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Dark and Dysphoric
MrVibrating29 August 2006
Scanners is Cronenberg's venture into telepathy and the strange workings of the mind(he seems to do one movie on each theme, doesn't he?) While it is not as good as many of his other movies, it's still worthwhile.

First of all, the effects are really good. Some shots easily beat what the best CGI can do today, and some are just plain sick(you'll jump, I promise you). I was actually scratching my head over some things, thinking "how did they do that?", which is a good measure of special effects skills.

Second, the atmosphere is very powerful. It's a dark and unknown world in here, and no-one living in it likes it at all. The characters are all slightly off colour, subnormal. Our hero is no exception. The unknown Stephen Lack does a good-enough job, what with all the grimacing and psycho-playing. The supporting cast is over all sufficient. A treat is, as usual, Michael Ironside, who gives his pretty simple character a nice edge and a personality.

As for the story, it's sometimes hard to follow, and sometimes it lacks something. The ending is a bit rushed as well(even though the climax is incredible).

Still, Scanners is a cult movie and if you can find time, and you're in the right mood, it's certainly worthwhile for it's innovative gore, moody atmosphere and Michael Ironside.

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David Cronenberg's Scanners!
Joseph P. Ulibas21 October 2004
Scanners (1981) was another one of David Cronenberg's "body in revolt" films. This one deals with people that have telepathic and telekinetic abilities. Not your average horror film because it's quite heady. That's what I like about Cronenberg, not only does he make great psychological horror/thrillers but he makes you think. Nothing is spoon feed to you. The splatter effects have given this movie it's much deserved place in one of the best horror set pieces ever made. Two scenes stand out the most. After watching this film you'll understand why gore hounds love this movie.

The only part of this movie that I would have changed would have been the lead. Mr. Lack was okay but I felt that Cronenberg could have found an actor with more experience. Michael Ironside was chilling, ice ran through his veins. This movie made his career as a movie heavy. Jennifer O'Neill was nice to look at and fit in well. A strong storyline and good directing made this one a must see.

I was very impressed with this movie. The soundtrack was apt for the movie.

I haven't watch this film in awhile. But after seeing it on D.V.D. recently, I'm still a big fan of Scanners. Sadly I'm not too fond of the sequels.


If you love heady horror films this is a must see.
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Probably one of the best sci-fi social commentaries of our time.
mccarthystuart9 November 2004
Well, were to begin?

First off, when I first saw Scanners, it really didn't do that much for me. Nowadays, I've learnt to view the film through more enlightened eyes, and appreciate it for the masterpiece that is most rightfully is.

Apart from the much-lauded 'exploding head' scene (which could have used a little more blood spattering everywhere) one of the film's most chilling scenes is at the very beginning when the lead character, Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) causes a woman to have a fit in a shopping mall before being captured by a pair of heavies. The scene was so convincingly played out that it really shock me up.

The more interesting aspect is the fact that most of these 'scanners'(or telepathic curiosities as the CEO of Consec calls them) are usually forced to live on the fringes of society as their telekinetic powers are feared and misunderstood by many. It would seem that the director, David Cronenberg, was using this plot device as a metaphor to comment on society's prejudicial attitudes towards the mentally ill. Like many of his low-budget horror films right up to 'The Fly' (1986) 'Scanners' has a very subversive, fly-on-the-wall take on society's ills. The modern society portrayed in 'Scanners' is a world viewed through the eyes of the outcast.

Throughout the film, there is a general feeling of starkness, from the synthesiser-tinged score by Howard Shore, to the general sparse look of the film. This gives the viewer a rather apt feeling of coldness and isolation.

Michael Ironside steals the show as the unhinged renegade scanner, Darryl Revok, who has a vast army of scanner converts at his disposal ready and willing to annihilate anyone unfortunate enough to stand in their way.

The only down side, however is the casting of Stephen Lack as Cameron Vale. Although he makes a fairly decent effort of playing his part, Lack just doesn't seem to have that much-needed 'spark' to bring his character to life.

All in all, 'Scanners' comes highly recommended as a 'must-see' feature.
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Another Cronenberg Classic Worth Seeing Repeatedly
gavin69425 March 2007
After a renegade scanner named Revok (a mutant human with advanced mental powers) causes another man's head to explode, he is hunted by a second scanner hired by a semi-secret scientific organization. Meanwhile, other scanners are picked off one by one, and the hunter is left with great moral and existential questions -- where did he come from, what is his purpose and is there a right or wrong side in this human/mutant battle?

Director David Cronenberg can seemingly do no wrong. As I watch one film after another of his, I wait to find one that is the pock mark on the perfect career. Some of his films (such as "Rabid" or perhaps "Stereo") may be of less quality than others, but I have yet to find one that is outright bad. "Scanners", for the record, ranks among his best and has become a cultural staple.

You know you are a culturally important film when you are referenced by "Wayne's World". But seriously, this film is a science fiction story that -- like many science fiction stories -- holds some greater cultural and moral issues worth investigating.

The issue of racism is here. Like the recent "X-Men" movies, and many other films, the idea of someone who is different in a superficial way (scanners look like ordinary humans) and is rejected raises the point that we as a society need to accept those who are not like us. Racism stinks, whether it appear in its purest form (skin color) or through religion or other means. And that is what makes this film so clever: the main character is a hero, but yet he is the outcast -- in some ways we see him as being more human than those who would have him killed.

This also happens to be a film that focuses on one of Cronenberg's strong points: his love of science. Or perhaps science gone wrong, if you will. Does any other director really tackle this as effectively as Cronenberg? I don't think so. (Imagine what would happen if he started making a series of Philip K. Dick novels into films.)

I suppose I did not really get into the film itself so much, but the beauty of the film is that what you take away from it if you view it critically is so much more than the plot or effects or lighting. Yes, you have a great cast (isn't Michael Ironside creepy?) and a head explodes. Yes, you have gun fights and mind control. Even a little bit of romance (but only just a pinch, nothing like a Goldblum-Davis connection in this one).

