Scanners (1981)

Scanners (1981)

“It’s the voices in my head; they’re driving me crazy.”

A homeless man (Stephen Lack) with special powers is kidnapped and brought to a corporation that has been breeding “scanners” for years. A doctor (Patrick McGoohan) trains Lack to search for a renegade scanner (Michael Ironside) who has been assassinating other scanners — but it’s soon unclear who exactly is fighting against who.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • David Cronenberg Films
  • Horror Films
  • Science Fiction
  • Supernatural Powers

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this sci-fi horror flick by writer-director David Cronenberg is “flawed, confusing, yet lively”. He notes that despite impressive special effects by Dick Smith, he finds “the film’s urban guerrilla warfare scenes [between scanners] much more enjoyable than watching eyes bulging out of sockets, blood pouring out of noses, and heads exploding.”

He adds that “McGoohan and Ironside give solid performances”:

… but “Lack isn’t an appealing lead.”

Meanwhile, “Jennifer O’Neill (who’s part of the guerrilla band Lack helps” is impressive during one key scene in a doctor’s office, but her role isn’t substantial enough.

Though it’s hailed by some as a classic and considered Cronenberg’s breakthrough film, I was unimpressed by the inane dialogue (along the lines of, “Do it now or I’ll kill you.”) and incessant gun brandishing. This film is really all about its special effects — and if you enjoy that kind of thing, you will certainly want to give it a look (and be sure to check out a short documentary entitled “The Scanners Way” for plenty of fascinating background information on how the effects here were creatively produced by masters of the trade).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Some creative sets
  • Impressive special effects

Must See?
No, though of course it’s must-see for Cronenberg fans.


2 thoughts on “Scanners (1981)

  1. ⭐️⭐️⭐️ out of ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    A fine science fiction film with plenty of ambition but let down by a rather dull lead (Lack). He’s not awful, but lacks the charisma to carry the film so it rests on the shoulders of Ironside and McGoohan.

    I suppose the film is a must for FFs be ause it did mark the point where Cronenberg, a significant director, broke through but personally his next film Videodrome (1982) is his masterpiece in this body horror subgenre.

  2. A once-must, for its unique quality as a sci-fi / horror / thriller flick and its fascinating (and complex) premise.

    I’ve always thought this to be one of Cronenberg’s strongest early films. Even with its apparent flaws (and viewers can agree or disagree re: which are flaws and which are not), the film’s overall impact rather solidifies its importance. (It’s certainly leaps beyond the piece-of-crap flick it bears resemblance to: De Palma’s ‘The Fury’.)

    Personally, I’m not all that bothered by Lack’s… lack of talent. I don’t think what he’s asked to play requires noticeable range as an actor. Besides, Ironside picks up the slack.

    I was surprised to learn that this was Cronenberg’s first box-office hit. I came upon some info at Wikipedia which I find I can give support to:

    [A reassessment of Scanners in the 2012 issue of CineAction looks at the film in light of Cronenberg’s use of allegory and parables in much of his work. The argument is made that Cronenberg uses iconic imagery that refers directly and indirectly to the thirty-something Scanners as 1960s political radicals, counterculture hippies, and as nascent Young Urban Professionals. As a result, the film can be seen “as an oblique reflection on what might happen when the counterculture becomes the dominant culture”.

    Kim Newman noted in an essay for The Criterion Collection that at the same time the film rejects the conservative values of the 1980’s and the nostalgia for the 1950’s present in contemporary science-fiction films such as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Back to the Future.]

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