71 of 78 people found the following review helpful
Every once in awhile I like to dip my toe into a David Cronenberg film. I have seen quite a few of them at this point, from some of his earliest stuff like "Rabid" to his seminal reworking of "The Fly" starring Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis. One thing you will always get out of a Cronenberg film is a serious look at how technology and human beings interact. Like science fiction author J.G. Ballard, Cronenberg's viewpoint towards a synthesis of man and machine is always exceedingly grim, not to mention gory as all get out. The overarching theme in his cinematic examinations seems to be that humans simply do not know enough about the technology they develop, or if they do, their arrogance in the ultimate abilities of mankind never prevents them from charging into potentially damaging experiments. That we are just not far seeing enough to predict the outcome of using new drugs or messing around with human genetics may be a good message to take from a Cronenberg film. "Scanners" should fall into a "Cronenberg 101" class about these messages. Released in 1981, this film helped bring Cronenberg into the mainstream, as well as spawning a host of cheap sequels and a possible remake due sometime next year. Of course, this movie also provides the rabid horror fan with what is possibly the sickest gore scene in cinematic history.
"Scanners" tells the story of Cameron Vale, a man who has spent most of his life in a perpetual fog. Roaming through the streets of the city as a homeless person, Vale suffers from a plethora of voices constantly yammering away in his head. He cannot hold a job or have a regular life with this problem, so he copes the best way he can by always staying on the run. During one of his excursions in a shopping mall, Vale overhears two women casting aspersions on his grubby appearance. The comments bother Cameron, who promptly causes one of the women to collapse into convulsions merely by mentally concentrating on her. Two thugs in trench coats lurking nearby notice Vale's little performance and promptly chase him down. When our hero wakes up, he is in the company of one Doctor Paul Ruth, a laconic chap who gives Vale the lowdown on what he is and what he must do. Ruth comes across as distant and slightly sadistic, but Cameron trusts him because the doctor knows how to make the voices in his head stop and is the first person to show a real interest in him.
According to Ruth, Cameron is a scanner, a person with the ability to use a congenital form of telekinesis to manipulate other human beings. Ruth shows Vale that an injection of a drug called ephemerol quiets the voices in his head, which are really the voices of people around him that he picks up because he doesn't know how to use his scanning abilities. What Cameron doesn't know is that Ruth works for CONSEC, one of those evil corporations most movies seem to have nowadays, a company developing scanners as a weapon for governments and wealthy individuals. Moreover, Ruth initially fails to tell Vale about the presence of Darryl Revok, a powerful scanner who is building an army of these telekinetics, or how Revok just invaded the CONSEC building and killed six men in an attempt to discover exactly what new tricks the corporation has up its sleeve. Ruth then enlists Cameron to track down Revok and kill him. Along the way, our scanner encounters the beautiful Kim Obrist, uncovers the truth behind ephemerol and how scanners came to exist, and the true identity of Darryl Revok.
Stephen Lack, the actor who plays Cameron Vale, carries out his onscreen duties with all the charisma of an ironing board. Some people claim that this is exactly the way a confused homeless man should act when confronted with such an awesome series of events, but I don't buy this argument. Lack gives a whole new meaning to the term "wooden" and the movie suffers because of it. Fortunately, Michael Ironsides as Revok, Jennifer O'Neill as Kim Obrist, and Patrick McGoohan as the strangely aloof Doctor Ruth make up for the lead character's ham handed performance. Of these three actors, Ironsides steals the show as the unbalanced Darryl Revok. Anyone remotely familiar with this actor's work knows he often plays the lead evil guy in dozens of films, and "Scanners" marks one of his best turns as a baddie. Without Ironsides in the cast, this movie would not be nearly half as good as it is.
The most memorable elements of "Scanners" are both good and bad. The good is the gore, which tops most horror films on the market. The infamous exploding head scene at the beginning of the movie still makes me cringe. In fact, it ranks as one of those rare scenes in a film that actually get worse the more times you see it. The first time you watch the movie, you have no idea that this scanner's head will burst like a balloon. Subsequent viewings are worse because you know what's coming and the anticipation fills you with dread. The final showdown between Vale and Revok revolts as well. What doesn't work in "Scanners" centers on the sudden ability of Cameron to scan a computer system through a public telephone. I simply didn't buy this suddenly revealed ability, let alone that it would lead to the telephone booth exploding. Unfortunately, another drawback is the lack of substantive extras on the DVD. The picture quality is good, but I would have liked a commentary by Cronenberg to explain the philosophy behind the picture. Still, "Scanners" is a must see for horror and science fiction fans alike.