If you cannot tell, I want you to see this movie. If you're the type of person I am, you'll find this movie so smooth and refreshing on your mental palette that the film ends before you've even realized it began -- the sign of a really great film (or a really short one, which this isn't). Give it a chance, you'll like it.
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A common aspect of most great films is that they take time to sink in. Into their audience and into culture. Upon seeing a good film an audience will often know whether they've liked it or not, but what they won't know is quite why. That is what takes time to sink in. As a film is thought about and even seen again once or twice does it become great. It is the basic test of time that all classics must pass in order to achieve that honored status. The term "instant-classic" has always been a marketing gimmick since if you can take in the whole of a film instantly it means that it didn't offer a lot and isn't as good as it could have been.

David Cronenberg's films are those films that you have to see more than once. Many people today don't get that that's where the fun of a good story is: it's not a quick fix of special effects, but rather something that grows on you. Even if you end up not liking the film, the thinking about it and possibly re-seeing it will tell you WHY. Today many people don't care to go that far and just settle on eye candy. Nothing is wrong with eye candy, but when your mother told you to eat your vegetables, she wasn't just talking about food.

"Scanners" is not just a great film that was ahead of its time when it came out, it is a great director's first conceptual masterpiece. Cronenberg showed much promise with his early works, but he was clearly on the learning curve. With "Scanners" he make use of bigger sets, more expansive special effects all while presenting a frightening aspect of ever developing computer technology in an interesting story. The kicker is that most of what the film presents is relevant in more ways than one to today's world. Maybe not quite word for word, but this film is quite prophetic and a science fiction classic. --- 9/10

Rated R for violence and gore. Ages 13+
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Mind-Blowing Experience
BaronBl00d19 November 2001
Scanners is a film about a group of human mutants that are able to basically make people go mad, and finally they can make their minds actually explode. Supposedly created out of the scientific work of a scientist working on a product for pregnant women(or something like that), the scanners(as they are called) are divided into two factions. One is out to destroy all other scanners and the other works for the labs that created them. This is an intensely philosophical film filled with many thought-provoking questions and issues. Director David Cronenberg again uses the idea of the human body in an aberrated state as the focus for terror. He directs with style and suspense, and uses a lot more gore in this than most of his previous features. Don't let that keep you from seeing this film. the acting is solid all around with Stephen Lack giving a nice performance in the lead, and Michael Ironsides giving yet another chilling performance of dementia. He sure can play one sick and crazy guy! Patrick McGoohan plays the fatherly scientist with style and finesse. One of Cronenberg's best!
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David Cronenberg's sci-fi classic
Rautus15 November 2007
David Cronenberg is a great director, he's made classic movies like The Brood, The Dead Zone, The Fly, History of Violence, Eastern Promises, etc. Scanners is definitely one of his best films, the effects are gory and memorable especially the famous head exploding scene, the final battle is also beautifully done. The acting is great especially from Michael Ironside who does a wonderful job as the villain Derol Revok. The music is good, the theme at the start and end is great.

Scanners is a sci-fi masterpiece from a great director, one of David Cronenberg's best films. This film defiantly should be seen, check this out. 10/10
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A flawed gem...
mentalcritic18 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
In 1980, our understanding of our own world as we continued to look to the stars was beginning to look rather incomplete. Nowhere is this more apparent today as in the field of neuroscience and mental health, where so-called charities are hard at work trying to convince people they are diseased when they really have more in common with the likes of Einstein or Spielberg. I say this because it has suddenly become trendy to make films that proclaim to explore the daily life difficulties of people who share this divergence, yet they are all flawed in one manner. By trying so hard to dramatise and commercialise something the makers have no understanding of, they create caricatures that are ridiculous and insulting. Much of my own video work concerns the fact that when films do get it right, they do so entirely by accident. Blade Runner was one such film. Scanners, David Cronenberg's first film to gain an international release (and at the time when home video was becoming a reality), is another.

Scanners is set in a contemporary time, not wishing to make any odd predictions about our future. The only clues to the time in which the story takes place are historical references to the development of a synthetic hormone given to women during the gestational period. This drug is overtly designed to calm or sedate the women in question, but it has the effect of altering the neurology of their children. Said children grow up with the thoughts of every individual around them echoing in their heads until a point is reached where they break down. One such individual, we see as an adult named Cameron Vale. After hearing the thoughts of a woman repulsed by his appearance, and causing her to have a seizure with his reaction, he is pulled from the street by shady government agents. When he awakens, a doctor Paul Ruth sits with him and explains, at least partly, why he has been in such an acute state of distress for so long. What he neglects to tell his latest subject is that there are plenty of other scanners out there, and not all of them are nice.

As if we needed any demonstration of that last fact, we cut to the inside of the government facility the good doctor works for. There, a scanner who has been "tamed" is giving a demonstration of his powers. Asking for a volunteer, he is met with reluctance until a seemingly ordinary man from what appears to be the scientific community puts up a hand. Asked to think of an unclassified secret that does not relate to his own organisation, the volunteer sits and calmly participates. But the man giving the demonstration shows increasing distress, convulsing and shaking as if being tortured. If you have already seen the film, you know what is coming. If you have not seen Scanners, no amount of description can prepare you. Literally, our lecturer is scanned to death, as in his head explodes. While this was not Michael Ironside's first role, starlets being groomed to be the next Nicole Kidman could not hope for a better introduction. And thus, we have the first of many performances from Ironside as a mean, ruthless sod.

