Scanners


1h 42m 1981
Scanners

Brief Synopsis

A scientist sends a man with extraordinary psychic powers to hunt others like him.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Genre
Horror
Thriller
Sci-Fi
Release Date
1981
Production Company
Bellevue Pathe Quebec Inc; Film Opticals Of Canada (Toronto)
Distribution Company
Nelson Entertainment
Location
Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 42m

Synopsis

A scientist sends a "scanner'' to hunt others like him with explosive psychic powers.

Cast

Michael Ironside

Darryl Revok

Stephen Lack

Cameron Vale

Jennifer O'neill

Kim Obrist

Patrick Mcgoohan

Dr Paul Ruth

Lawrence Dane

Braedon Keller

Adam Ludwig

Arno Crostic

Robert Silverman

Benjamin Pierce

Lee Broker

Security

Mavor Moore

Trevellyan

Lee Murray

1st Programmer

Fred Doederlein

Dieter Tautz

Geza Kovacs

Scanner

Sony Forbes

Invader

Jerome Tiberghien

Invader

Denis Lacroix

Invader

Elizabeth Mudry

Invader

Victor Desy

Dr Gatineau

Louis Del Grande

Scanner

Tony Sherwood

Scanner

Ken Umland

Scanner

Ann Anglin

Scanner

Jock Brandis

Scanner

Jack Messinger

Jack

Victor Knight

Dr Frane

Karen Fullerton

Pregnant Girl

Margaret Gadbois

Woman

Terrance P Coady

Car Passenger

Steve Michaels

Car Driver

Malcolm Nelthorpe

Car Driver

Nickolas Kilbertus

Car Partner

Don Buchsbaum

Large Man In Mall

Roland Nincheri

Large Man In Mall

Kimberly Mckeever

Hallucinating Guard

Robert Boyd

Hallucinating Guard

Graham Batchelor

Yoga Technician

Dean Hagopian

Programmer

Alex Stevens

Programmer

Neil Affleck

Medical Student

Chuck Shamata

Tony

Robert Parson

Security Guard

Bob King

Security Guard

Sam Stone

Security Guard

Barry Kozak

Security Guard

David Patrick

Griffith Brewer

Elderly Man

Michael Dubois

Waiter

Lillian Horowitz

Passerby

Jim Kaufman

Scanner

Jorma Lindquist

Security

William Spears

Technician

Harriet Stein

Woman'S Friend

Paul Stewart

Security

Elijah Siegler

Tom Kovacs

Boyfriend

Mikhail Berkut

Danny Silverman

Louise Draper

Bob Peters

Barry Blake

Danny Hausman

Time Webber

Dom Fiore

Sonny Forbes

Jerome Thiberghien

Sam Stone

Bob King

Crew

David Appleby

Music Editor

Fabienne April

Dresser Assistant

Renee April

Dresser

Claude Benoit

Art Direction 1st Assistant

Don Berry

Special Effects Assistant

Neil Bibby

Production Assistant

Victor Blazevic

Production Assistant

Blanche Boileau

Costume Assistant

Peter Borowski

Sculptor

France Boudreau

Continuity

Jean Bourret

Property Master

Charles Bowers

Sound Editor

Bob Boyd

Assistant Editor

Jock Brandis

Gaffer

Peter Bray

Set Dresser

Don Buchsbaum

Production Manager

Serge Bureau

Set Dresser Assistant

Peter Burgess

Sound Editor Supervisor

Terry Burke

Sound Editor Assistant

Christine Burt

Location Manager

Guy Cadieux

Production Assistant

Don Cohen

Sound Recording Mixer

Michel Comte

Props Assistant

Tom Coulter

Sculptor

Louis Craig

Special Effects Assistant

David Cronenberg

Screenwriter

Ginette D'amico

Casting Assistant

Gary Daprato

Sound Editor Assistant

Pierre David

Executive Producer

Peter Dowker

Sculptor

Francois Dupere

Key Grip

Stephan Dupuis

Special Makeup

Pat Ferrero

Production Assistant

Muriel Fournier

Casting Assistant

Denis Fugere

Stills

Jacques Godbout

Special Effects Assistant

Kay Gray

Unit Publicist

Daniel Hausman

Casting (Montreal)