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on August 6, 2006
Scanners marks the emergence of David Cronenberg from low-budget horror auteur to one of the most unique voices in filmmaking of the last thirty or so years. He first came onto the scene directing such low-budget horror films such as Shivers, Rabid and The Brood. These three films were later said to have had that Cronenberg propensity to show the horror of the body-politic at its most basic. Cronenberg pretty much points out of how true horror might not be lurking on the outside, but within the the human body. Cronenberg makes the human body as forever changing and mutating against the individual person's wants and desire of what was suppose to be the ideal. The horror that we as a people do not and will never have control over our own body was where the true horror lie.
In 1981, Cronenberg moves from the purely physical horror to one where the technology man was forever trying to create and achieve perfection would turn on the biological aspect of the human condition. This new form of techno-organic mutation was as terrifying as it was seductive in its potential to those afflicted with it. Cronenberg begins this phase in his filmmaking voice with his excellent, underappreciated and cult-classic Scanners.
The premise for Scanners had alot in common with Stephen King's novel Firestarter in the fact that in dealt with an omnipresent and powerful organization: the CIA's shadowy branch that dealt with experimental weapons programs for Firestarter and the ultra-powerful CONSEC multinational corporation in Scanners. These two organizations experiment on random select individuals using experimental drug treatments under the guise of helpful medications. What results from these experiments are more than what was truly expected by their handlers. In Scanners the result comes from mental abilities never seen or documented in the past. CONSEC's experiments have yielded a unique group of individuals, 237 of them, to manifest powers of the mind that make them living weapons of mass destruction. Instead of becoming a new wonder-weapon for CONSEC to sell to their government contacts, these 237 become unstable in personality, some going as far as to develop a God-complex. Others are driven insane by these new abilities and retreat away from the rest of humanity in order to achieve a semblance of mental peace.
These two different reactions from the 237 are keenly represented by two of the main character's in Cronenberg's film. There's Cameron Vale (played by Stephen Lack who had an eerie resemblance to the same named character of Stephen in Dawn of the Dead) who we first see as a vagrant who seems to be suffering from some sort of mental problem. This is farther from the truth as Dr. Paul Ruth (father of the CONSEC drug effemerol that causes the mutation and played with eccentric flair by Patrick McGoohan) soon discover that Vale's mental problems is due to him possessing preternatural mental abilities of the highest order. Ruth's guilt over what his experiments have done and created leads him to use Vale to counter the growing underground of those 237 who have seen their newfound abilities as a stepping stone to supplanting the normal status quo with their own in a plan of global domination that would make fans of X-Men very proud.
Leader of this underground groups of scanners (as the 237 were called) is one Darryl Revok. A scanner whose abilities rival those of Vale's but whose mental instability for wanting to dominate the normals of the world makes him the most dangerous individual on the face of the planet. Genre veteran Michael Ironside steals the film from everyone else. His grand and classic introduction early in the film has gone down in filmmaking history as one of the most shocking scenes put on film. Ironside's performance as the scanner with the God-complex was truly megalomaniacal and it was easy to root against him, but hard to take one's eyes from the screen when he was on. Revok truly made for one of film history's classic villains.
In the middle of Vale and Revok's war for control lies Kim Obrist (played by the beautiful Jennifer O'Neill) who tries to lead those who just want to be left alone from being used by both Revok and CONSEC. O'Neill's performance was the most grounded in reality, as much as a film about people with mental powers could be, and tries to keep the film from getting too fantastic.
This I think was what made Scanners such a great film. As ludicrous a premise as the film had to base its sotry on, there was always a sense of realism to keep everything form becoming too much like a comic book. The story paints a story that could happen in reality since similar things have occurred in the past such as the LSD testing on US military personnel during the 50's and 60's. Cronenberg plays on such fears of outside factors introduced by scientists looking to forever improve on what nature took eons to evolve. It's this hubris about man's attempt to dominate his own body which interests Cronenberg and what would happen if he did succeed in doing something nature and humanity wasn't ready for.
Scanners marked Cronenberg's interest in examining the effect of man's quest for better and better technology, whether mechanical or biological, on humanity's physical and mental existence. What he brongs forth, first with Scanners then later on with Videodrome and The Fly, was something both horrific and seductive. Who wouldn't want to have such abilities as Vale and Revok had at their command. But by the end of Scanners the film posits the question of how much of one's humanity must be sacrificed for such huge leaps on the evolutionary ladder. Will the resulting amalgamation of nature and technology still leave something human or just something that pretends to look like one.
