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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Day 348: Scanners

Too spicy?

I don't really believe in telekinesis or telepathic abilities. I'm sure some people use their brains more than others (The North vs The South for example), but I don't think someone can burst into flames via thought power. And would it really be fun to hear people's thoughts? I can barely tolerate what they actually say. While in real life these abilities may not be all they're cracked up to be, in horror they serve as a good plot point. It can create interesting and terrifying stories or just create some fun action sequences. And if David Cronenberg at the helm, you know you're in for a wild ride.

Scanners is a 1981 science fiction horror movie written and directed by David Cronenberg (Videodrome, The Brood). The movie stars Stephen Lack (Dead Ringers, Head On) as Cameron Vale and Michael Ironside (Total Recall, Starship Troopers) as Darryl Revok. Over 200 people in the world are known to be Scanners, humans with the ability to read (scan) minds through telepathy and cause physical harm through telekinesis. ConSec, a corporation that specializes in weapons and security systems, searchers out these scanners in hopes of protecting them. Scanners tend to not understand their abilities and are usually committed to mental hospitals because they “hear voices”. Cameron Vale is a powerful vagrant Scanner who is brought in to ConSec and trained by Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan, Braveheart, Escape From Alcatraz). During a conference, ConSec has one of their own Scanners scan a volunteer from the audience. The volunteer is actually Darryl Revok, an incredibly powerful Scanner, who uses his powerful to make the other Scanner's head literally explode. He escapes capture, killing several ConSec security agents in the process. Following the incident, Bradeon Keller (Lawrence Dane, Bride Of Chucky, Side Effects) is brought in as the new head of security. He and Ruth decide to have Cameron infiltrate the Scanner community and route out Revock before he can do any more damage. Ruth tells Cameron that there is a drug called ephemerol that can suppress a Scanner's abilities long enough to be captured. Cameron eventually finds a telepathic named Kim Obrist (Jennifer O'Neill, Rio Lobo, A Force Of One) who has brought together a group of Scanners. They are attacked by Revok's assassins and have to go on the run. They learn that a large shipment of ephemerol is being delivered to Revok. What does Revok have planned with the ephemerol and how will Cameron stop the most powerful Scanner on Earth?

Feelin' hot, hot, hot!

Ever see that scene in Scanners when that dude's head blew up?” That line is from Wayne's World when Garth is stuck doing the show by himself. As a little kid, I didn't fully understand the joke, but I found it funny anyway. Now, after finally seeing Scanners, that line is even funnier. The scene is quite surprising (despite being one of the most widely used .GIFs on the internet). We're not quite sure what is about to happen and it's sheer brutal violence and gore is almost unparallelled. David Cronenberg is known for his graphic special effects and “body horror”, but Scanners is relatively tame compared to some of his other work like The Brood and The Fly. Most of the body horror doesn't come until the final showdown between Cameron and Revok. It's quite an impressive scene, full of suspense, action, insane violence, and great prosthetic work. The science fiction aspect of Scanners is fairly engaging, even for people that don't consider themselves to be fans of the genre.

While the opening twenty minutes and the final ten and full of excitement and bizarre horror, the movie does get slow in the middle. Rather than focusing on horror or even science fiction, the movie becomes more of a mystery as Cameron tries to find out what is going on. It's somewhat interesting, but compared to the opening, it's downright mundane. If Cronenberg had focused just on the horror, Scanners would have been utterly terrifying. I mean, there are a select number of people so powerful that they can physically throw people across a room just by using their mind. Why bother with a mediocre mystery that doesn't get solved until the final scenes? Michael Ironside is a great villain as always and I would have liked for him to have more screen time. Stephen Lack is decent as the main hero, though there was something about him that I just didn't care for. Maybe it was because he went from being a derelict to a fully-skilled Scanner in the span of about fifteen minutes. Or maybe he just has a really punchable face.

R.I.P. Mr. Watermelonhead

Scanners is a decent science fiction horror movie with a few really great scenes. While there isn't as much body horror as one would expect from a Cronenberg film, we still get some disturbing images and incredible violence. The film had a hectic schedule and Cronenberg said that it was a nightmare to make. The beginning and ending are highly entertaining, but the movie becomes too much of a mystery while pushing horror to the side. The movie had a lot of potential, but it just didn't reach the level of greatness that it could have. Regardless, it's still a fun watch if for nothing more than heads exploding and veins leaking.


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