Sunday, October 30, 2016

Horror Countdown 2016: Scanners (1981)

Scanners (1981) dir. David Cronenberg, Canadian Film Development Corporation/Filmplan/Victor Solnicki Productions

We're adding another director to the list this time. David Cronenberg, Canadian master of body horror, is a newcomer here and we picked Scanners as his first film to review.

Cameron Vale (Stephan Lack) is a fairly destitute fellow somewhere in Canada during the 1980s. Sitting down in the middle of a crowded mall, he overhears two women talking about him, and what they're saying isn't very nice. The bigger question is why is their lip movement not synching with what they're saying, and just how can Cameron hear them so perfectly from across the crowded food court? Cameron concentrates, and one of the women falls to the floor convulsing. Armed guards appear, but they seem more interested in Cameron then they do administering first aid.

They catch him soon enough, and Cameron finds himself strapped to a table. Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan) introduces himself and explains just why Cameron was able to do what he does and how. Cameron, in case he doesn't understand, is a scanner. And what is a scanner? Think a mutant, only with the single ability to read or control minds. The catch is the broadcast can only be turned off or tuned out with practice. Cameron, living on the streets as he has, has basically only the minimal amount of skill. He can reach out, but too many thoughts can overwhelm him. Which isn't good, as Cameron is going to have to get very good very fast. Why?

Because at ConSec, a special meeting is underway. A man (Louis Del Grande) introduces himself to the assembled members of various international corporations and governments as a scanner. He promises to read the minds of any volunteers. One man, a gentleman which a scar in his forehead (Michael Ironside) steps forward. When the scanning starts, it isn't secrets that get spilled, but rather the man's gray matter as his head explodes before the horrified crowd....

The next day, an emergency meeting is called. The CEO (Maver Moore) is not happy. Security chief Braeden Keller (Lawrence Dane) argues to shut the whole scanner project down. Scanners, he argues, are just too wild/crazy to control, plus it's hard to hide evidence of theft when you explode someone's head.

Dr. Ruth, on the other hand, thinks the demonstration was perfect. Lousy for thieves, yes, but what about assassins? True, a killer who'd kill his employers is a hard sell, but thankfully Ruth has an ace up his sleeve. He knows who the scared man was; namely a former patient of his named Darryl Revok. He also knows that Revok is building an army of scanners. He suggests sending in an agent, someone who's loyal to ConSec plus a top rate scanner. Someone like Cameron, for example.

There's just one catch. Revok has his fingers in many pies, and those include ConSec. Can Cameron master his abilities in time? Can he stop Revok? And what sinister secret links Ruth with Cameron and Revok?

Re-watching this, it does remind me a bit of the X-Men series, although with more exploding heads. There is still some great work here though. The sinister usage of power, and the physical and ethical horror that it creates is addressed rather well. Scanners doesn't quite have the same punch as the Brood or Videodrome, but it does a wonderful sense of dread. Plus Michael Ironside at his absolute best.

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