This is why Scanners is a deeply flawed would-be masterpiece. While a protagonist is only as strong as your antagonist allows him to be, Stephen Lack is best summed up in the primary role by his surname. He lacks charisma, he lacks emotion, he even looks like he lacks a pulse. This would explain why Jennifer O'Neill, passive and inactive as she is, received top billing. This is why actors who can draw an audience can command millions of dollars in fees. Put simply, one does not notice when a film has halfway decent actors because they are doing their job. That job, at least in part, is to shore up the reality of the film they are in. For all the complaints I have heard people throw around regarding the abilities of actors like Hayden Christensen or others of his generation, they might as well be Ian McKellen or Christopher Lee when compared to Lack or O'Neill. They are totally the wrong people to build a film around, and were I remaking the film with similar actors, I would shift focus to make Ironside's character the hero.

The plot also becomes a problem in the final act. Cronenberg unwisely attempts to explain the origins of the scanner phenomenon, where our hero fits into it, what makes Daryl Revok the way he is, and why the good doctor is not so good, almost all in the one half hour. The end result is disjointed, although not quite pointless. Cronenberg does manage to spin the final scene into something of a climax, but the loss of the thread is really only highlighted by the fact that audiences remember the head explosion, a sequence that occurs in the first two reels of the film, better than the final scanning battle. Not that I am too surprised, as that shot was a tough act to follow. Nonetheless, the film's highlights are many, and they more than make up for most of the problems. The only problem that remains is that the scale of the story is simply too big for the budget, the technical expertise available, and the running time. Fortunately, Cronenberg was able to rectify this in his subsequent projects.

When I add it all up, I consider Scanners an eight out of ten film. It is almost a masterpiece, and a must-have for fans of gore or outsider stories.
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Scanners is one of Cronenberg's early films of worth
tavm28 April 2007
David Cronenberg is one of the most provocative horror directors ever as one of his early films like Scanners proves. Stephen Lack has just been picked by Dr. Patrick McGoohan to infiltrate a sinister organization of scanners-people of telepathic abilities. Lack is one of them who gets administrated a drug to control his more intense urges. Michael Ironside is the one they're looking for. Jennifer O'Neill, Lawrence Dane, and Robert Silverman also lend support. See heads explode and veins pop! There's lots of exposition but more than enough gore and action to satisfy any hard core fans out there. Film actually seemed a little short but there's not a wasted minute here. All Cronenberg and horror fans should definitely seek this one out.
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Could have been stronger in several key areas but is still worth seeing
bob the moo9 January 2006
Within "normal" society exists a new breed of person who possess telepathic powers. They are small in number but their powers makes them very dangerous – but also very powerful in the hands of the right people. Dr Paul Ruth runs a secretive programme trying to develop the power into a weapon but he only has one recruit – Cameron Vale. When Ruth's programme is violently attacked by scanner Darryl Revok, they realise that the battle is being lost and they prepare Vale to go undercover, in filtrate Revok's group and lead them to him.

As everyone and their dog knows, this film is always talked about for the infamous scene near the start where we are first shown the power of the scanners, however there are many scenes across the whole film that are just as strong as that one. The opening scene is powerful as it shows the ability Vale has and the lack of control he has over it while the scene where Revok escapes capture is even more sinister and gripping. This pretty much carries across the whole film although there are some slows spots and parts of the story that don't hang together as well as they should. Cronenberg is famous for his body horror but he does do tension well and here he is solid when called upon. The low budget does show through at times but mostly it is good.

The acting is a little bit ropey though, which is maybe where the limitations do show through. Lack is OK but he isn't anything special – he can say his lines well enough and not fall over while walking but he can't bring out much more below the surface than that. He reminded me of the old b-movie matinée stars who have good jaws but not much else. McGoohan is better and his presence is welcome in his scenes. Ironside is hammy but enjoyable perhaps not having as much screen time as I would have liked but effective when he is. The support is mostly pretty average, O'Neill is OK but the rest are so-so and are sometime amusing as they get scanned.

Overall though this is a classic cult film. The plot moves forward well enough although I would have liked more real life commentary from Cronenberg above the general "mental illness" metaphor that it acts as but his direction otherwise is good. The cast are mostly only OK but they do enough to keep the story moving while moments of horror and tension are well served up. Could have been better in several key areas but is still worth seeing.
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Scarecrow-8826 June 2008
Warning: Spoilers
"Telepathic curiosities", or Scanners, created by a mysterious drug given to pregnant women causing a "malfunction" during the birth cycle giving the infants mental powers that are a burden and blessing, are considered a threat to national security if not controlled or quarantined. Scanners look completely human, which in itself makes the task of finding them difficult for agents in the fields. But, those burdened with this phenomenon are unsettled by a cacophony of peoples' thoughts, joined in a chorus of unpleasant noises which cause major problems in living a normal existence. A certain drug, created by a Dr. Paul Ruth(the always excellent Patrick McGoohan, the type of actor who commands the screen the moment he's first shown)named Ephemerol can cease the noises, dissipating the constant agonizing arrangements of others' thoughts and feelings. A rogue Scanner, Darryl Revok(Michael Ironside)is being pursued by a scientific organization named Consec, which devote research in the study of Scanners and have Ruth under their employ. Revok is supposedly operating an underground Scanners movement to control those without their special abilities, and through a traitor in Consec, Braedon Keller(Lawrence Dane), have been running a company created by Ruth(who sold the company to Consec, joining their organization devoted to Scanners and their uncharted potential for the future), Biocarbon Amalgamate, issuing a drug to doctors for their pregnant patients, which can create a new breed of Scanners. Ruth hopes to infiltrate Revok's group using an unknown Scanner, living as a bum on the streets, Cameron Vale(Stephen Lack)in the hopes of stopping him. On his journey, and with the help of ephemeral which calms the storm that's been tormenting him, Vale will meet Kim Obrist(Jennifer O'Neill)who leads a Scanner movement in the attempts to harmonize themselves, fitting into society instead of following Revok's goal of terror. Obrist and her group's lives are in danger because any Scanner who doesn't follow Revok suffer the consequences. But, there's a special link between Vale and Revok, and Ruth is much more than what he appears.