Some have called Scanners a horror movie and some have called it a sci-fi thriller. It's both those and more. It's really hard to pin down just exactly which genre Scanners falls under since Cronenberg never tried to stay within one particular one. The film works as a thriller, as a science-fiction story, a horror flick and a philosophical exercise in examining the human condition. Cronenberg's skill was clearly evident in keeping all these differing themes and genres from becoming out-of-place and bringing the finished product from becoming too flawed. Cronenberg's first foray into this new phase of his filmmaking career ushered in what some have called Cronenberg at his most daring and pure. I wouldn't argue with such an argument. Scanners is a film of great quality that would forever be used as an example of Cronenberg's genius as a filmmaker.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 8, 2014
This frightening but intriguing film = "Scanners" from David Cronenberg (circa 1981) was way ahead of its time - since it's almost like a much darker version 'X-Men' focusing on underground groups of 'mutants' with highly developed telepathic abilities that could be on the cusp of a burgeoning Civil War with humankind! An ambitious concept to be sure (especially on a very modest budget) - but if anyone could work horrific wonders even on a minuscule budget = it was the brilliantly macabre David Cronenberg!
This basically does boil down to a battle of 'pacifist vs. warhawk' (akin to Professor Xavier vs. Magneto) in the form of Cameron Vale (played by Stephen Lack) as the mild-mannered (though more than a bit troubled) mutant mind-reader (i.e. 'scanner') that is just trying to find peace with his un-requested 'powers' against the dark specter of Darryl Revok (foreboding Michael Ironside) a powerful scanner with a superiority complex and grand designs having to do with the domination of humanity!
And since this is an early Cronenberg opus, there are some patently 'gross-out' (though highly original) scenes!
In addition, the beautiful Jennifer O'Neill plays a sympathetic scanner that befriends protagonist Cameron Vale.
And the great intensely erudite Patrick McGoohan (of Classic British Spy/SciFi "Prisoner" fame) plays mastermind Dr. Paul Ruth (who shares a key familial bond with both protagonist and antagonist?!)
This is great-Original-horror-SciFi at its Best (and seriously, shares some key concepts with X-men) - but the Low-budget does show at times, and some viewers might be a bit grossed-out. But if you find other Cronenberg works intriguingly original (like the "Fly" in particular), then you will probably find much to like about this mind-bending, mind-expanding (cranium-exploding?!) outing!
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on October 21, 1999
Though comments have rightly been made about the dated status of this movie (don't laugh at the incredibly slow typing speed of the computer engineers -- this was before the real Information Age!), Scanners hasn't lost its edge or intelligent menace.
Watch the sequels to see how much havoc was wreaked on this concept, and then you'll see the craft Cronenberg instilled into the horror sequences here. A suitable cast helps -- the strangely colourless Stephen Lack, who is an uninteresting protagonist in the beginning but turns out to be the exact thing the movie needed; Patrick McGoohan (who later won raves for his performance in Braveheart) adding a touch of authority and melodrama; and psychotic Michael Ironside. His final interaction with Lack, which I've watched about 30 times, succeeds on their respective intensity, a great Howard Shore score, impeccable editing, and on-the-mark special effects.
Put this one in your library as one of the most original and engrossing of horror and sci-fi movies, and bear it in mind should you ever venture into one of the sequels. The Christian Duguay-directed Scanners 2 and Scanners III made "Scanners" a shameful moniker, but the original holds up to any other horror classic, giving The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Dawn of the Dead, Freaks and Halloween a run for their money.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on May 13, 2015
The movie itself I would give 3 1/2 or 4 stars. However, the picture quality on this Criterion version is average at best....and I can't believe I'm saying that about a Criterion release. I've been a huge fan since their laser disc days. Actually, I don't think it's really Criterion's fault; I suspect it's Cronenberg's. He personally supervised this new 2K scan and transfer. He turned the contrast way, way down and did something weird with the color timing. The picture now has a greenish tint. Swell, huh? As compared to a good HD transfer on blu-ray, the picture here looks muddy, washed out, and faded. It's almost as though Cronenberg (if he's the one responsible) was going for a VHS look. Check out blu-ray.com's screen caps and see for yourself.
