Dir. David Cronenberg (1981)
There are 4 billion people on Earth. 237 of them are Scanners. And they can, like, explode people and shit.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
In one of the seminal horror/sci-fi films of the early 80’s, Scanners is a tale about a group of people who have the ability of telepathy and the extent to which those powers can be used to dangerous effect. These Scanners have the ability to not only read minds but to manipulate them, both mentally and physically. A private military company wants to use these Scanners to create a weapon that they can sell to the highest bidder, and when they put on a show for “financial and political VIPs from all over North America,” things go horribly awry and the company, Com Sec, loses six of its men to a Scanner assassin.
Horribly, horribly awry.
The company determines that there is an underground network of Scanners who are organized by an evil Scanner named Revok (the man from the private showing from earlier, played wonderfully and creepily by Michael Ironside) and are resistant to their use as superweapons, and they are determined to use their own Scanner, who they have kidnapped and believe to be under their control, to terminate this organization so that they can be the ones in charge of the Scanner weapons. Of course, these are people, not weapons, so things aren’t as cut and dry as they seem. They begin to train their captive to use his scanning powers for their purposes, but there are moments when it appears that he may be less willing to cooperate than his captors had hoped.
It really is a brilliant exercise in filmmaking by Cronenberg, because other than that one particular head-bursting scene, it’s basically just people staring at other people while they shake and the audio makes funny electronic noises. It manages, through Cronenberg’s sheer power of will and adept directorship, to make a movie that is tense, a little creepy, and an iconic cult classic with little actually occurring on-screen in a way beyond what the audience surmises from the context clues. The movie certainly manages to make you feel bad for the Scanners to a certain extent, in the same way that X-Men makes you feel bad for Wolverine: being a government project would suck, and the necessity of stripping the projects of their humanity and viewing them solely as a weapon has a purposefully dehumanizing effect. I discussed the way that governments systematically dehumanize their victims back in the Men Behind The Sun review, where the Japanese soldiers referred to their prisoners as “logs” to enable them to detach their mind from the captives’ humanity, and the way that the government contractors view the Scanners is no different.
This is a war between two exceedingly powerful entities (Revok and Com Sec) and all of the humans who are in their crossfire. It’s a tale as old as time, really, even though this version uses mind-exploding psychics. It is, in its essence, a rape-revenge thriller, though the rape in this context is of the mind rather than the body. It’s an action movie much more than it’s a horror movie, though there are certainly horror elements that Cronenberg manages to wield as powerfully as he always does. He shows himself to be the master of tension, allowing the buildup of these people’s powers to be felt rather than seen. The film has inspired a generation of children in much the same way that Skywalker’s use of The Force inspired that same generation. When staring at someone and shaking slightly, are you trying to move them with The Force or are you trying to explode their heads? Well, it all depends on which genre of film you grew up on…
I grew up with this one.
Who this movie is for: Horror and Sci-fi fans, Cronenberg completionists, Uri Gellar
Bottom line: This is a fun little film, but it’s certainly not Cronenberg’s best. It definitely enjoys some fine moments, and the headsplosion is legendary. If that’s all you’re in for, however, the first ten minutes of the film are all you need to watch. If you want to watch some fun, early-80’s tension-filled madness, the rest of the hour and a half are for you. The acting is competent for the most part, the direction is stellar as always, and you might be a little bored at times but you won’t regret watching.