'Scanners' (1981) DVD Review

April 7, 2009 § 2 Comments

I am not a horror fan — can’t stand it, in fact. I just don’t get why people would want to be scared out of their wits or shown people being mutilated in pornographic detail; it’s totally weird to me. So, my review of Scanners is going to be strictly from that perspective of someone who doesn’t have a lot of love for the genre. I just thought I’d mention this.

The eponymous Scanners of the title are individuals who possess a form of ESP, allowing them to see into the minds of others and giving them the power to destroy with a single, concentrated thought. Society is barely aware of their existence, excluding a few notable individuals. Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan), a key scientist at ConSec (a high-tech weapons manufacturer) leads a program training these ESP-gifted individuals into walking, talking weapons of destruction. However, over many years, the program has lost contact with all 237 known Scanners. Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside), one of the most powerful of these 237, has set up a resistance group, and attacks ConSec, killing six people. Ruth recruits Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack), a vagrant Scanner, to infiltrate Darryl Revok’s group, in order to shut down this resistance that not only poses a danger to ConSec, but to society itself.

Scanners is cult sci-fi horror — close to B-movie — film making. It’s a straight-forward gory thriller which aims to gross-out the audience and provide enough of a story to move from one scene to the next. The plot is very cliched and the twists that are revealed as the story unfolds are quite silly. The characters are also fairly shallow stereotypes with no depth to them. And the acting is, in some cases, bloody terrible and, in others, amusing over the top.

The question is, does any of this really matter? And, no, not really, it doesn’t. Scanners wasn’t made as Cronenberg’s answer to Tarkovsky’s Solyaris — it’s a horror film! Character development, plot, dialogue, acting: all these things are subservient to providing the audience with an enjoyably bloody, gruesome ride. Fair enough; can’t say it’s my cup of tea, but fair enough.

As a horror movie the film succeeds, and some scenes have passed into cinematic history as being some of the most imaginatively gruesome in the genre. The head exploding introduction is a fantastic bit of gore, and it still looks absolutely disgusting by today’s standards. Likewise, the final battle between Vale and Revok is awesome in its preposterous grotesqueness, where these two titans are gurning at each other fiercely while their skin is melting off and their eye-balls are popping out… It’s pretty great.

Also, although I did rip on the acting earlier, the film wouldn’t be the same without the charisma of McGoohan and Ironside. The unfortunate side-effect is that everybody else, in contrast, fails miserably in comparison. Top of the wooden-acting pile is Stephen Lack who, as the name suggests, doesn’t have much talent as an actor. I have never seen someone actually physically sleepwalk through scenes like that before — so maybe it could be considered a talent, to be that bad at acting. The man literally shows zero emotion or facial expression, and it’s genuinely creepy how robotic he sounds at times. Revok may have been psychopathic with severe emotional difficulties, but at least he was entertaining, at least he was somewhat human. Vale is the equivalent of a cyborg, and if they’d revealed at the end that he was some kind of robot, I would have found it far more plausible than the actual twist.

As someone who is psychologically averse to the genre, I thought it was a pretty decent, kind of trashy, kind of gross, entertaining film. It made me laugh, it creeped me out and it grossed me out, so from my perspective it did its job. I’m not sure how much that praise counts for, considering how few horror films I’ve seen, but from a layman’s view I thought it was alright.

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