Watching Cronenberg's "Scanners" for the first time since I was a teenager, I must still say I'm in awe of the final effects sequence depicting a gruesome mental telepathic showdown between Revok and Vale. The modern computer graphic techniques of today just don't impress me like these home-made make-up effects where you see nerves bulge through the skin, eyeballs pop out, a face peeling, and, of course, a head exploding. Obviously, the head explosion gained "Scanners" the cred and momentum needed for film-goers to check it out, but I think Cronenberg really puts a great deal of thought into what indeed makes that effects sequence take shape. Revok agrees to scan a host of a meeting showing the slow effects of such an ability, with the end result being a head blowing apart. But, that final scene, where Revok tires of Vale's heroics in following Obrist's peaceful ideals, planning to "suck his brain dry" you have quite a yucky turn of events that still floored me..impressive considering this film is nearly 30 years old. Maybe, you have to look past the logistics of a Scanner using his mental powers to remove data from a computer's data bank(..the script explains that a Scanner links with another's nervous system not brain, and a computer also has a nervous system) with an override destruct sequence causing a lab's technical equipment to explode blasting personnel across the room, burning power lines, and even a melting phone, but I felt the overall film has a fascinating underlying theme of how those with "unique abilities" are considered "inhuman freaks", and if they are to be treated as lab animals, a revolt through the creation of a Scanner army, will achieve the goals of the cast-aways. Ironside is riveting as the formidable Revok, feared by Consec and the innocent Scanners who just wish to co-exist with the rest of the human race. O'Neill is still quite lovely as the doe-eyed Obrist who watches in horror as Revok slaughters her people joining forces with the wooden Lack. My favorite part of the film, besides the final effects sequence, is the art museum sequence where Vale meets a rather unstable Scanner named Pierce whose surreal pieces really leave a lasting impression..Pierce uses his art to keep him centered, with Cronenberg perhaps saying that through art, a troubled soul can find a type of tranquility. I think watching "Scanners" you see a birth of the artistry of special effects which would evolve to great depths such as "The Thing" and Cronenberg's own "Videodrome."
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A powerful telepath or Scanner since childhood uses his powers to track down a nasty renegade
ma-cortes17 February 2013
Shock specialist David Cronenberg brings us this above average terror film , that he wrote as well as filmed . There are 4 billion people on earth , 237 are Scanners. They have the most terrifying powers ever created and they are winning . A scientist (Patrick McGoohan) sends a man named Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) with extraordinary psychic powers to hunt others like him . They have superpowers who can read and explode brains ; in addition , they can inflict enormous pain/damage on their victims . Then , there takes place a lethal war among a bunch of potent persons with extrasensory powers , the good boys led by Cameron (Stephen Lack) and the bad guys commanded by Revok (Michael Ironside) .

Interesting and formidable Cronenberg film plenty of thrills , shocking scenes , suspense , intrigue , plot twists and being slightly entertaining , though sometimes slow-moving and receives a rather plodding treatment. The main theme of the film was taken from William S. Burroughs' 1959 novel 'Naked Lunch' , as it contains a chapter concerning "Senders", a hostile organization of Telepaths bent on world domination, a clear literary inspiration for this film . Dazzling , hypnotic entertainment that poses a challenge to its viewers , it was deemed extremely graphic for its time with some eerie scenes as when heads explode . Occasionally confusing but otherwise excellent film , portraying a peculiar ring with psychical powers . Hightlights of the picture are its first shocking scene in which a role's head blows up , spewing bone, flesh and blood all over and of course , the creepy final confrontation among protagonists. Good special effects and make-up made by expert Dick Smith and his helper Chris Wallas, the exploding head scene was accomplished by filling a latex head with dog food and rabbit livers, and shooting it from behind with a 12-gauge shotgun . The picture was well and originally directed by David Cronenberg who delivers his goods with solid skill . However , Cronenberg once called this the most frustrating film he'd ever made. The film was rushed through production , filming had to begin without a finished script and end within roughly two months so the financing would qualify as a tax write-off, forcing Cronenberg to write and shoot at the same time. Cronenberg also cited difficulty with and antagonism between the leads, particularly Patrick McGoohan and Jennifer O'Neill.

It was followed by various sequels , in which Cronenberg had no connection to his 1981 flick , these are the followings : ¨Scanners 2 : The New Order ¨ by Christian Duguay with David Hewlett , Deborah Raffin , Tom Butler and Raoul Trujillo ; ¨Scanners III: The Takeover¨ by Christian Duguay with Liliana Komorowska , Valérie Valois , Steve Parrish and Colin Fox ; ¨Scanner Cop¨ by Pierre David with Daniel Quinn , Darlanne Fluegel , Richard Grove , Mark Rolston and Richard Lynch, and ¨Scanner cop II , the showdown¨ by Steve Barnett with Daniel Quinn , Patrick Kilpatrick , Stephen Mendel and Robert Forster , among others .
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Occasionally creative but mostly just plain bad
Mike P1 February 2007
On the good side, the special exploding body effects are good and the "artist" scanner's sculptures are memorable and disturbing.

On the bad side, the lead actor, Stephen Lack, has about the acting ability of a brick. I haven't seen acting this bad outside of Mystery Science Theater 3000. The movie moves slowly and fills the long spaces between action with overly involved exposition or pointless filler, and the "twist" at the end of the film is cheesy enough to make one cringe.

Cronenberg is a great director, but only when he has a budget for something other than just special effects and only when he DOESN'T write the screenplay. Avoid.
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Interesting cult chiller/horror made on a budget.....
guardkid20 December 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Scanners is one of those films that occasionally gets shown on terrestrial TV and when it does, I always try to see it. Yeah its dated -like many of the films that were made right at the end of the 70's or beginning of the 80's.

