Scanners (1981) – David Cronenberg

David Cronenberg’s head exploding film, Scanners, is next up on the 101 Sci-Fi Movies list. I’d only seen this once before, and that was a number of years ago, so I pretty much came into this one fresh, and eager to enjoy it.

Stephen Lack plays Cameron Vale, a man living on the outskirts of humanity, not by choice, but driven to it by the voices in his head. The voice of those around him. Cameron is a scanner, he can hear people’s thoughts, and he can also go into their minds, retrieve information and make them do what he thinks, simply referred to as scanning.

He’s recruited by a representative of the ConSec company, Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan), who has developed a drug that will allow him to block the torrent of voices, retain his power, and live a normal life.


stephenHe’ll track down another scanner, one who is running a competitive company who has a plan to seed the world with scanners, leading to a new world order. His name – Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside).

It is Revok, who sneaks into a ConSec scanner demonstration and volunteers as a subject. He turns the tables however, and literally causes a man’s head to explode!

Despite the belief that Revok is obviously the bad guy of the piece, the sides get very grey very quick as more and more of the plot is revealed. When corporations are playing, there tends to be no good guy at all. It’s all about profit and control, not right and wrong.

On Revok’s trail, Cameron meets Kim Obrist (Jennifer O’Neill) and together the two of them learn Revok’s plan, how Ruth knows what he knows, personal revelations and a final frightening confrontation that ends rather ambiguously…

Even some 30-odd years later, this movie is still awesome, the effects hold up, it’s the settings, and the computers, and the tech that doesn’t.

michaelI’ve always like Michael Ironside, my first introduction to the Man, was when he played Ham Tyler in V: The Final Battle, he was just uber-cool as far as I was concerned, and since then, I am always delighted to see him show up in anything that I watch.

I wish I could say the same for the film’s lead, Stephen Lack, he’s got very big eyes, which lends itself well to one trying to convey the ideas of telepathy and scanning, but I wasn’t invested in his character, and felt he was a little cardboard like.

Cronenberg, has long been a favorite of mine as well, and his films from the 80s are fantastic, I’m happy there’s another one coming up shortly on the list! Most of the film was shot in and around Toronto, and it’s always amazing to see how much the city I love has changed over the decades.

Cronenberg’s fellow Canadian artist Howard Shore, provides a suitably unnerving score, and the entire film feels stark, and vaguely threatening.

Revok, though decidedly twisted, and Kim both seem to be more at ease with their abilities, though they both seem to be working towards different goals, Revok to world control, while Kim seems to be more about helping fellow scanners, helping them find their way in a society that deafens their minds.

The film is dark, frightening, and leaves you wondering if such a thing were possible…

Scanners is still good fun. Come for the exploding head, but stay for the thought-provoking story.

What did you think of it? What’s your favorite Cronenberg film?


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