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Scanners (1981) Review

Some of you out there have still not yet made the leap to Blu Ray. Perhaps you aren’t bothered about seeing films in crisp high definition; perhaps Blu Ray disks and players are still too expensive (we are in a recession after all); or perhaps you just like your films to look a bit fuzzy around the edges.
But one really good thing about Blu Ray is that a new format is a great reason to re-issue restored versions of classic films. And for us, it’s a great reason to experience those films all over again.

Take David Cronenberg’s Scanners. In my youth this Scanners 1981 dvd coverfilm had quite a reputation.
One of my school friends had a cool older brother who seemed to have a treasure trove of forbidden objects, from air pistols to adult films. In this movie collection was a US copy of Scanners on VHS which not only featured the terrifying image of a terrifying looking man on the front, but also had an ‘X’ as the rating, meaning (my friend informed me) that it was the worst kind of film you could find – beyond the 18 certificate.
That might not have actually been true, but after seeing the notorious exploding head scene early on in the film, I was convinced.

Scanners are people, gifted (or cursed) with telepathic and telekinetic powers that allow them to read and even control people’s minds. There are only a few scanners in the world and the government is interested in their potential, investing in research to discover how useful they could be.
As always though, there are some scanners that want to use their powers for evil and Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside) is the worst of them, using his ability to pop heads and hurt people.

Scanners 1981 rovak ironside

On the other side is Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) who is the last hope of the good guys, although he doesn’t realise it initially. In a Luke Skywalker kind of way he’s the ‘chosen one’ and must infiltrate the underground scanners movement to help the authorities neutralise the threat.
Of course, this isn’t easy, with twists, shocking revelations and even a love interest to complicate matters.

Although dark and disturbing, Scanners is quite a conventional idea for Cronenberg, at least by today’s standards. Works like Shivers (1975), Videodrome (1983) and Naked Lunch (1991) were far more odd, surreal and intriguing.
That shouldn’t take anything away from the excellent use of the telepathic/telekinetic powers concept which seems to have been inspired by the idea of remote viewing and featured in other ESP themed films of the period such as Firestarter (1984), Carrie (1976) and another of Cronenberg’s movies, The Dead Zone (1983).
Such ideas may not seem that amazing now, but back when these films were released they were mind blowing (although not literally, as in Scanners).

Scanners really delivers where special effects are concerned, with some very gory scenes being amazingly realised by SFX legend Dick Smith.
And everything else about the movie oozes quality, which is surprising given reports that the film was produced to a very strict schedule, limiting time to develop the script and build sets.

Scanners film horror Lack Scanners movie mcgoohan

Performances too are impressive, with Ironside (who seems to have been put on earth just to play evil characters) playing Revok like a natural and The Prisoner, Patrick McGoohan fitting perfectly into the role of the guarded, bearded Doctor Ruth. The only weakness is probably Stephen Lack as the lead – Cameron Vale who seems to have trouble conveying emotions. Thankfully it doesn’t detract too much from the film, with the story moving quickly enough to cover for his failings.

What remains is a great example of early 1980’s cinema with plenty of rich colour tones, polyester suits and dynamic haircuts.
And if you’re a fan of retro, 70’s/80’s, trenchcoat conspiracy, brain matter spattered horror, then you’ll find Scanners to be a worthy addition to your collection.

Movie Rating: ★★★½☆ 

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