It has to be said there is some poor acting especially from the terrible actor who played the lead role in Cameron Vale. A young Michael Ironside is perfectly cast however as the menacing Darryl Revok and Patrick McGoohan adds a bit of quality as the mysterious, flawed Doctor Ruth.

The film starts off very well, but the second half is disappointing especially towards the end, what with Cameron Vale accessing a computer with his psychic powers (yes it was 1980- and films tended to be very exuberant about computers back then), and the disappointing way in which Dr Ruth and the corrupt informant Keller were killed off.

The music creates a very dark and disturbing atmosphere throughout and the film ends with a gory psychic duel between Revok and Vale illustrating some of the dubious special effects. Yes it's flawed and weird at times but definitely worth seeing if you're into alternative thriller/horror movies. I give it 6/10.
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Brilliant underrated Sci-fi shocker!
Darth-Helmet15 May 2009
In a world populated among humans, there is a race of super-powered mutant human beings called "Scanners" who have a unique form of ESP that can read minds even destroy them literally including machines through telekinesis as well. Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) is a homeless Scanner who was minding his own business until he is to be given a task by a kind doctor named Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan) to hunt down an evil scanner named Daryl Revok (Michael Ironside). Joining with him is a female Scanner named Kim (Jennifer O'Neil) along his side they must try to track him and his goons down before he has a plan to take over the human race.

A solid and underrated cult Science Fiction horror thriller from the brilliant David Cronenberg. Sure Stephen Lack's acting is very weak but the other actors like McGoohan and Ironside are just great aside from wooden Lack, i also love the realistic and gruesome make-up and gore effects by Dick Smith and Chris Wallace that still hold up today very realistically without CGI such as the famed exploding head scene everyone remembers. I also like Howard Shore's chilling music score long before his scores to "Silence of the Lambs" or "Lord of the Rings", the film is a metaphor on birth defects and how a drug can mutate a child into something different that they will grow up into even something dangerous. It also does offer a statement on humanity and how another race of being can be accepted or discriminated against sort of like how the "X-Men" movies worked out.

It's definitely not for the squeamish but for those looking for a good thrilling and intelligent Sci-fi horror thriller then this is it.

Also recommended: "Videodrome", "Akira", "Firestarter", "The Dead Zone (1983)", "Carrie", "Making Contact (a.k.a. Joey)", "Re-Animator", "Maniac (1980)", "The Brood", "The Fly (1986)", "The Toxic Avenger", "C.H.U.D.", "Dawn of the Dead (1978 and 2004)", "The X-Files 1 & 2", "X-Men Trilogy", "The Thing (1982)", "X-Men Origins: Wolverine", "Rabid", "Ichi The Killer", "Grindhouse", "Tokyo Gore Police", "The Shining", "From Beyond", "Brainstorm", "Altered States", "Blade Runner", "28 Days Later", "Return of the Living Dead 3", "28 Weeks Later", "Day of the Dead (1985)", "Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky", "ExistenZ", "Suspect Zero", "The Gift", "Tetsuo The Iron Man", "Hulk", "The Incredible Hulk (2008)", "Cannibal Apocalypse", "Inside", "Twilight Zone The Movie", "Final Destination Series", "Tourist Trap", "Chopping Mall", "Halloween III: Season of the Witch", "The Blob (1988)", "An American Werewolf in London", "Pyrokinesis", "Battle Royale" and "The Hills Have Eyes (2006)".
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"We're gonna do this the Scanner way...I'm gonna suck your brain dry!"
Scott LeBrun23 August 2014
Cameron Vale (played by artist Stephen Lack) is a derelict who, after a bizarre incident in a shopping mall, is rounded up by two goons who bring him to eminent doctor Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan). Paul reveals to Cameron the reality of his situation: Cameron is in fact a "Scanner", or a person with extraordinary telepathic abilities. Scanners can not only look into the minds of others, and manipulate them, but can also do very unpleasant things to human bodies. Paul recruits Cameron to help him track down Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside, in his breakthrough role), a rogue Scanner with plans for world domination.

The late, great Dick Smith was the special consultant to the makeup effects crew (Stephan Dupuis, Chris Walas, Tom Schwartz), and it's these effects that take center stage in this interesting and bleak thriller from Canadian legend David Cronenberg. The exploding head that everybody remembers so vividly actually occurs only about 13 and a half minutes into the show, so viewers don't have long to wait. Of course, as has been pointed out, how does one top something like that? Well, Cronenberg waits until the end to come up with a pretty good showdown between good Scanner and bad Scanner.

The pace is admittedly deliberate, but the ideas unfortunately don't feel completely fleshed out. Quite a bit of exposition is packed into the last act. The filming of this classic wasn't particularly enjoyable for Cronenberg as he *did* have to begin filming before his script was even finished, so he *was* unfortunately rushed. Still, his story is a damn entertaining and intense one.

Howard Shores' music score is wonderfully over the top and scary, and sets and locations do have a very sparse look. The acting is variable; McGoohan looks bored, as if he doesn't really want to be there, and Jennifer O'Neill, while beautiful, doesn't really add anything to the film. Lack gets a lot of flak for his performance, which I'll agree isn't a particularly dynamic one, but it does suit the character, a man who was a lonely fringe dweller for a long time until being awakened into a larger reality. (Cronenberg does make an effective parallel here to the way that real life people with mental issues get treated.) Former Cronenberg repertory player Robert A. Silverman is fun in another of his offbeat parts, and Lawrence Dane is excellent as security chief Braedon Keller, but it's Ironside who completely steals the show as the nasty villain.

While not without flaws, "Scanners" remains one of its directors' most memorable efforts to date.

Seven out of 10.
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Fun, trashy, hastily made early Cronenberg action movie, designed to appeal to gore-hounds and teens
tieman645 October 2011
Warning: Spoilers
"In Nature, there is an accessible element and an inaccessible." - Goethe

Due to several of Canada's film financing regulations, David Cronenberg began work on "Scanners" with little preparation and without a completed script. The film's eventual screenplay – generic, conventional and easy - was hastily cobbled together even as scenes were being shot. Until 1986, it was Cronenberg's most profitable film.

