Friday, September 5, 2008

Head Games: Scanners(1981)

There have been, over the decades, some truly marvelous horror movie directors: Terence Fisher, Roger Corman, Tobe Hooper, John Carpenter, Clive Barker, John Landis, Alfred Hitchcock, Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci and George Romero. While I am an admirer and fan of these directors I am especially fond of David Cronenberg. One of Cronenberg's films is a personal favorite of mine, a movie I first watched in a movie theater as a college freshman. I'm referring to Scanners, a film distributed by MGM, written and directed by David Cronenberg and originally released to theaters in January, 1981.

The film's story:
An underground group of people with formidable and destructive telepathic abilities, called "scanners", are a threat to mankind, lead by an especially powerful scanner named Darryl Revok(played by Michael Ironside), who wants to build a scanner "army" and dominate the world.
Opposing Revok is a another scanner named Cameron Vale(played by Stephen Lack), a man who knows nothing about his background and who is recruited by a scientist(played by Patrick McGoohan) specializing in the study of "scanners" to ultimately stop Darryl Revok. Through plot twists and turns we see both Cameron Vale and Darryl Revok use their scanning abilities to effective and often lethal effect on others. In the end the struggle comes down to a face off between Revok and Vale, with one important story line revelation preceding their final battle, and an ending that is, IMO, terrific and startling at the same time! (no other spoilers)

What works for me:
-Michael Ironside is very effective in the role of the antagonist "Darryl Revok". He's as mentally unstable as he is powerful, which makes for an unsettling combination in this film.
-The special makeup effects: marvelous, especially the infamous "exploding head" scene and the effects used to render the absolute carnage that Revok and Vale inflict upon each other in the final battle, a test of their respective scanning abilities.

What doesn't work for me:
-Stephen Lack, whose acting was, IMO, somewhat muted. He definitely lacked a "presence" in this movie, something that his bad guy counterpart Michael Ironside did not lack at all. I've always considered Michael Ironside a terrific character actor and this movie is confirmation.

This film is a clever and entertaining look at the science, and science fiction, of telepathy, mind control and all of its potentially ugly(and gory) undersides. One of David Cronenberg's early directorial efforts and a must have DVD for any self respecting fan of classic sci-fi and horror.

One of the trailers for Scanners(1981):

Here's the MGM Region 1 DVD of this film for sale at Deep