Scanners (Blu ray review)

Review by David Paul Hellings


Drifter Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack – “Dead Ringers”) is plagued by incessant voices in his head unaware that he is a “Scanner” – a person with extraordinary powers who can not only read minds but literally tear them apart. He soon encounters Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan – The Prisoner), a scientist trying to help his kind adapt to society; but another underground movement of Scanners, led by the psychotic Derryl Revok (Michael Ironside – “Total Recall”), have other intentions and the ultimate confrontation of minds awaits.

– Synopsis via Second Sight Films.


David Cronenberg’s superb 1981 film “Scanners” is from the golden age of Cronenberg; the days before he started considering himself an “artist” and began ignoring old friends like John Carpenter in restaurants. Cronenberg’s journey from original thinker with a skill for the examination of body horror to bland director of films about the unsympathetic rich and isolated of society is a curious and unfulfilling career choice for his fans, but we can at least continue to marvel at the highs of his early work (just like the “early, funny ones” as fans of Woody Allen would say).

“Scanners” is from a period when Cronenberg didn’t seem embarrassed to be a horror director. His cold, clinical sense of detachment suited the genre perfectly, as though a scientist was approaching the work in a fresh way, presenting the disturbing notions of body horror upon an unsuspecting audience. The unwanted invasion of personal space troubles most human beings, but the invasion of the human form is a step beyond most people’s psychological tolerance. “Shivers”, “Rabid”, and “The Brood” had introduced the cinema world to Cronenberg’s thinking, but “Scanners” took it to the next level.

A man’s head explodes. In a single moment, Cronenberg stunned a worldwide audience. A film about the power of the mind quickly revealed the visual effects of the power of the mind by way of one iconic scene: a man’s head explodes in a bloody mess and gore hounds were suddenly talking of Cronenberg as part of the new school of horror.

The untrustworthy scientist and doctor types of the Canadian’s previous outings are here again, be they a hapless employee of the conspiratorial agency or the troubled genius who finds himself powerless against those he had tried to help, there is a sense of men trying to play God (as seen later in “The Fly” and “Dead Ringers”). The power of science and medicine is helpless against the powers of darkness and maybe that’s right in the bizarre natural order of things?

“Scanners” remains one of Cronenberg’s finest pieces of work. Horrifically entertaining and engaging, it retains its original power to disturb and was the director presenting amongst the best of his ideas in his work. The excellent “Videodrome”, “The Dead Zone”, “The Fly”, and “Dead Ringers” would follow and then the Golden Age would be over.

“Scanners” has stood the test of time and is a must-see for fans of the Canadian director. The Second Sight Blu ray release looks excellent, and the special features are well worth a watch, especially the interview with the always underated Stephen Lack, who retains a sly sense of humour as he looks back his involvement with the film.

Highly recommended.

Special Features:

MY ART KEEPS ME SANE – Interview with star Stephen Lack.

THE EYE OF SCANNERS – Interview with cinematographer Mark Irwin.

THE CHAOS OF SCANNERS – Interview with executive producer Pierre David.

EXPLOPING BRAINS & POPPING VEINS – Interview with makeup effects artist Stephen Dupuis.

BAD GUY DANE – Interview with actor Lawrence Dane.

This review originally appeared on SFFWorld:


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