Claude Heroux

Producer

Christopher Hutton

Assistant Editor

Mark Irwin

Director Of Photography

Maris H. Jansons

Grip

Peter Jermyn

Sound Editor

Melanie Johnson

Set Dresser Assistant

Barbara Jones

Art Direction Assistant

Jim Kaufman

1st Assistant Director

Nerses Kolanian

Production Assistant

Dominique Landry

Production Assistant

Claude Langlois

Bestboy

Glendon Light

Production Assistant

Marilyn Majerczyk

Production Assistant

Brigitte Mccaughry

Makeup

Robin Miller

1st Assistant Camera

Robin Morin

Video Camera Operator

Anne Murphy

3rd Assistant Director

Constant Natale

Hairstyles

Bruce Nyznik

Sound Editor

Kim Obrist

Assistant (To Producers)

Henry Peirig

Special Effects Consultant

Michel Periard

Grip

Henry Pierrig

Special Consultant

Dennis Pike

Other

Daniele Rohrbach

Other

Daniele Rohrbach

Production Coordinator

Nick Rose

Production Assistant

Ronald Sanders

Editor

Jean Savard

Unit Manager

Tom Schwartz

Special Makeup

Ashard Shaw

Electrician

Howard Shore

Music

Claude Simard

Construction Supervisor

Dick Smith

Special Makeup Consultant

Victor Solnicki

Executive Producer

Carol Spier

Art Direction

Alex Stevens

Stunt Coordinator

Armand Thomas

Action Driver

Ernie Tomlinson

Props Assistant

Maurice Tremblay

Art Department Administrator

Gabor Vadney

Boom Operator

Claire Veillet

Production Assistant

Gregory Villeneuve

2nd Assistant Camera

Chris Walas

Special Makeup

Delphine White

Costumes

Don White

Sound Rerecording Mixer

Bill Wiggins

Post-Production Coordinator

Michael Williams

2nd Assistant Director

Gary Zeller

Special Effects Coordinator

Paul Zydel

Adr Mixer

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Genre
Horror
Thriller
Sci-Fi
Release Date
1981
Production Company
Bellevue Pathe Quebec Inc; Film Opticals Of Canada (Toronto)
Distribution Company
Nelson Entertainment
Location
Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 42m

Articles

Scanners


Arguably the most famous and significant cult film created during Canada's legendary tax shelter era (which ran from the mid-1970s to the early '80s), Scanners (1981) put writer-director David Cronenberg on the international map courtesy of a wide, aggressive U.S. release from Avco Embassy the same year it also struck gold with John Carpenter's Escape from New York. Cronenberg's fifth commercial feature film had been gestating for quite a while (originally under the title Telepathy 2000) with the filmmaker, who set the concept aside two years earlier to channel his turbulent divorce and child custody battle into his harrowing horror classic, The Brood (1979).

The Montreal-shot Scanners finds Cronenberg introducing stronger science-fiction elements than ever before into his familiar body horror concerns, with its show-stopping makeup effects (some by the legendary Dick Smith) including pulsing veins, throbbing temples, and a show-stopping exploding head (achieved with a camera shooting 400fps and a shotgun-blasted latex head stuffed with layers of meaty debris) that turned the film into an instant word-of-mouth hit. These grisly highlights are the handiwork of the titular scanners, mutated humans able to read and control the minds of normal people and engaged in an ongoing battle for dominance that also involves a covert research facility and a shady pharmaceutical corporation.

Much criticism of this film has been leveled against leading man Stephen Lack, an artist who had previously dabbled in acting in a handful of Canadian art films. (Lack would later appear in Cronenberg's Dead Ringers in 1988 as well.) However, he was well aware of his status as a secondary name next to the two main imported stars, Jennifer O'Neill and Patrick McGoohan. "She knew what was going on so much more than I did," Lack said of his experience in an interview session for the film's U.K. home video release about his leading lady, a spokesperson for CoverGirl for three decades and still well remembered as the star of Summer of '42 (1971). Likewise, McGoohan had long been a cult figure among sci-fi fans as the star and main force behind the TV series The Prisoner and had long been a fixture on the big and small screens.

