I saw this movie last night and I want to say something about it, because I read many unforgiving reviews. Let me break a lance in its favor.
This is another classic of the sci-fi horror genre, directed by Cronenberg in 1981, and it’s surely better known as the “exploding head movie“… a scene that entered into the annals of cinema history!
The story is set in the ’80, United States.
A weird, emaciated guy sits down at the table and, when he knocks an unsympathetic lady out at a distance (inducing an epilectic fit), two suspicious fellows bring him to a secret place: the pharmaceutical company known as ConSec. There Dr. Routh enlightens us about the nature of the mysterious abilities of that man: his name is Cameron and he is a scanner.
What is a scanner?
Easy to explain: an individual with telepathic abilities who is capable of hearing the other people’s thoughts and manipulate the nervous system. Unfortunately, there’s an unpleasant complication: all those voices make it very hard for a Scanner to improve social abilities and an integrated personality. Cameron learns to control his powers with the help of Dr. Routh, who gives him a drug, the Ephemerol, which can silence the voices he hears.
So, Dr. Routh and the ConSec put Cameron on the trail of Darryl Revok, another powerful scanner with mental issues and a monstrous narcissism, who is causing a lot of troubles, exploding head included. He commands an organization and, as any self-respecting evil genius, aims to conquer the world and enslave the “normal”.
Cameron has to infiltrate the organization and stop Revok’s evil plan and he does it with the help of another scanner, Kim Obrist. Cameron and Revok engage a mental duel with a final tremendous twist.
There’s a whole generation of scanners soldiers just a few months away from being born. We’ll find them. Train them to be like us. Not like Obrist and their band of cripples. We’ll bring the world of normals to their knees. We’ll build an empire so brilliant, so glorious. We’ll be the envy of the whole planet.Darryl Revok
After the iconic The Brood with its many autobiographical references, David Cronenberg made Scanners. Unfortunately, he didn’t finish to write the script in time, so he had to do it in a hurry before the shooting started. Probably this is the reason why, sometimes, the rhythm and the dialogues seem a little forced and “cut with a hatchet”… the frenzy of finishing in time!
Despite this, Scanners has been able to become part of the collective imagination because of the scene of the “exploding head”: a perfect example of what a prosthetic head full of offal and a shotgun can do together. The special effects by Dick Smith are full of fake blood and exploding veins. A very enjoyable gory touch!
Many say that Stephen Lack’s interpretation of Cameron isn’t good, but I don’t think it’s correct: his coerced expressions show how difficult is for a scanner to live and interact in the real world. And the contrast between Cameron and Revok, interpreted by a great Michael Ironside, makes you really feel the effort of the mental struggle.
Scanners is a good conspiracy thriller, with a coherent plot which touches upon important themes, such as marginalization and human engineering. It’s interesting to see that superpowers can cripple, rather than empower, a man. This is quite realistic, given that often, speaking about brain, an extreme functional advantage results in a disadvantage elsewhere… some kind of counterbalance.
Sadly, these aspects were not examined in detail as they would deserve. I have to admit that the plot would have benefit.
The low budget (about $ 3,5 million) didn’t prevent Scanners to become a box office success: it made $ 14 million. This demonstrates that it’s a good movie after all.
In conclusion, the script was written in a hurry and this is easy to see! But it’s not so bad… I’ve seen worse than this.
It’s an intriguing movie and, in my opinion, one of the most entertaining of Cronenberg’s films.
by Alice Colombo
Images from Web