Scanners (1981)

David Cronenberg

Stephen Lack - Cameron Vale
Jennifer O'Neill - Kim Obrist
Patrick McGoohan - Dr. Paul Ruth
Michael Ironside - Daryl Revok
Robert Silverman - Benjamin Pierce

Genre - Science Fiction/Horror

Running Time - 101 Minutes

Score - 2.5 Howls Outta 4

The mind is a weird thing. After all these years, many of us are still trying to understand how it works. Why are some of us challenged? Why do some us possess a sixth sense? Are there really people who are able to predict the future, see ghosts, move things, and read other people's minds? If so, why and how? Is it evolution or something more sinister at work?

In his fifth feature as a director, David Cronenberg takes these ideas of telepathy and telekenesis and uses them as his muse for the 1981 cult Sci-Fi classic, SCANNERS. Instead of focusing on the body like in his earlier work such as SHIVERS and THE BROOD, Cronenberg tackles the mind and how it may be more dangerous than the actual body itself. And while it's a good film in the early works of Mr. Cronenberg, it does have its flaws that prohibits SCANNERS from being one of his best. Still, SCANNERS is a pretty good Sci-Fi movie that one could wrap one's mind around.

Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) is pretty much homeless and alone, due to the fact that he constantly hears the voices of the people around him in his head. He is called a Scanner - someone who is able to communicate telepathically. He can control people's minds to manipulate them, or just hear the thoughts in their heads for his own personal advantage. However, it's an ability he's unable to control and it's driving him insane.

Vale is kidnapped by some people working for one Dr. [not the short lady who loves sex] Ruth (Patrick McGoohan), who tries to help Vale understand who he is, what he can do, and how it could benefit humankind. Even though Ruth is involved with some government company that's researching the Scanner "threat", there's a bigger issue at hand: Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside). Also a Scanner, Revok is trying to form some sort of resistance against Ruth and the rest of society by trying to gather all of the 237 Scanners that exist around the world to get revenge for the mental mutation all the Scanners have received before they were born. Strong and determined [probably a bit crazy too], Revok will not stop until each and every Scanner out there is following his lead. If they don't, he'll kill them without hesistation.

Willing to help Ruth after he calmed down some of his scaning abilities, Vale joins up with the beautiful Kim Obrist (Jennifer O'Neill), who also happens to be a Scanner. Both attempt to get to the bottom of this whole Scanner issue and stop Revok from accomplishing his goal.

is probably the film that turned Cronenberg into an A-list director. It takes what CARRIE did a few years before and instead of extending the horror, Cronenberg takes most of the scares away in order to create a more cerebral story. Cronenberg attempts to explain how these powers came to be and how they're used as a way to propel the story, not just for gore and scares. It may end up being a slow ride to understand what's going on, but I appreciate the whole concept isn't written just for the special effects team to have a field day.

Cronenberg [who wrote the script] does exhibit some interesting ideas while concentrating on how the mind of a Scanner works. The use of art as a means to maintain sanity was pretty intriguing. One character, Benjamin Pierce (Robert Silverman), dove right into creating sculptures and painting portraits in order to stop hearing the voices in his head. It shows that a Scanner can release some of the things that bother him by externalizing into a positive activity, such as art. Doesn't explain why Vincent Van Gogh cut off one of his ears and killed himself, but I'll let that slide for now. The other side of the coin is Darryl Revok, who constantly drills some kind of hole in his head just so the voices could escape from his mind. And he also needs to kill others in order to find some sort of release from his stress. As sick as that is, it's Revok's form of art in a way.

Cronenberg also has messages within his script. The whole Scanner "threat" and the fact that the Government wants to eliminate most of them is pretty much a way for Cronenberg to express racism and prejudice in our society. Just like in the X-Men comics, cartoons, and films, being different will automatically make you an enemy of what's considered "normal." The Scanners' gifts make them dangerous and a threat to humankind, where it could instead be seen as the next level of the evolutionary scale. It shows the close-mindedness of our superiors and what lengths they'll go through to maintain whatever power they have on others. And just like in the X-Men, we see both sides of the same coin. Vale feels that the Scanners could work within society and be beneficial [Xavier] and Revok wants to unite with all the Scanners in order to take out the weaker "race" [Magneto]. Either way, nothing is solved and only leads to more conflict. Maybe Cronenberg believes that nothing will ever change. Who knows?