However, the film is really stolen by another Canadian actor, Michael Ironside, a still-busy character actor who turned the malevolent Darryl Revok into one of Cronenberg's most indelible villains. The role allowed Ironside to parlay the film's success into a still-busy career, with leading roles soon after this film including Visiting Hours (1982) and Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983) as well as the television series, V. Billed just above Ironside in the film is another exceptional veteran Canadian actor, Lawrence Dane, a reliable mascot for local productions with credits ranging from Rituals (1977) to Happy Birthday to Me (1981).

The production of Scanners would prove to be less than harmonious, however, with a rushed shooting schedule to complete it under the wire by the end of 1980 to qualify for the necessary tax exemptions. Executive producers Pierre David and Victor Solnicki, familiar faces to any Canadian film fans, packaged the film as part of a busy slate with other titles including Hog Wild and Dirty Tricks, resulting in what multiple participants have described as the most chaotic of Cronenberg's productions. The heavy number of special effects and stunts, combined with some demanding personalities among the actors, was a huge challenge as Cronenberg found himself still writing the shooting script once the cameras rolled; however, the strain resulted in a tense, chilling film that resonated with audiences and gave Cronenberg the cachet to mount his first film to be released by a major studio, Videodrome (1983), also shepherded by David-Solnicki. It's worth noting that when he first burst onto the filmmaking scene with his extreme visions of human outcasts in transformation, Cronenberg was considered a pariah by the Canadian press. Even after Scanners became the first widely distributed Canadian production to open in the top spot at the American box office (and spawned multiple homegrown sequels), he would only gradually become recognized as one of his country's most important and influential filmmakers, a status he still holds securely today.

By Nathaniel Thompson
Scanners

Scanners

Arguably the most famous and significant cult film created during Canada's legendary tax shelter era (which ran from the mid-1970s to the early '80s), Scanners (1981) put writer-director David Cronenberg on the international map courtesy of a wide, aggressive U.S. release from Avco Embassy the same year it also struck gold with John Carpenter's Escape from New York. Cronenberg's fifth commercial feature film had been gestating for quite a while (originally under the title Telepathy 2000) with the filmmaker, who set the concept aside two years earlier to channel his turbulent divorce and child custody battle into his harrowing horror classic, The Brood (1979). The Montreal-shot Scanners finds Cronenberg introducing stronger science-fiction elements than ever before into his familiar body horror concerns, with its show-stopping makeup effects (some by the legendary Dick Smith) including pulsing veins, throbbing temples, and a show-stopping exploding head (achieved with a camera shooting 400fps and a shotgun-blasted latex head stuffed with layers of meaty debris) that turned the film into an instant word-of-mouth hit. These grisly highlights are the handiwork of the titular scanners, mutated humans able to read and control the minds of normal people and engaged in an ongoing battle for dominance that also involves a covert research facility and a shady pharmaceutical corporation. Much criticism of this film has been leveled against leading man Stephen Lack, an artist who had previously dabbled in acting in a handful of Canadian art films. (Lack would later appear in Cronenberg's Dead Ringers in 1988 as well.) However, he was well aware of his status as a secondary name next to the two main imported stars, Jennifer O'Neill and Patrick McGoohan. "She knew what was going on so much more than I did," Lack said of his experience in an interview session for the film's U.K. home video release about his leading lady, a spokesperson for CoverGirl for three decades and still well remembered as the star of Summer of '42 (1971). Likewise, McGoohan had long been a cult figure among sci-fi fans as the star and main force behind the TV series The Prisoner and had long been a fixture on the big and small screens. However, the film is really stolen by another Canadian actor, Michael Ironside, a still-busy character actor who turned the malevolent Darryl Revok into one of Cronenberg's most indelible villains. The role allowed Ironside to parlay the film's success into a still-busy career, with leading roles soon after this film including Visiting Hours (1982) and Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983) as well as the television series, V. Billed just above Ironside in the film is another exceptional veteran Canadian actor, Lawrence Dane, a reliable mascot for local productions with credits ranging from Rituals (1977) to Happy Birthday to Me (1981). The production of Scanners would prove to be less than harmonious, however, with a rushed shooting schedule to complete it under the wire by the end of 1980 to qualify for the necessary tax exemptions. Executive producers Pierre David and Victor Solnicki, familiar faces to any Canadian film fans, packaged the film as part of a busy slate with other titles including Hog Wild and Dirty Tricks, resulting in what multiple participants have described as the most chaotic of Cronenberg's productions. The heavy number of special effects and stunts, combined with some demanding personalities among the actors, was a huge challenge as Cronenberg found himself still writing the shooting script once the cameras rolled; however, the strain resulted in a tense, chilling film that resonated with audiences and gave Cronenberg the cachet to mount his first film to be released by a major studio, Videodrome (1983), also shepherded by David-Solnicki. It's worth noting that when he first burst onto the filmmaking scene with his extreme visions of human outcasts in transformation, Cronenberg was considered a pariah by the Canadian press. Even after Scanners became the first widely distributed Canadian production to open in the top spot at the American box office (and spawned multiple homegrown sequels), he would only gradually become recognized as one of his country's most important and influential filmmakers, a status he still holds securely today. By Nathaniel Thompson