The plot: Dr. Paul Ruth creates Ephemerol, a tranquilliser for pregnant women. Ephemerol has the unfortunate side-effect of creating "scanners", offspring with telekinetic and telepathic powers. Cameron Vale is one such scanner. He's recruited by Ruth in an attempt to develop psychic weapons. Unfortunately a group of evil scanners, led by the sinister Darryl Revok, hatch a plot to control all scanners and take over the world. Revok and Vale – one good scanner, one bad – are then revealed to be the sons of Dr Ruth. The brothers face off in a telepathic battle in which Vale dies, but not before switching minds with Revok.

"Scanners" works well as a trashy B-movie; a brain-busting sci-fi comic book in the vein of John Carpenter's movies, DePalma's "The Fury" or Cameron's "The Terminator". Cronenberg adds some Greek tragedy – daddy births two sons, the good of which survives but with evil potential forever locked within – but mostly "Scanners" is interesting for its links to later Cronenberg.

And so like many of Cronenberg's films, "Scanners" deals clunkyly with Cartesian dualism (essentially refuted in the 17th century) and what has come to be known as "the mind-body problem". This "hard problem" encompasses a range of issues (is there a mind? Are minds and bodies distinct? How can the immaterial causally interact with the material? How can you bring mental phenomena into a unified conception of objective reality? etc) but what "Scanners" mostly focuses on is causality: is it the mind or body which is responsible for effect? So while Descartes believed that the body and mind, or flesh and spirit, exist as distinct substances, the body governed by physical laws of nature and the mind by a pure, personal will which lords over all that is physical, Cronenberg's early films tend to critique Cartesian binaries and warn against an over-privileging of the mind as an agent of pure intention. Consider "The Fly", in which a scientist's body rebels against a mind that seeks total autonomy and "M. Butterfly", in which a homosexual's disconnect between body and mind results in a set of delusions and neuroses which can only be resolved by acknowledging both. Meanwhile, with "Scanners" we have an army of "world changers" who misperceive their heads as being the source of causation, telekinesis and physical manipulation. Like Desartes, they believe their brains literally move the world. Their delusions are then dismantled as the film progresses, their "mind powers" peeled back to reveal that causality lies elsewhere: the manipulations of others, daddy's will, DNA, the chemicals pumping through their bodies, the drugs ingested by their parents, outside, social forces, and Ephemerol (ironic, a drug designed to "paralyse" causing "super-action"), a drug which conjures up epiphenomenalism, the philosophical position which states that the mind/brain has no effect upon physical events. The film reverses Cronenberg's "Shivers", "Rabid" and "Fly" - in which technologically mutated bodies produce knock-on psychological mutations – and joins films like "The Brood" and "Videodrome", in which altered states in the brain produce new, bizarre and grotesque somantic states.

Techno-cults and weird, quasi-religious sects are common in Cronenberg's filmography, but dualism itself seems to be a sort of rationalisation of Christianity's core myths. That is, the belief that man was expelled from paradise and cast into a fleshy world of sin, mortality and diseased matter, the latter in which our souls are supposedly encased. As science gradually replaced Christianity, however, such thinking was "rationalised" into Cartesian dualism (the spirit becomes the mind, the body the object of sin), before the concept was dropped altogether in favour for a kind of materialist reductionism. Here, all mental phenomena become illusory by-products of chemical and electrical activity, the world and our bodies move from being seen as corrupt to being seen as essentially meaningless, disease becomes a mechanical glitch, and all connections and correlations made between the mental and the physical are seen as being irrelevant or superstitious. The danger of this, of course, is the denial of the outside, of social causation, a depoliticization of science/medicine and a reinforcement of Capital's drive towards atomistic individualisation; everything outside the body is now irrelevant. Take a pill instead.

Today the "hard problem" is veering toward quantum physics, some "explaining" consciousness with the "quantum consciousness hypothesis", which rejects classical mechanics. One of the ideas here is that an unobserved system behaves or evolves in a purely deterministic fashion, and that during this period it exists as a "superposition" of all possible experimental outcomes. Only when one measures or observes the system does this state collapse and provide a specific value for the measurement, though quantum mechanics itself does not offer a specific cause for this collapse. Regardless, the idea is that the division between "system" and "observer" is akin to our own minds, which themselves cause quantum collapses. Prior to the action of our minds, a system exists as a superposition of all outcomes that are compatible with the laws of physics. Our mind then exercises will by choosing a potential outcome. Quantum uncertainty (conveniently for believers, no experimental tests can reveal the actions of a quantum mind) then produces pure randomness in non-living systems and apparent free will in living systems. The main argument against the quantum mind proposition is that quantum states in the brain would decohere before they reached a spatial or temporal scale, at which they could be useful for neural processing.

7.9/10 – Worth one viewing.
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Literally Mindblowing Horror Classic Of Misfit Telepaths Planning World Domination
ShootingShark11 December 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Cameron Vale is a down-and-out with unique mental abilities to read the thoughts of others and control their bodies. He is rescued by Dr Paul Ruth, an unusual scientist who seems to understand his condition perfectly. Vale is sent out to locate others like himself but is Dr Ruth telling him the whole story …

