For years, I’ve not only heard of, but I’ve also seen the poster art for David Cronenberg’s 1981 sci-fi classic, Scanners. Funny enough, I never even knew what the film was actually about. Almost 25 years after it’s release, I can finally cross it off of my must-see list, thanks to an awesome release by Criterion.
Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) is a homeless man with powers he didn’t even know he had. He is a ‘scanner,’ someone who has the ability to connect his nervous system with that of the people around him, creating a rather uncomfortable experience for the victim(s). There are many more like him. Some are considered to be good people, while some are out to destroy all of their kind. Cameron is sent to hunt down the man behind a secret organization, Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside), in order to stop him from further destruction.
I was blown away, no pun intended, within the first ten minutes of the film. Not only was I quickly introduced to this secret society of ‘mind readers,’ but I was also treated to one of the most amazing uses of practical effects I’ve ever seen. Special effects pioneer, the late Dick Smith, is responsible for all of the effects [along with a team of other amazing effect artists] seen throughout Scanners; Everything from melting telephones, to fried circuitry, to exploding heads, can be seen in this 103 minute film, and it all looks astounding. While the insanely impressive head explosion occurs early on in the film, I was actually rather underwhelmed by the remaining scenes. When a film starts off with such a bang, you’d think you’d be in for a wild ride. Nothing even compared to that first death, until the final battle between the most powerful scanners of all, Revok and Vale. The melting flesh and combusting eyes were fantastic and fun, but it was almost too little too late, in my personal opinion.
The acting was somewhat of a mixed bag here. Just like in Visiting Hours, Michael Ironside does an amazing job as antagonist. His character of Darryl Revok is truly a nutcase and Ironside plays the part so well. Stephen Lack, on the other hand, is rather monotonous as our protagonist, Cameron Vale. He has one expression throughout the entire film and there is no difference in inflection in his voice whatsoever. I couldn’t tell if he was angry, happy, curious, or indifferent at any time during the film.
We’ve seen horror and science fiction genre films that have dealt with supernatural and telepathic abilities before — Carrie, Patrick, and even one of the entries in the Friday the 13th franchise — but none of them handled the subject matter quite like Scanners. I love the idea behind these people not necessarily being ‘mind readers’ or ‘psychics.’ They don’t just have the capability to enter and control your mind, but they are essentially connecting to one’s heart and even one’s soul. They even had Lack’s character ‘scanning’ a computer system. I think this was a wonderfully original idea and coupled with Dick Smith’s effects, there is no wonder this film has held the test of time and has gained a cult following.
It is rare that I go into any real detail about a release’s special features, but Criterion really did an amazing job giving the fans the complete Scanners package. Not only do we get the film, beautifully remastered, but we also get brand new featurettes about the special effects that went into the making of the film, a brand new interview with Michael Ironside, excerpts from old radio and TV spots, and one of David Cronenberg’s earliest works, Stereo, which happens to be over 60 minutes long! This is most certainly the greatest rendition this film has ever seen and I highly recommend you pick it up today.
I give Scanners 4 exploding heads out of 5.