Scanners (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: His head will explode.

Scanners are people with strange psychic powers that can not only read other people’s minds, but also kill them and even move objects with their brainwaves. A corrupt group of scanners lead by Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside) threatens world domination. Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan) who works for a company that is trying to stop these dangerous people finds a scanner named Cameron (Stephan Lack) that Darryl’s groups is seeking, but has not yet located. Ruth trains Cameron on how to hone in his scanning powers and then track down Darryl’s group and destroy it.

Director David Cronenberg is still in my estimation one of the premiere cult/horror directors around. It is one thing to make a great horror movie when you have a big budget and state of the art special effects, but it is another to make an effective movie when you have little to work with and yet Cronenberg has continually shown that a creative imagination can triumph over all else. He has also shown a refreshingly daring vision throughout his career and seems to have no hesitation in tackling taboo subjects.

This film proves no exception. The story is quite creative and there are continually new and surprising twists thrown in. The special effects are excellent and imaginative. I loved the protruding, blood spurting veins coming out of the arms and heads of Cameron and Darryl during their intense scanner showdown at the end. The melting telephone receiver isn’t bad and off course the exploding head is memorable and deserves its place in the annals of gross cinema history.

With that said I still felt the film could have done a better job at setting up the story. It starts right away with a lot of action before anything is explained and makes things confusing. Some sort of prolog in this case would have been appropriate. Everything also seems rushed. This is a great plot with interesting scenarios and I as a viewer wanted a little more time to soak it all in, but wasn’t given any. The sets and backdrops are redundantly dark and grimy and lack visual design. Overall the film has a seriously dated look and although there are way too many films being remade these days and some that are not necessary this is one movie were I would advocate it especially if done with a high budget and a competent director.

Stephan Lack makes for incredibly weak leading man. He is better known in the art world as a renowned painter and his film career was quite brief. After watching his performance here it is not hard to see why. He has very much of a ‘deer-in-headlights’ look and a voice tone that shown no infliction, or emotion. His lack of charisma or stature seriously weakens the film’s overall effect and why he was chosen for the part is a mystery.

Jennifer O’Neill is gorgeous as Kim a female scanner who works with Cameron in his quest to find Darryl. The woman, who was a former model, has a face that is so beautiful it is mesmerizing no matter what angle she is shown at or emotion that she is conveying. My only complaint is the small streak of gray that was put into her hair, which I found unnecessary especially since she was portraying someone who was Cameron’s same age, which was the early 30’s.

On the villainous side Ironside certainly has the chiseled threatening features of a bad guy. However, I actually thought that Canadian character actor Lawrence Dane who plays one of Darryl’s spies was actually more effective.

The artwork done by the Benjamin Pierce character (Robert A. Silverman) visualizing giant heads and the thoughts inside people’s heads was really cool and avant-garde.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Cronenberg

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD

5 responses to “Scanners (1981)

  1. I absolutely dig Cronenberg but this is one I haven’t had a chance to watch yet. I’m looking forward to it and am glad to see it should live up to the Cronenberg name!

    • Great to hear that you are also a Cronenberg fan! Some other films of his that I would suggest if you haven’t seen them already is ‘Rabid’ starring porn actress Marilyn Chambers, ‘Sibling Rivalry’ starring Jeremy Irons, ‘The Brood’ and of course his uncompromising, envelope pushing ‘Naked Lunch’.

      • I think I saw Rabid a long time ago, haven’t seen Sibling Rivalry yet, may have seen The Brood and started Naked Lunch once but then discovered the book and wanted to read it first and never read the book. So yes, I need to visit and revisit all of these! 🙂

  2. Pingback: Perfect Strangers (1984) | Scopophilia

  3. My least favorite Cronenberg precisely b/c of how horrible Lack is!

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