Scanners on Criterion Blu-ray


Criterion's impressive Videodrome disc includes a clip from a 1982 TV talk show featuring a gathering of four then-hot young horror film directors: John Carpenter, John Landis, Mick Garris and David Cronenberg. Of the four only Cronenberg appears eager to discuss and analyze screen horror; he alone seems fascinated by the genre. Of course, we realized long before that the Canadian director was a wild card maverick. From Shivers (They Came from Within) forward, each won wide distribution, probably due to a highly commercial "ick" factor.

Cronenberg attracted quality collaborators despite being tagged as a maker of 'gynecological horror'. Shivers brought Barbara Steele back to the screen at a time when many fans thought she had retired. The Brood had Oliver Reed and Samantha Eggar. Even the relatively primitive Shivers has a meaningful premise, intelligently worked out; Cronenberg's pictures are disturbing because of their unblinking attitude to the fact of our alienation from our own physical bodies. Most of us are repelled by our bodily functions, as we're culturally trained to think of ourselves as spiritual beings made in God's image. Gothic horror often touched upon the idea that we have a bestial quality that needs to be repressed. Cronenberg motivates his horrors with out-of-control (or purposely perverse) science. In one show, an artificially created organ behaves like a venereal disease. Another 'custom appendage' turns its owner into a sexual vampire. An experiment that externalizes psychological traumas causes a woman to give birth to monstrous creatures that carry out her subconscious desires. None of these ideas fall within the boundaries of common Good Taste.

1981's Scanners became Cronenberg's breakout hit. He successfully translates science fiction ideas about mental telepathy to the screen and does a fairly good job integrating them into a thriller about competing psychic supermen. Brian De Palma had scored a massive commercial hit with Carrie, a movie about a telepathic teen defending herself against bullies. His flashy but disorganized follow-up The Fury added little to the concept. Scanners starts from the basics and adheres closely to its own interior logic. It's genuinely scary, and not just an exercise for ostentatious gore.

Initial viewers of Scanners often got no farther than its biggest, genuinely shocking scene, a masterful bit of Guignol beautifully teased in trailers and TV spots: this is the movie where a guy's head explodes.

The story concerns shady experiments conducted in modern research companies. The ConSec Corporation has for years been nurturing a new breed of telepaths. Called 'scanners', they were originally created by Ephemerol, a drug given to pregnant women. Having lost contact with most of the scanners it has identified, ConSec has reason to believe that a competing entity is rounding them up for unknown, nefarious purposes. Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan) has a big problem with Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside) a crazed scanner who has gone renegade, and is assassinating all the scanners he can find. With his psychic skills Revok easily penetrates ConSec security and kills the company's staff scanner researcher (Louis Del Grande). Dr. Ruth has the derelict scanner Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) kidnapped and brought to ConSec for his own safety. The homeless Vale is helped to control his 'talent' and clear his mind of unwanted telepathic chaos from normal people. Ruth then sends his disciple out to seek out Darryl Revok and put an end to his murderous interference. Dodging Revok's killer squads, Vale joins up with fellow threatened scanner Kim Obrist (Jennifer O'Neill). But the opposition always seems to be waiting in ambush. Could there be some kind of double agent back at ConSec, acting on Revok's behalf?

