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SCANNERS(director/writer: David Cronenberg; cinematographer: Mark Irwin; editor: Ron Sanders; music: Howard Shore; cast: Stephen Lack (Cameron Vale), Jennifer O’Neill (Kim Obrist), Patrick McGoohan (Doctor Paul Ruth), Michael Ironside (Darryl Revok), Robert A. Silverman (Benjamin Pierce), Lee Broker (Security One), Mavor Moore (Trevellyan), Adam Ludwig (Arno Crostic), Lee Murray (Programmer 1), Lawrence Dane (Braedon Keller); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Claude Heroux; MGM/UA; 1981-Can.)
“It’s all lightweight entertainment, but this one is a real gasser and is the Scanners pic to see.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Scanners is Canadian director/writer David Cronenberg’s (“Videodrome“/”The Fly“/”Rabid“) accessible and for him, at that point of his career, big budget, cult sci fi/horror hit. It’s about his usual theme concerning the ongoing battle of mind over body, and it turns out to be a diverting and well-crafted conspiracy thriller operating at full blast as far as its thirst for nastiness. It also gets in some carefully aimed potshots at government espionage and industrial corruption. There are political insights thrown into the mix between all the gore and freaky things that get out of control. Cronenberg quietly infers that what we can’t see or even imagine the government and industrial giants are doing, is somehow making the world a darker place to live in. Gary Zeller’s special effects add immeasurably to the chills, as a head gets blown off early on and people go into uncontrollable spasms upon eye contact with a scanner who is bothered by them. A scanner is someone born with immense telepathic powers (they hear voices in their head and can enter the mind of another, even to destroy that person), and they might not even know how or why they were born as mutant psychic freaks of nature.

“Scanners” is a nightmarish treat for fans of experimental thrillers who care less about plot and character development than in pics with shock scenes and intense visualizations.

The film’s hero is the nondescript almost zombie-like derelict scanner, Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack), who doesn’t realize he’s a scanner until he is snatched by a secret government agency scientist Dr Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan) after a disturbing incident in a shopping mall. The arrogant Ruth understands scanners and knows how to work with them better than anyone else, and he’ll be the first to tell you this. He learned how to control them by giving them a tranquilizer drug called ephemerol. Ruth once owned a pharmaceutical company called Biocarbon Amalgamate where the ephemerolwas prescribed to aid pregnant women, but the drug was taken off the market because of its severe ESP side effects. According to Ruth, the drug produced 236 scanners. After he sold the company to the government and their secretive Consec program — the experiments to develop scanners as government agents took place under Ruth’s lead.

After Ruth informs Cameron that he’s a scanner and about how the world’s most powerful scanner, a rogue named Revok (Michael Ironside), is a world threat because he stole the program’s scanner list and escaped. He then started an underground scanner movement by forcing the listed scanners to either join him as warrior scanners or be killed. He’s a megalomaniac with devilish visions to take over the world. Ruth tells Cameron that he’s the only scanner who has the ability to infiltrate Revok’s gang and destroy Revok before he completes his diabolical plan. But first he’s trained by Ruth on how to use his supernatural powers, as a renown yogi is working as his psychic sparring partner before getting a severe splitting headache due to Cameron’s greater psychic powers.

Most of the film’s fun is in watching the robotic Cameron track down the hard to detect enemy. His first clue to Revok’s whereabouts comes as he meets up with a scanner who is an ex-con recently released because he’s a celebrated artist, Benjamin Pierce. He claims his art keeps him sane, as he retreats into his womb-like cocoon sculpture that is a replica of a giant human head. Through his meeting with Pierce, which turns violent as hired assassins enter the art studio, he eventually makes contact with an attractive scanner named Kim Obrist (Jennifer O’Neill ). She agrees, even though she fears for her life, that the dangerous Revok must be stopped. When they both voluntarily come into Consec headquarters to tell what they know, they are double-crossed by the fascist-like head of security, Keller (Lawrence Dane), who tries unsuccessfully to murder the two threatening scanners. It turns out he’s an ally of Revoc and has been conspiring with him to market ephemerol secretly through Consec for the express purpose of supplying certain doctors that drug to create in unsuspecting pregnant mothers more scanners for their army.

Warning: spoiler to follow in next paragraph.

The plotline is the usual sci-fi one of the most unlikely soul on the planet asked to save it from an evil force, but there are a few nifty twists to consider such as an irresistible comparison of a computer’s nervous system with a human being’s (Cameron scans or hacks his way into a computer system via the phone lines to obtain information about the Ripe program–whereby Consec produces ephemerol). Finally, Cameron discovers that Revok is his older brother and Dr. Ruth their father. The two brothers, good versus evil, finally face each other for their western gunslinger style confrontation. This results in an explosion occurring as veins pop out of the skin. The ending is puzzling and though visually effective, it is not intellectually satisfying; but, it does make it possible for other Scanners sequels.

It’s all lightweight entertainment, but this one is a real gasser and is the Scanners pic to see. There were four sequels: Scanners II: The New Order (1990), Scanners III: The Takeover (1992), Scanner Cop (1994) and Scanner Cop II: Volkin’s Revenge (1995). All were cheesy special effect only films without the cerebral qualities of this film. It should be noted that neither Cronenberg nor any cast member from this film has been involved with any of the sequels.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”