There are also scenes that one could see as sort of homoerotic in a way. I'm not saying that's the intent, but humor me here. There's no female love interest in the film. While Vale and Kim work together to stop Revok, they never bother to start any sort of romance. Maybe there's a spark there, but it's never acted upon. The whole scanning process to find other Scanners could be seen as a metaphor for "gaydar". They can never express aloud about their gifts to each other without being persecuted and turned into outsiders. Instead, they mentally communicate with each other like it's some dirty secret they need to keep under wraps. Remember, this was the 1980s and homosexuality was not as widely accepted in this very conservative time. There's also moments where certain Scanners mentally battle each other. Especially the scene between Vale and Revok, where they engage in battle while grimacing, moaning, and moving around as if they're having sex. Veins pop out in their foreheads and it's almost orgasmic as they mentally penetrate each other. I can't be the only one who sees this. I remember when Vale mentally attacks the woman at the beginning of the film, thinking how it seemed to be pretty sexual in a weird way. Again, I could be wrong. But that's just my opinion on it.

The special effects team probably enjoyed themselves on this film. I think we can honestly say that SCANNERS will always be remembered for that head exploding scene at the beginning of the film when Revok blows that dude's head off with only his mind. It's looks way better than any CGI could ever make it. It actually reminded me of that comedian Gallagher and his love for crushing watermelons with a mallet. The special effects team [Gary Zeller and Dennis Pike] deserve kudos for creating such an iconic moment in the genre of Science Fiction and Horror. The make-up by Stephen DuPuis, Tom Schwartz, and Chris Walas was also pretty well-done as well. Especially during the final scene where Vale and Revok have their veins popping out, among other things. I'm sure a lot of people wanted more gore in this film, but what we get is pretty damn good.

David Cronenberg is at his element here and it shows. It's a very nicely directed film where he takes what could be a very exposed and overdone concept of telepathy and telekenesis and makes them subtle. He takes his time to let us know the characters, how these powers effect them as people, and makes us wonder what we would do if we were a Scanner. Would we follow Vale's example, or does Revok have a more appealing way? It's a slow-moving film [which might turn people away] but I think it's worth sticking with if you're willing to give it a chance. I don't think it's Cronenberg's best work but even a flawed Cronenberg is a good Cronenberg. He gives us things to think about instead of actually telling us what we should believe. That's good directing right there.

Like I said, SCANNERS is not without its flaws. Some things bugged me alot in this film and I need to express them. One, the pacing was a bit off. I mean, the head exploding scene happens at the BEGINNING of the film. This is gonna lead people to think that things will just get wilder and more gory after that. Instead, Cronenberg takes his time throughout the whole middle portion for characterization before giving us the Vale vs. Revok climax at the very end [which doesn't even last all that long]. That was a mistake on Cronenberg's part because a scene like that just wants you to see more of the same thing and it's frustrating when it's not given to you. It makes SCANNERS seem like two different films because of it instead of one.

I also not that big of a fan of the score in the film. It's okay I guess for the subject matter, but it doesn't really help the film all that much to make it more exciting and entertaining to watch. Howard Shore did the score for this and I couldn't believe it's the same guy who scored the fantastic THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. It's like I got scanned or something. It's not bad but could be better.

I also didn't like the ending of the film. I know the whole THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK "Luke, I'm your father" thing was a pop culture phenomenon, but it seems most films after that pretty much used that logic in order to make some sense into what's going on between the two central characters in a film. It's well-known about my feelings on how that pretty much doomed the HALLOWEEN franchise when it was used in HALLOWEEN II. I couldn't believe SCANNERS went in that direction as well. I guess I kind of spoiled things if you haven't seen this film yet, but the relationship between Vale and Revok seemed cliched and the dialogue didn't help much either. It sort of makes sense in a way but at the same time, there didn't seem to be enough evidence for it either. Apparently Cronenberg was writing this script as he filmed it, leaving the ending for last because he wasn't sure how to end the film. Yeah, it's pretty evident of that. I was also trying to remember where the ending after the end credits for X-MEN: THE LAST STAND stole its idea from. Yep, it was from SCANNERS. Then again, SCANNERS was influenced by the X-Men comics, so I guess it's a fair trade.