The time-tested paranoid conspiracy thriller format provides Scanners with action and mayhem, enough to satisfy fans and fill out an exploitative trailer. What's amazing is that writer-director Cronenberg doesn't compromise his fairly cerebral story concept. The Fury disintegrated into a series of ever-sillier telepathic attacks and stylish set-pieces. A decade before that, George Pal's awkward The Power was a premature attempt at a similar story that lost itself in plot detours and confusing 'surreal' imagery. Cronenberg's flow of exciting ideas is never interrupted, and his nods to surrealism are more direct. In one scene, a critical discussion takes place inside a giant artwork of a human head.

The movie features a truly disturbing characterization in Darryl Revok, an incredibly dangerous guy capable of 'fogging men's minds' and imposing his will on their actions. As played by the arresting actor Michael Ironside (Starship Troopers), Revok is scary, plain and simple. He responded to ConSec's early scanner training by attempting to bore a hole through his skull with an electric drill. Revok effortlessly hijacks ConSec's demo presentation by mentally hiding his scanning talent. He seizes mental control of his host, and so strongly bombards the man's nervous system that his brain explodes.

Cronenberg then runs wild with his central idea, brilliantly incorporating ideas from classic science fiction. When we learn that Revok's conspiracy seeks to breed a new race of scanners, we may well imagine a plague of telepathic children similar to those of Village of the Damned. The world could be conquered overnight by a drug-altered new race of men, a thought that echoes back to H.G. Wells' original novel Food of the Gods.

"Better Living Through Drugs" was the optimistic slogan that too often turned the general population into a testing ground for modern day mad scientists. The parallel of Cronenberg's fictitious "Ephemerol" to the tragic real-life drug Thalidomide is just the kind of taste-challenged content that leads Scanners into Dangerous Idea territory. Most sci-fi / action thrillers soon abandon whatever ideas they might have in favor of chase scenes and random gunfire. Scanners instead leaps onto a new level of conceptual menace. Waiting in a doctor's office, Kim Obrist suddenly realizes that she's being scanned by an expectant mother's unborn fetus. The fear of the future is the fear of change, of progress, the fear that technology will make us obsolete. Marvelously rich in ideas, Cronenberg's fairly modest production is a core title in filmed science fiction.

The young director makes sure to give his already devoted horror fans what they've come for. Dick Smith's special makeup work delivers jarring, grotesque images that really grab one by the stomach. The detonation of Louis Del Grande's head breaks all the rules by going 'full visceral' -- no smoke or cutaways intrude to 'tastefully' hide anything. Michael Ironside's powerhouse acting adds immensely to the final showdown, as Revok practically turns his flesh inside out to concentrate on obliterating Cameron Vale, mind and body. Retreating into a Buddha-like trance, Vale's strategy appears to be a passive-aggressive surrender followed by a telepathic sneak attack. Cronenberg has shrewdly front-loaded his film with its strongest shock scene, which keeps his audience hanging in nervous suspense for the rest of the picture.

Scanners shows the director relying on good casting. Fan favorite Patrick McGoohan lends his heavyweight presence to the script's complex exposition about telepathy and ConSec. Michael Ironside is a disturbing new star as the genuinely frightening Revok. Pretty Jennifer O'Neal has an unexpectedly small role but carries her end well, especially in that scene in doctor's office. New York artist Stephen Lack fronts a good look as the lost soul learning about his own powers while playing the role of psychic detective. Unfortunately, too many of Lack's most important line deliveries are just not good. A genre effort like Scanners can skate over many flaws, but Lack's performance always stands out.

Criterion's Dual-Format Blu-ray + DVD of Scanners gives this sci-fi shocker a new lease on life. It and The Brood were previously released on mediocre DVDs by MGM. This new HD transfer works wonders with cinematographer Mark Irwin's slick cinematography, and flatters the expressive designs of art director Carol Spier. Howard Shore's menacing music track gets a boost as well.

The new disc has a wealth of desirable, illuminating extras. The substantial featurette The Scanners Way is a making-of piece with plenty of input from the actors and extra attention given to the film's special effects. Mental Saboteur is an interview with the riveting Michael Ironside, who is just as forceful when speaking to a docu camera. Ironside's comments and anecdotes pull us into his spell, which is only broken when he implies that his character was based on watching a real telekinetic person in action. The interview piece The Ephemerol Diaries presents Stephen Lack as an intelligent, engaged artist who met director Cronenberg in the New York art scene. Lack remembers the film with great affection.