David Cronenberg has always been one of my favourite directors, but I particularly like his middle period. His films up to The Brood have some amateurish elements and from Dead Ringers on he starts to get a bit too critically respected, but the movies in between, starting with Scanners, are all top quality horror. What I especially like is his ability to take avant-garde, off-the-wall ideas - the telepathy / psychokinesis notion here - and explore it in the most outlandish and experimental ways, yet still be grounded in an entertaining story. Thus, on one level this movie is an exciting thriller with car chases, explosions, corporate intrigue, traitors and family secrets. But on the other it's an art film; the hero scans a computer, a foetus in the womb is a scanner, there is a group scanner mind-sex scene, one scanner drills a hole in his head to let out the voices, whilst another builds a twenty-foot model of his own head and sits in it to escape them. Cronenberg is cerebral and can't resist exploring these ideas, but he also knows the value of good story, shocks and vigorous pacing. The whole movie can be taken as an industrial thriller, a medical conspiracy plot (with echoes of the infamous Thalidomide scandal) or one man's search for existential meaning - take your pick. For me, it does have one big liability and that's the lead duo of Lack and O'Neill, both of whom are stiff and uninteresting. This may be somewhat deliberate, because the story is so crazy, but also because McGoohan and Ironside contrast with such dynamic, extreme performances - they're both fantastic. Everything else however is first rate - Carol Spier's cold clinical production design of dank warehouses and ugly sinister office blocks, Mark Irwin's sharp photography, the noisy head-filling sound effects and Howard Shore's unsettling proto-electronic music all combine to create an atmosphere of uneasy tension. Special mention however must go to makeup maestros Dick Smith and Chris Walas for creating the unforgettably gory final showdown and the sequence with Del Grande, which gets my vote for best exploding head ever, bar none. I'm an old school effects fan, and this scene for me shows the value of not using CG - Walas built a plaster cast, filled it with butcher's leftovers and then blew it apart with a shotgun. It may be a basic approach but it looks sensational. If it doesn't shock you, you're already dead. One of the quintessential horror films of the late seventies / eighties renaissance period, this is great disturbing fun for both undiscerning fright fans and cult cinema students. I also think it represents the great Canadian director at his most imaginative, potent and entertaining - don't miss it.
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A disappointment
daniel charchuk14 December 2007
I was pretty disappointed. It's more of a step down than a step up for Cronenberg; it seemed like he was sacrificing his vision to make a mainstream-friendly film. As a result, the film is basically a bunch of great scenes strung along by a generic, rather lame plot and some truly terrible performances. Even so, those scenes - the exploding head, the phone line stuff, the final battle - are so fantastic and so memorable in their own right that they make it worth getting through everything that comes between. Just a brilliant combination of sound and image in those sequences. So, overall, the film is nothing great, but it's not a complete wreck, either.
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Excellent Scary Movie!!
fluna103028 October 2008 some movie admirers, this one is a keeper as well as a big favorite!! Anyways, released in 1981, this is the story of a man named Cameron Vale played by Stephen Lack. Like some like him, he possesses a power or a talent.....whichever you decide. He is introduced to Dr. Paul Ruth. A consultant at "Con Sec" who works with these persons known as "Scanners". He (Vale) is sent out into the world to find, convert & send over to ConSec. However, there is another Scanner by the name of Daryl Revok...played wonderfully by Michael Ironside who is on the same trail of other scanners but there's a twist. Revok is trying to convert other scanners to his cause.....but the ones who don't, well,......take it from there. Written & Directed by David Cronenberg, Scanners has made a name for itself ....especially in this one scene where a man (who works for ConSec) asks for volunteers to demonstrate the "scanning techniques". BE WARNED! This particular scene is NOT for the squeamish. Aside from that, Scanners is a movie that is sure to shock as well as scare you. I still have a 1st. edition VHS copy of this movie released on Embassy Home Video. It has since been released on DVD courtesy of MGM Home Video...and it's in Letterbox. This is a movie that definitely belongs in any collection. ....oh, by the way, Jennifer O'neill is as pretty as ever in this movie. Enjoy!!
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I'm amazed Cronenberg had a career after this
Shawn Watson8 November 2013
Having never seen Scanners, despite many movie magazines hyping it during my youth, and several home video incarnations coming and going over years, I naively assumed that it would be as good as hype led me to believe. It's not. It's a ramshackle, barely coherent bore populated by the most unattractive cast of characters, gruesome early 80s fashions, a dull, depressing production design, sound effects that are about 1 second out of sync, laughable technology, a musical score that sounds like a cat fitting on a broken synthesizer and some of the worst acting I have ever seen.

The confusing story has a drifter played by Stephen Lack (who's surname surely refers to his acting ability) taken in by Doctor Ruth (no, not that one - an old man played by Longshanks himself) of the ConSec company and informed that he is in fact a scanner - a person capable of ESP and telepathic abilities (or "Tellow-pathic" as one of the company elders proclaims). Apparently there is another scanner out there (played by low-rent Jack Nicholson Michael Ironside) who is recruiting like-minded people (pun intended) to his evil scheme. Anyone who resists gets their head blown up with his powers.

The potential in Scanners is immense. This is a universe that could go literally anywhere and do anything with it. But I am led to believe that the sequels are very poor (even worse than this?) and the two spin-offs beyond that are apparently even worse. I never thought I say this, but a remake of this movie would be welcome. A 2-hour remake or even a Scanners TV show would make magic of the premise, but it's squandered on a low-budget piece of crap movie like this. I do understand that Cronenberg was under pressure to get the film in the can very quickly, and some of signature style is barely detectable within, however no mitigating circumstances can make me see past the multiple problems.
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Hmmm.. :) Very hmmmm...
lostgallifreyan31 December 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Magnificently bad! And you won't have to see it all to get the best out of it, I reckon the first 6 minutes or so will do. I guess if you enjoy gurning competitions you might want to see more.

The exploding head scene is fun, it starts out with the guy looking like John Cleese about to throw a fit, then he pops like a nice big liver-filled red balloon, loudly. Three rewinds to view the astoundingly unbespattered white desk and headless corpse mysteriously AWOL, and I'd laughed enough to know to quit while I was ahead. :) The acting at the start is odd, anyone who's seen any of the represented feelings and states of living will know these for the awful clichés that they are. To be fair, there's a scientist who should have been enlisted to play the Master in Doctor Who, but the rest look like relics from movies and attitudes 10 years earlier than when the movie was made, or more likely a slightly dim-witted idea of those times.