Additionally, I would like to encourage anyone that already owns this version of the film to check out the supplemental feature, The Ephemerol Diaries. During this feature, several segments from the film are shown. Here, the film looks SPECTACULAR. The detail, contrast, and color is gorgeous. For some reason, Cronenberg's tweaking is absent. You only wish you could actually watch the film with this version of the transfer. After having poked around a bit online, I found out these clips are from the German blu-ray, from the distributor, Subkulture.
I have already ordered the UK Blu-ray, from distributor Second Sight. You can get it on amazon's UK site, and you don't have to get the fancier steelbook version, unless you want to. However, you'll need a region-free player.
I can only recommend the Criterion version over the previously released DVDs. All other blu-ray versions, in terms of picture quality, are far more to my taste. My strongest recommendation is to pick up a region-free player and get one of the blu imports. (You may be able to get a hardware modification for your current player that will make it region-free. Since it is hardware and not software, you can still install all of the manufacturer's firmware updates. I have an Oppo blu-ray and the mod for it is very easy to install: just plug into two places on the rear of the player. That's it.)
So disappointing this has been done to one of Cronenberg's most entertaining films...
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 17, 2014
I just purchased the Criterion Collection's release of David Cronenberg's "Scanners". I have hungrily been waiting for this one to come out on Blu-ray, and was ecstatic when I found out that it was being done by the Criterion Collection! I have had other Criterion Collection releases before & have always enjoyed how great they gave treatment to films on DVD & now Blu-Ray. And Scanners is no different. 3 discs. One being Blu-Ray & the Other 2 being DVDs. Packed full of extras (Including Cronenberg's first feature film). This was well worth the $33 plus tax I paid for this!!! The picture quality, was of course, excellent. And was presented in widescreen format.
Cronenberg is the master of the "Body Morphing" subgenre of horror. This can be seen in his films VideoDrome, The Brood, & his re-make of The Fly. But with Scanners he went more cerebral & far less "Body Morphing". It seems to rely on sources stemming from the Us Government's usage of "psychics" & when drug companies have very bad results. One doesn't see any real "Body Morphing" until the final climatic scene in the movie when the 2 antagonists "Switch Bodies". Or I should say when one switches from his dying body to his enemy's body.
The movie is slow paced and takes time to build to its climax. Scanners was, and is, well known for having the very graphic "Exploding Head" scene. Which is a great eye catcher. But one should watch this movie for its complex subtlty & storyline. It remains a personal favorite.
The Criterion Collection Blu-Ray/DVD Edition is EXCELLENT!!!!! Very well done. The Picture is EXCELLENT. Presented in Widescreen format. But the other GREAT item is the extras are on a seperate DVD (Not Blu-Ray. But then again the extras don't really need it. Criterion Collection made interviews specifically for this edition made this year. And they are GREAT!!!!!! And I have gone through most of them. I look forward to future editions of other films if they keep this up
27 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on June 25, 2004
From writer/director/auteur David Cronenberg comes another intelligent and visceral sci-fi/horror classic in the form of Scanners (1981), a film that takes a disturbing look at potential of the human mind within all of us, but only a few may actually possess. The questions posed are what if there were those out there who had the ability to read minds and control people actions just by thought? And what if those same individuals, scanners, as called within the film, also had not only the ability to read minds and control the actions of others with their mind, but also had the power to kill with the same means? The film stars Jennifer O'Neill (Summer of '42), the eccentric Patrick McGoohan (The Prisoner, Silver Streak), Michael Ironside (Total Recall), and Stephen Lack, who, by the way, is not only an actor, but also a world-renowned artist, having garnered much acclaim for his paintings.
As the film begins, we see a homeless man (Lack) wandering a mall, getting dirty looks from all the people he sees (hey hey we're the Monkees...whatever)...anywho, one woman in particular, in the food court, seems exceptionally offended by his presence, but she soon has other things to worry about as she suffers from some sort of brain freeze, like the kind you get when you drink something cold too fast, brought on by the homeless man...turns out our homeless man (in my day, they were called bums, but whatever), whose name is Cameron Vale, has psychic powers of some sort, and has garnered the attention of CONSEC (whose chairman looks a helleva lot like Ed Asner), a company that specializes in weapons, specifically Dr. Paul Ruth (McGoohan), who describes himself as a `psycho pharmacist', whatever that means (I bet he's a lot of fun to hang out with on the weekends). Dr. Ruth basically recruits Vale in a effort to track a particularly dangerous and powerful scanner by the name Darryl Revok, who's supposedly head of an underground movement of scanners and who has also basically decimated CONSEC's program of exploring the weapons potential of scanners, as he seems to subscribe to a policy of if you have special mind powers, then you either join up with him or you get your head exploded. Along the way Vale meets with Kim Obrist (O'Neill), a sort of leader of a fringe group of scanners outside of CONSEC and Revok's control (not for long), and they soon find themselves fighting for their lives as conspiracies unfold, traitorous scoundrels exposed, and secrets reveals. What's Revok's ultimate goal? It's not that far-fetched, considering his abilities...