Beyond approving the dark and rich film transfer, Cronenberg's input is limited to an extended interview on Canadian TV's The Bob MacLean Show. After only a few seconds listening to the director, one realizes that he's the real deal, a well-adjusted serious artist with the smarts to express himself and survive in the commercial film market.

Another disc highlight is the inclusion of David Cronenberg's first feature, Stereo. Structured like a research report, the 1969 film is the work of an art student making the most of limited resources. Freaky things are happening at a place called The Canadian Academy for Erotic Inquiry. The jargon-laden tech talk in the voiceover (the film's only audio) lets us know that eight volunteer subjects have undergone 'pattern brain surgery' to turn them into functioning telepaths. The film is an hour of thick pseudo-scientific ramblings, but writer Cronenberg's ideas are way, way ahead of the curve. We learn that a telepathic bond must have an emotional component, which is where the sexual element enters. The investigators choose one test subject to mentally dominate the others, in the hopes of establishing a functioning telepathic commune. Some of the 'submissive' telepaths erect fake "schizo-phonetic partitions" to prevent a takeover of their personal identities. Others agree to have their speech centers in their brains removed to make telepathy their only outlet for communication.

Cronenberg's visuals are vague representations of test subjects interacting. They're often little more than a background for the intense narration, a strategy that reminds us of the experimental German sci-fi 'anti-movie' Der große verhau. Yet Cronenberg manages some arresting images. A boy caresses a biology mannequin while a few feet away his topless and blindfolded girlfriend 'experiences' his pleasure by brainwaves alone. Test subjects carry ordinary baby pacifiers... to perhaps focus their erotic thoughts? The pacifier is visually compared to the "Ankh" symbol, and at one point we see a rebellious subject cutting a pacifier into pieces. When finally covered by Variety in 1984, the reviewer "Cart." acknowledged that Stereo was virtually unwatchable, yet instantly recognizable as the work of a talent with great promise.

Seeing Stereo gives us more reasons why David Cronenberg had so little in common with his horror-director contemporaries. Lost in his grisly domain of 'body politics', Cronenberg was definitely operating on his own plane of awareness, somewhere over the conceptual horizon.

A trailer and some radio spots are included. Criterion's insert booklet contains an essay by noted commentator and author Kim Newman. The disc's arresting cover art is by Connor Willumsen.