I also though the whole scene with Vale and that master computer was tacky as hell. To say that a computer has a similar "central networking system" as a human is pretty farfetched, even for 1981. Not only that, but the computer was getting hacked into and the scientist, who pretty much put his life work into creating such eleborate programs, didn't seem to worried about it and refused to do anything unless he had written consent from his boss.


I get paranoid just writing these reviews on my crappy computer. If someone is hacking into my shit, I'll be making sure something is gonna get fuckin' done. Waiting for written consent...FUCK THAT! And then the whole self-destruct thing and how everything blew up...yeah, whatever.

I also was not a fan of Stephen Lack's lack of acting talent. Totally flat and wooden. He did not convince me at all about Vale's struggle to find out the truth or gave me any reason to care about him. Not a good casting choice here. Especially when he was outshone by the much better and sinister Michael Ironside. Awesome bad guy and a great actor. This role pretty much typecasted him for life, but if you see him in this, you'll know why. He just exudes evil.

The other actors were mixed. Patrick McGoohan was very complex as Dr. Ruth. I was never sure if he was really a good guy or a bad guy. Probably why I liked him. He would say and do all the right things, but you knew there was something dark with this character. Good choice. Jennifer O'Neill was totally wasted here. She looks hot and is a decent actress, but is not given much at all. Oh well.


- If you're a woman, don't ever insult a homeless looking guy with mental powers. He'll cause you to have an epileptic fit that's pretty similar to a massive orgasm. Then again ladies, maybe you should cum to your senses and make fun of this dude...

- Vale struggles with large crowds because he can hear all of their thoughts at once, which I'm sure is extremely overwhelming. My solution: hang around Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, and Heidi Montag. From what I can tell, those girls don't do much thinking.

- Scanning minds can lead to the following symptoms: nose bleeds, earaches, stomach cramps, and nausea. Phew! Thank God! For a second there, I thought I was pregnant!

- Don't ever scan another scanner. Your head may explode and not in that good way like it does in the bedroom with your lover every night.

- Benjamin Pierce got shot to shit by 4 gunmen. Shouldn't he have known they were coming if he can read minds? He's apparently the Miss Cleo of Scanners? Poser.

- The runaway Scanners used a short yellow school bus to escape Revik. I guess they are a bit special in a way, now that I think about it.

- Vale, after the computer's self-destruct began while he was mentally linked to the CPU's nervous system, blew up the computer lab where the self-destruct started from and the gas station where Vale was linked up to a telephone inside a booth. Shit, he could give the Dark Phoenix a run for her money. Well, at least the crappy version from X-MEN: THE LAST STAND. The comic book Phoenix would totally kick his ass.


- Scanners have the ability to mindwipe another Scanner and take over their bodies for good. If I had that ability, I'd mindwipe Lance Armstrong. Yeah, I'd only have one ball. But at least I'd be cupping two breasts every single night. Huzzah!

is an interesting sci-fi film that could have been better, but isn't totally terrible either. The flaws do hurt the film a bit but if you dig some intelligence in your movies, you could do a lot worse than this. I'd probably watch VIDEODROME, THE FLY, or even his recent flicks like A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE or EASTERN PROMISES over this, but I wouldn't blow anyone's head off for liking SCANNERS. Totally recommended for science fiction, David Cronenberg, and Michael Ironside fans.


  1. Superb review. I'm quite a fan of Scanners, although the performance from Lack was a little, er, lacking shall we say

  2. Cronenberg can do very little wrong in my book. I forgot Patrick McGoohan was in this film. I want to watch this again. Excellent review.


Related Posts with Thumbnails