Scanners (1981), or I’m Gonna Suck Your Brain Dry!!!

12 05 2009

Before I go onto the movie, let me just first preface this film by saying that the trailer from YouTube featured above is awesome! That’s the mark of quality when you let the movie sell itself! All they had were a couple of cards and a scene! Try doing that in 2009!

David Cronenberg is a mad genius. In the tradition of, well, nobody else, he has constantly pushed the boundaries of what is art, horror, and science fiction. Starting with Stereo in 1969, Cronenberg has touched on deep philosophical questions about the metaphysical, the eternal, the mental, and the sexual, all while remaining vehemently entertaining. Today’s feature, Scanners, is one of his most famous movies, and while everybody knows the concept by now, the younger generation (Did I mention I’m only 22?)  has little time or interest to actually watch the damn thing. And while I can’t say that they’re missing the experience of a lifetime, it’s still a winner that could use a bigger fan base.

As I said, we all know what’s up with the plot. Out of the billions of people on the planet, about 200 of them have special telepathic powers. Dubbed “Scanners”, these people have powers over the mind and can do horrible things to others using only the power of their thoughts. Cameron Vale is one such Scanner. He is a hobo who wants to be alone due to this great and terrible power given to him. Vale is desired by a weapons manufacturer named ConSec who wants to twist him to their will. They want to use him to destroy a renegade group of Scanners led by a man named Revok, who has his eyes on possibly creating an army of Scanners. Questions abound: is ConSec just as evil as renegade Revok, who kills with impunity anyone who questions his diabolical plan? Will Vale join the fight and use his powerful Scanning ability to destroy Revok? And how is someone with Scanning abilities produced, anyway?

It’s a special effects extravaganza/action/mystery/exploding head film (!!!) that might be the single most important film of its genre. Scanners is a fabulously unrealistic look at incredibly powerful individuals with the power to end people’s lives with a single thought. It amazes me how Revok is the only one bucking for power. Not to be cynical, but if there were incredibly telepathic individuals on the planet, wouldn’t you think that more than just one of them would have vied for control of the planet? I know if I could destroy with a thought, I would be so ruthless that if you thought one bad thing, ONE BAD THING about me, Bren, or Mystery Science Theater 3000, I would turn you into Scanner dust faster than you could say, “MY BRAIN!!!!

Cronenberg usually directs movies that force you into questioning what it was that you had just seen. Scanners is different, though. No second-guessing yourself here. He makes a straight-forward film for what might have been the second time in his career, other than the infamous Fast Company. It is a clear path straight to the end, with nothing but the mystery aspect to obscure your view of the titanic climax. There’s nothing wrong with that, certainly, but it makes you wonder if the film would have carried more impact if the movie had been darker and denser. As it is, he turns on all the lights in the room, making the world of Scanners a lot less creepy.

I have a confession; I loved Michael Ironside here. He is a top-notch character actor who plays the villain to the nines. Ironside is Revok, and in his third film as an actor he is already blowing up people’s heads! If that’s not progress, I don’t know what is. I honestly didn’t care for the rest of the cast. Even Vale, played by delightful painter Stephen Lack, is lackluster compared to this insidious villain. While it’s traditionally true that the villain is more interesting than the hero, the villain is more interesting than the entire cast combined! If anyone ever says the name Michael Ironside, I will think first of this movie, then his equally villainous turn in Total Recall, then his virtuoso heroic turn in Starship Troopers. A fitting legacy for a man whose veiny, white-eyed visage will always grace the cover of this fine film.

If a genre-defying film about telepaths dueling for the fate of the world sounds like a good Wednesday night to you, I can vouch for Scanners. It’s not for everyone, and it’s certainly not Cronenberg’s best, but it might be his most accessible work of the 80s. It’s great for a night of popcorn and festoonery, just don’t think about the premise too much or your head might explode. I give Scanners 8 veiny, white-eyed visages out of 10!

Tomorrow I begin to pack pretty hard-core for my move to a new apartment! I’ll keep you posted as to what tomorrow’s movie is, but whatever it might be, the review could be tragically brief. Just anticipate it, and don’t hate me for moving!!!