By Glenn Erickson

Scanners on Criterion Blu-ray

Criterion's impressive Videodrome disc includes a clip from a 1982 TV talk show featuring a gathering of four then-hot young horror film directors: John Carpenter, John Landis, Mick Garris and David Cronenberg. Of the four only Cronenberg appears eager to discuss and analyze screen horror; he alone seems fascinated by the genre. Of course, we realized long before that the Canadian director was a wild card maverick. From Shivers (They Came from Within) forward, each won wide distribution, probably due to a highly commercial "ick" factor. Cronenberg attracted quality collaborators despite being tagged as a maker of 'gynecological horror'. Shivers brought Barbara Steele back to the screen at a time when many fans thought she had retired. The Brood had Oliver Reed and Samantha Eggar. Even the relatively primitive Shivers has a meaningful premise, intelligently worked out; Cronenberg's pictures are disturbing because of their unblinking attitude to the fact of our alienation from our own physical bodies. Most of us are repelled by our bodily functions, as we're culturally trained to think of ourselves as spiritual beings made in God's image. Gothic horror often touched upon the idea that we have a bestial quality that needs to be repressed. Cronenberg motivates his horrors with out-of-control (or purposely perverse) science. In one show, an artificially created organ behaves like a venereal disease. Another 'custom appendage' turns its owner into a sexual vampire. An experiment that externalizes psychological traumas causes a woman to give birth to monstrous creatures that carry out her subconscious desires. None of these ideas fall within the boundaries of common Good Taste. 1981's Scanners became Cronenberg's breakout hit. He successfully translates science fiction ideas about mental telepathy to the screen and does a fairly good job integrating them into a thriller about competing psychic supermen. Brian De Palma had scored a massive commercial hit with Carrie, a movie about a telepathic teen defending herself against bullies. His flashy but disorganized follow-up The Fury added little to the concept. Scanners starts from the basics and adheres closely to its own interior logic. It's genuinely scary, and not just an exercise for ostentatious gore. Initial viewers of Scanners often got no farther than its biggest, genuinely shocking scene, a masterful bit of Guignol beautifully teased in trailers and TV spots: this is the movie where a guy's head explodes. The story concerns shady experiments conducted in modern research companies. The ConSec Corporation has for years been nurturing a new breed of telepaths. Called 'scanners', they were originally created by Ephemerol, a drug given to pregnant women. Having lost contact with most of the scanners it has identified, ConSec has reason to believe that a competing entity is rounding them up for unknown, nefarious purposes. Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan) has a big problem with Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside) a crazed scanner who has gone renegade, and is assassinating all the scanners he can find. With his psychic skills Revok easily penetrates ConSec security and kills the company's staff scanner researcher (Louis Del Grande). Dr. Ruth has the derelict scanner Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) kidnapped and brought to ConSec for his own safety. The homeless Vale is helped to control his 'talent' and clear his mind of unwanted telepathic chaos from normal people. Ruth then sends his disciple out to seek out Darryl Revok and put an end to his murderous interference. Dodging Revok's killer squads, Vale joins up with fellow threatened scanner Kim Obrist (Jennifer O'Neill). But the opposition always seems to be waiting in ambush. Could there be some kind of double agent back at ConSec, acting on Revok's behalf? The time-tested paranoid conspiracy thriller format provides Scanners with action and mayhem, enough to satisfy fans and fill out an exploitative trailer. What's amazing is that writer-director Cronenberg doesn't compromise his fairly cerebral story concept. The Fury disintegrated into a series of ever-sillier telepathic attacks and stylish set-pieces. A decade before that, George Pal's awkward The Power was a premature attempt at a similar story that lost itself in plot detours and confusing 'surreal' imagery. Cronenberg's flow of exciting ideas is never interrupted, and his nods to surrealism are more direct. In one scene, a critical discussion takes place inside a giant artwork of a human head. The movie features a truly disturbing characterization in Darryl Revok, an incredibly dangerous guy capable of 'fogging men's minds' and imposing his will on their actions. As played by the arresting actor Michael Ironside (Starship Troopers), Revok is scary, plain and simple. He responded to ConSec's early scanner training by attempting to bore a hole through his skull with an electric drill. Revok effortlessly hijacks ConSec's demo presentation by mentally hiding his scanning talent. He seizes mental control of his host, and so strongly bombards the man's nervous system that his brain explodes. Cronenberg then runs wild with his central idea, brilliantly incorporating ideas from classic science fiction. When we learn that Revok's conspiracy seeks to breed a new race of scanners, we may well imagine a plague of telepathic children similar to those of Village of the Damned. The world could be conquered overnight by a drug-altered new race of men, a thought that echoes back to H.G. Wells' original novel Food of the Gods. "Better Living Through Drugs" was the optimistic slogan that too often turned the general population into a testing ground for modern day mad scientists. The parallel of Cronenberg's fictitious "Ephemerol" to the tragic real-life drug Thalidomide is just the kind of taste-challenged content that leads Scanners into Dangerous Idea territory. Most sci-fi / action thrillers soon abandon whatever ideas they might have in favor of chase scenes and