I can't comment on the rest of the thing, as I didn't want to see any more.
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rtypically cool, strange Cronenberg kind of horror movie, with a few genuine ideas
MisterWhiplash3 August 2007
Scanners will definitely be one of those films I'll check out on a moments notice- if it's on late at night on the sci-fi channel that is. It's a work that sometimes tries for the low-key, and other times goes for the ultra-gory and darkly comic, but it's all pulled off nicely by director David Cronenberg with help from horror make-up legend Dick Smith. It's a story that seems to be just a pure good vs evil thriller, with Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) and Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside), where one doesn't even quite know what he is and how he can hear so many voices at once thinking in unison, and the other kills people by controlling their minds, sometimes to make their heads explode. Yet there's another element thrown in, which has to do with industry and corporations (or rather one corporation) invests interest in making sure a drug called Ephemerol (real drug (?)), to put a control on pregnant women- but it doesn't quite work. This is expanded upon, the more one thinks about it, into the idea of mind-control, and how clarity of the mind works for a scanner (i.e. the scene where the scanners are 'communing' before a shoot-out occurs, psychically linked a bit).

Other ideas start to flow from there, and it's fascinating to see how they fly out in little spurts- if not as strongly as in Naked Lunch or History of Violence- while the carnage goes on. Some of it is just downright delirious; I loved the scene where Keller, by gun-point, makes programmers try to 'turn off' Vale by tapping into the frequency that he's already been trying to jam on the other side through a phone line. Chaos ensues as we see computer chips freak out, Vale's mind goes into a freeze, then he snaps out and comes back with a big wallop that sends the power line crashing down- not too oddly enough right next to a gas station where the pump's become unhinged- and huge explosions start coming out on both ends. Cronenberg has as a sidebar the true perils of technology in dealing with such a concept like telekinesis and taking it a step further into the realm of morality and free-will (as Kim says she did before coming to Com-Sec with Vale). Meanwhile, Cronenberg keeps on with about as many shoot-outs and explosions and mania as a B-movie touched slightly by dementia, and it's usually a sweet ride technically (even if one is certain after a while which of the scanners will love or not, particularly when a van drives alongside the one holding the scanners and bullets ring out).

The big draw, of course, for most viewers are the head explosions. Actually, there's only one, but in a way it's not a bad thing really. I liked that Cronenberg uses gore, not just in the case of Scanners but in the bulk of his work, to illustrate a point (when one hears him in interviews, it's clear he takes ultra gory and horrifically bloody and organ-y violence seriously, unlike many of todays would-be horror directors). And when the head-explosion comes, it's both horrific and, in a perfect way, hilarious. We know something terrible will happen by the near spaghetti-western length drawing out of the scanner match between Redek and the other guy, and when it comes it's akin to when in RoboCop the executive gets killed by the big battle robot- you know it's coming, but it's still the thought and build-up that counts. And bear in mind, as it is Dick Smith, the climax will not disappoint even for the most weathered genre aficionado. While the biggest flaws would be in a few scenes dragging (the dialog from Ruth before his demise chiefly), and Lack's dearth of talent, it's very worthwhile to see even if you're not terribly familiar with the director. It's low-budget and inventive within the bounds of the plot.
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Never mess with the Ironside.
BA_Harrison13 April 2009
Directed by Canadian horror auteur David Cronenberg, Scanners sees telekinetic vagrant Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) inducted into a top secret programme designed to develop the powers of such gifted people (known colloquially as Scanners) for use as weapons.

After learning to control his special abilities—with a little help from scientist Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan) and a scanner suppressant drug called Ephemorol—Vale agrees to infiltrate an underground group of scanners, led by the powerful and deadly Darryl Revok (the always impressive Michael Ironside), who is intent on building a new world order.

With the mother of all exploding head scenes, several bloody shotgun shootouts, and a gory final battle between good and evil that results in bulging veins and bursting eyeballs, Scanners is naturally a firm favourite amongst those who love their splatter; however, this being a Cronenberg film, it is also an intelligent and gripping tale that combines the director's recurring theme of engineered physiological changes in the human body with more traditional thriller elements such as industrial espionage, car chases, and conspiracies.

A weak performance from lead Stephen Lack and some iffy computer technology issues (including a rather unbelievable human/computer interface scene) prevent Scanners from being a complete success, but on the whole this is still a very enjoyable piece of visceral sci-fi/horror and recommended viewing to those who have enjoyed the director's other 'body-shock' movies.
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Very Entertaining
zetes23 May 2000
Scanners fits in well with the Cronenberg filmography. Man, he's disgusting! And God bless him for that!

It is extraordinarily entertaining for most of the film. It isn't much of anything wholly new in my viewing experience, but as with all of the Cronenberg films I've seen, he turns even the most worn out of ideas into something radically different and surprising. Look at _eXistenZ_ which came out a year after _Dark City_ (which actually somewhat resembles Scanners; I really like that film for different reasons, though) and just a month or so after the huge hit _The Matrix_ (which I found terrible, since it never went anywhere with its ideas). _eXistenZ_ was a couple of steps above most other the-world-isn't-the-real-world films.

Scanners does have some huge problems, though. It moves quickly and intelligently in its first hour, but the last 49 minutes are sort of silly. The whole computer hacking thing can be forgiven. This movie is pretty early. People knew little about computers in 1981. But why should have the destruction of the computer destroyed the main character's mind? He was attached to several humans when they died, and that never did a thing to him. Heck, Michael Ironside exploded a guy's head through his scanning abilities. I like the whole "the next generation will all be scanners" plot point that turns up near the end (I assume that's where the sequels take up), but the very ending seems to happen too quickly (no matter how cool it looked).

Still, the film was entertaining in a shut-your-brain-off way, plus, as a fan of Cronenberg, I enjoyed it as a part of his entire canon. 8/10
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