Cronenberg
Actors: Jennifer O’Neill, Stephen Lack, Patrick McGoohan, Michael Ironside
Country: Canada

What to say about Scanners.
I would be hard pressed to say that it’s an overlooked masterpiece. That it’s a horrific crime that critics have not looked upon this film with the admiration it deserves. It is certainly not, but most standards, an outstanding piece of cinema.
But my god, do I ever love it.

David Cronenberg began his career within the depths of what has now been termed as “body horror.” The grotesque images that filled his filmed reflected the fear of disease (for the AIDS crisis was rampant when his career began) and mortality within society. Grotesque images of human bodies became a staple of this film maker’s repertoire and themes of corruption among big business and drug companies echo throughout his work. Initially reviled for Canadian tax payers were horrified that they tax dollars were going to his graphically violent and sexual earlier films such as Shivers and Rabid, Scanners does not fall far from the tree.
Less of a horror film and more on a science fiction bent the film Scanners is about, well, scanners – people who have telekinetic powers. They can find each other in any situation, though doing so may drive them mad, control other and even inflict physical harm upon others. The most infamous scene of Scanners is one of a man’s head exploding – occurring within the first ten minutes of the film setting the tone for the rest of it.
Various scanners, as they are referred to, have been contacted and ideally commissioned by ConSec, a company hoping to use them as a weapon. After a disastrous introduction with the public, the company falls apart leaving only Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan), a psychopharmacist to clean up the remains.

The public introduction was disturbed by the villainous Darryl Revok (played by the villainous Michael Ironside) who single-handedly sabotages the efforts of ConSec and scars the audience both in the film and the ones watching them. Revok is building his own army of scanners and will kill any scanner who refuses to join. Dr. Rusk quickly commissions his most recently found scanner Cameron Vale and uses him to find Revok and shut down the organization. Revok’s army of scanners is powerful, but they are no match to Vale’s powers, or his dead pan acting. Vale teams up with the beautiful Kim Obrist, another scanner, and the two of them track down Revok and find out the source of all this mayhem.
It appears that the cause of all of this is a drug Ephemerol which at the beginning of the film is used to mute the powers of a scanner but is later to be revealed to have been given to pregnant women – drawing a direct parallel to the horror stories of thalidomide. Vale throughout the film discovers the secret history of scanners, his own past and his ‘shocking’ connection with Revok and Ruth.
It’s easy to say this film isn’t good – the acting is not realistic (whatever that means), the special effects are over the top. But I don’t think the film would work any other way. If Vale, played by Stephen Lack wasn’t wooden, if Dr. Ruth wasn’t ridiculous, if the telekinetic battle scenes did not involve spontaneous combustion and melting eyes, if the plot twists were over the top than it would not be what it is. The film works because of its flaws and adds to the artifice of the film. There are always attempts to mask the film making within the film in mainstream cinema.

More revolutionary cinema flagrantly disregards that rule specifically drawing attention to the film making process. I would not call Scanners an art film or claim that it’s intentionally drawing attention to the artifice of filmmaking, but it does not attempt to mask it. Obviously this film is not based upon a true story, nor does it have the funding to even appear ‘realistic.’ So it doesn’t try to. But it works, for the better in my opinion, because of it. This film would no where be as good as it is if it took itself seriously. It is a science fiction film made with a modest budget. And it works within it’s limits to create something awesome with exploding heads in it. There is always something to be said for a sincere film that revels in its artifice and fictionality. Scanners is one of those films, and a real Canadian gem.

IMDb Link: Scanners
Where to buy: Amazon.com

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