random gunfire. Scanners instead leaps onto a new level of conceptual menace. Waiting in a doctor's office, Kim Obrist suddenly realizes that she's being scanned by an expectant mother's unborn fetus. The fear of the future is the fear of change, of progress, the fear that technology will make us obsolete. Marvelously rich in ideas, Cronenberg's fairly modest production is a core title in filmed science fiction. The young director makes sure to give his already devoted horror fans what they've come for. Dick Smith's special makeup work delivers jarring, grotesque images that really grab one by the stomach. The detonation of Louis Del Grande's head breaks all the rules by going 'full visceral' -- no smoke or cutaways intrude to 'tastefully' hide anything. Michael Ironside's powerhouse acting adds immensely to the final showdown, as Revok practically turns his flesh inside out to concentrate on obliterating Cameron Vale, mind and body. Retreating into a Buddha-like trance, Vale's strategy appears to be a passive-aggressive surrender followed by a telepathic sneak attack. Cronenberg has shrewdly front-loaded his film with its strongest shock scene, which keeps his audience hanging in nervous suspense for the rest of the picture. Scanners shows the director relying on good casting. Fan favorite Patrick McGoohan lends his heavyweight presence to the script's complex exposition about telepathy and ConSec. Michael Ironside is a disturbing new star as the genuinely frightening Revok. Pretty Jennifer O'Neal has an unexpectedly small role but carries her end well, especially in that scene in doctor's office. New York artist Stephen Lack fronts a good look as the lost soul learning about his own powers while playing the role of psychic detective. Unfortunately, too many of Lack's most important line deliveries are just not good. A genre effort like Scanners can skate over many flaws, but Lack's performance always stands out. Criterion's Dual-Format Blu-ray + DVD of Scanners gives this sci-fi shocker a new lease on life. It and The Brood were previously released on mediocre DVDs by MGM. This new HD transfer works wonders with cinematographer Mark Irwin's slick cinematography, and flatters the expressive designs of art director Carol Spier. Howard Shore's menacing music track gets a boost as well. The new disc has a wealth of desirable, illuminating extras. The substantial featurette The Scanners Way is a making-of piece with plenty of input from the actors and extra attention given to the film's special effects. Mental Saboteur is an interview with the riveting Michael Ironside, who is just as forceful when speaking to a docu camera. Ironside's comments and anecdotes pull us into his spell, which is only broken when he implies that his character was based on watching a real telekinetic person in action. The interview piece The Ephemerol Diaries presents Stephen Lack as an intelligent, engaged artist who met director Cronenberg in the New York art scene. Lack remembers the film with great affection. Beyond approving the dark and rich film transfer, Cronenberg's input is limited to an extended interview on Canadian TV's The Bob MacLean Show. After only a few seconds listening to the director, one realizes that he's the real deal, a well-adjusted serious artist with the smarts to express himself and survive in the commercial film market. Another disc highlight is the inclusion of David Cronenberg's first feature, Stereo. Structured like a research report, the 1969 film is the work of an art student making the most of limited resources. Freaky things are happening at a place called The Canadian Academy for Erotic Inquiry. The jargon-laden tech talk in the voiceover (the film's only audio) lets us know that eight volunteer subjects have undergone 'pattern brain surgery' to turn them into functioning telepaths. The film is an hour of thick pseudo-scientific ramblings, but writer Cronenberg's ideas are way, way ahead of the curve. We learn that a telepathic bond must have an emotional component, which is where the sexual element enters. The investigators choose one test subject to mentally dominate the others, in the hopes of establishing a functioning telepathic commune. Some of the 'submissive' telepaths erect fake "schizo-phonetic partitions" to prevent a takeover of their personal identities. Others agree to have their speech centers in their brains removed to make telepathy their only outlet for communication. Cronenberg's visuals are vague representations of test subjects interacting. They're often little more than a background for the intense narration, a strategy that reminds us of the experimental German sci-fi 'anti-movie' Der große verhau. Yet Cronenberg manages some arresting images. A boy caresses a biology mannequin while a few feet away his topless and blindfolded girlfriend 'experiences' his pleasure by brainwaves alone. Test subjects carry ordinary baby pacifiers... to perhaps focus their erotic thoughts? The pacifier is visually compared to the "Ankh" symbol, and at one point we see a rebellious subject cutting a pacifier into pieces. When finally covered by Variety in 1984, the reviewer "Cart." acknowledged that Stereo was virtually unwatchable, yet instantly recognizable as the work of a talent with great promise. Seeing Stereo gives us more reasons why David Cronenberg had so little in common with his horror-director contemporaries. Lost in his grisly domain of 'body politics', Cronenberg was definitely operating on his own plane of awareness, somewhere over the conceptual horizon. A trailer and some radio spots are included. Criterion's insert booklet contains an essay by noted commentator and author Kim Newman. The disc's arresting cover art is by Connor Willumsen. By Glenn Erickson

Quotes

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States January 14, 1981

Released in United States Winter January 15, 1981

Released in USA on video.

Began shooting October 30, 1979.

Completed shooting December 23, 1979.

Released in United States January 14, 1981

Released in United States Winter January 15, 1981