Finally!(?) Friday: Scanners

Why Finally? Because I am squeamish as all get-out, and it’s a David Cronenberg film. I’ve been familiar with his reputation since 1986 and later (surprise!) from my ill-fated attempt to watch The Fly so I could see Jeff Goldblum with no shirt on.

When The Fly finally showed up on cable, I was 13 and very excited. My mother, who was more of a Commander USA’s Groovie Movies kind of person, sat down to watch it with me, but I folded right around the time Seth Brundle starts getting those giant back-hairs at the start of his flyification. Defeated by the yuck factor, I wandered off to my bedroom to read; occasionally Mom would yell out updates like “He just vomited acid!” or “His penis fell off and he put it in the medicine cabinet!” and I would yell back “THANKS FOR LETTING ME KNOW!” because that is how my family rolls.

Even though it would make one heck of a Found-Again Friday, I’ll probably never watch the entire Fly. But I made it through (and liked) Videodrome a few years ago, so when someone suggested 1981’s Scanners, I decided to go for it. After all, its classic head-exploding scene is pretty famous—so much so that the movie might be considered required viewing under my Deliverance Rule.”

And there was always a chance that would be the grossest part of the movie. Right?


The Premise: A generic government defense/intelligence agency hunts and captures Cameron Vale. Vale is a “scanner,” one of a small group of people who can telepathically mess with other people’s heads—at some pain to the scanner, and a whole lot of pain to us squishy-headed normals. After tutelage by mad scientist Dr. Ruth (Patrick McGoohan—if nothing else, the name proves at least Cronenberg can’t predict the future himself), Vale is sent out to track down a rogue scanner named Darryl Revok. It’s a name that is clearly up to no good, and the character is played by Michael Ironside, so Revok is basically doomed to be very, very evil.

What follows is a psionic version of spy vs. spy, with contacts and allies on both sides becoming casualties of Vale and Revok’s date with destiny.

The Verdict: What kept bugging me as I watched this unfold is something simple: why on earth can’t scanners seem to pick up when someone is after them with a gun? I’d almost bet there’s an explanation that I missed because I know very little about Cronenberg movies (see above re: squeamish as hell).

As a thriller and the story of a man’s search for his identity, Scanners is often excellent, with that bleak aesthetic shared by all 1.3 of the previous Cronenberg films I’ve seen. And while some of its scenes of scanners in action—the head-exploding scene, a sort of mind-melding ritual, Cameron almost killing a tweed-clad yogi—are outstanding, other times the telepathy feels underused or oddly used, and the movie has a bad case of that creeping cinema disease where things explode that really shouldn’t. Despite that (and some eyeball violence), it’s an absolutely worthwhile watch.

Might go well with: Videodrome; Firestarter.

Geez, even the trailer agrees this is a one-scene movie. It’s not!

J. A.

It reads. It writes. It watches. It researches. It overdoes many of those things!

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