I enjoyed this film...there really wasn't too many lengthy visceral scenes, but what there was contained very graphic gore (s'ploding heads) that imprinted on your mind, and tended to stay with you long after the scene was over. One scene, in particular, when Revok deals with the scanner at CONSEC, the tension was thick as the pressure, on and off the screen, built up quickly, and resulted in the film's most spectacular and memorable sequence. Jennifer O'Neill is good (and very easy on the eyes, shabba doo), but I didn't quite understand her character's connections to the other characters in the film, other than her being a scanner. It almost seemed like a plot contrivance if only to incorporate an attractive female, not that I mind attractive females, but her scenes could have pretty much been removed without much loss to the plot. Patrick McGoohan is one of my more favorite actors and he plays his part very well as the mentor/trainer to Lack's character, sort of a Professor X, if you are familiar with the X-Men comics or movies. Lack provides a sort of disjointed performance, but I felt as if it was intentional, as it seemed to work really well within the movie and fit his character, one who's spent most of his life trying to deal with the problems associated with his special abilities. I thought Michael Ironside's character was great, as he plays the role of the sadistic heavy with a God complex so very well (except, maybe for his role in Highlander II: The Quickening...ugh, what a complete dog that movie was...). He reminds me a lot of Lance Henriksen, both good actors but rarely ever emerging from B-movie limbo. Maybe they need better agents. There was a certain amount of symbolism throughout the movie, the most noticeable being when Lack's character is following up on lead by contacting a reclusive scanner who is an artist living in a barn. One of his pieces is a giant, hollow head, and there's a scene where the two men are actually sitting in the head, talking about Revok. There seems to be some confusion about the ending, after the final confrontation, but I thought it was pretty clear, and provided a nice eerie touch.
MGM presents a nice wide screen anamorphic transfer, but some have commented on the certain parts of the film being out of sync, but I didn't notice. I was a little surprised there was so little in the way of special features given the cult following of the film and that of Cronenberg in general, with only a theatrical trailer available, but I suppose someday they will produce a special edition of sorts. I would have liked to have seen a director's commentary, or some production notes, but I am pleased with what's here.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on March 14, 2007
Scanners is the story of a scanner (one who has telekinetic abilities such as blowing others' heads off) by the name of Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) whom doctor Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan) enlists to help him seek out an evil scanner, Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside), who wants to lead his own army of psychotic scanners to world domination.
This was the film that put David Cronenberg on the map. It's one of his best and 25 years later, it still works; it actually fits this millennium like a glove, with all the experiments going on in science these days. As with all of Cronenberg's movies, he explores multiple themes and the film has more depth than it appears to have at first glance. It's a great blend of sci-fi and horror, at times unsettling, and features awesome special effects (the exploding head at the beginning, the final confrontation between Vale and Revok) and leads to a powerful climax. On the downside, the acting is a bit stiff and uninspired by the majority of the cast (save for Ironside who oozes evil in this role as in all his other roles).
If you're a fan of Cronenberg, what are you waiting for? You should have seen this already! If you like horror and/or sci-fi films, this one's a real treat. It's got a great plot, suspense, cool action scenes and Cronenberg's unique vision. See it today before the remake comes out next year!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
One of David Cronenberg's finest mashes of science fiction and pure horror, Scanners remains one of his most frightening and original films to date. Stephen Lack plays Cameron, a homeless vagrant who can hear other people's thoughts in his head. Soon enough, he is captured by mad scientist Dr. Ruth (The Prisoner's Patrick McGoohan) and learns that he is a "scanner": a human with vast, telekinetic powers that are literally mind blowing. When an even more powerful scanner (Michael Ironside) unhatches a plot for worldwide domination, Cameron goes hot on his trail, which leads to an inevitable, bloody showdown. Though not all elements of Scanners have aged particularly well, the film still holds up nicely almost thirty years later, and the special effects do for the most part as well, with the infamous "exploding head" scene ranking among one of the best effects sequences of the era and genre. Even though there were a whole series of vastly inferior sequels and spin-offs, David Cronenbergs' original Scanners is a masterpiece from one of the most brilliant minds to ever grace the science fiction and horror genres.