SCANNERS (October 16th)
YOU'VE GOT RED ON YOU TAKES PART IN THE 31 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN CHALLENGE; WATCHING ONE HORROR MOVIE A DAY THROUGHOUT OCTOBER. SOME OF THEM OLD, SOME OF THEM NEW, SOME OF THEM HAVE JUST BEEN ON OUR SHELVES FOR YEARS GATHERING DUST, STILL IN CELLOPHANE...
David Cronenberg has made some really great and really interesting movies over the years. His last few films have been fine (Maps to the Stars, Cosmopolis) and post 2000 efforts such as Eastern Promises and A History of Violence were violently brilliant. However his best work was undoubtedly made in the 80s when he churned out truly great genre films such as The Fly, Dead Ringers and Videodrome (amongst others). I must admit that I am not so well versed in his works pre Videodrome though and I've not seen Rabid and Shivers, which are both considered to be great films too. There's another one of the Canadian Director's that has slipped by too – and that's his 1981 mind bending sci-fi horror Scanners.
Scanners opens with a young homeless guy called Cameron Vale walking around a mall and stealing bits of leftover food in the food court. However, when he hears a couple of older women disparaging him, shit starts to go down – with Vale seemingly causing the woman to collapse in agony by using telekinetic powers. He is then apprehended by a couple of disguised intelligence types who take him to a guy named Dr Ruth - one of the heads of a private military company called ConSec. Dr Ruth explains to Cameron that he is someone they call a 'scanner' – someone with telepathic and psychokinetic superpowers and that he will help him hone his abilities. He also tells him that ConSec employ several 'scanners'. However when one of these is publicly killed at a ConSec marketing event – by a rogue powerful scanner called Darryl Revok, Ruth manages to convince Cameron that he needs to infiltrate Revok's group and bring it down from the inside. Apparently Revok is the head of an underground collection of scanners and that he is killing off any that are refusing to join his group. Cameron accepts the challenge.
I've actually already seen a film about mind control during the 31 Days challenge – but Scanners is a vastly different viewing experience to Bird Box (2018)! Whilst the latter was carefully constructed and slow burning, Cronenberg's film is a bit more frenzied and chaotic. Apparently the production was quite rushed and the Director was forced to write as he went along to some extent. That sense of spontaneity and looseness makes for an unpredictably thrilling (but slightly messy) movie. Cronenberg's propensity for social commentary and sexuality are not really evident here, which is something of a surprise. It's also a very male dominated film with pretty much only one female character in the whole film and she only comes into the equation about halfway through.
However there are some stark reminders of who the director is here. Firstly, the body horror that we all have come to expect is here in spades. There are two great scenes in particular, which most genre fans have probably seen regardless of whether they've actually watched Scanners before or not. The first is the scene where the ConSec Scanner's head explodes in front of shocked onlookers. I replayed the scene a few times just to see the effect as still images and it's a beautiful thing. The finale is also a joyfully gloopy and gross out affair too. Lovely Jubbly. Technically it's also great too with Cronenberg just showcasing why he's such a great storyteller, even if he is kind of doing half of it on the fly. It's all very cool and clinical with much of it set in sparse corporate buildings, parks, labs and meeting rooms.
And then we come on to the cast. What a delightfully strange combination of actors and performances. We have Stephen Lack playing the lead and although I spent the early stages of the film wondering if he was Ben Mendlesohn's dad (he's not), I spent the rest of it trying to work out why he had been cast, as he's really quite inconsistent in his delivery. After scanning the internet, turns out that his performance is infamous. The guy only did a handful of films after this and you can see why. And when you are sharing the screen with Michael Ironside and Patrick McGoohan (whose turn in Braveheart still lingers in my mind), any flaws are only magnified. The beautiful Jennifer O'Neill rounds off the cast and although she is perfectly fine – I was more intrigued by the fact that she's been married NINE times! (Good ol' Wikipedia).
However the wooden central performance from Lack and the lazy exposition dump at the end of the film still aren't enough to spoil the fun. It's an imperfect but entertaining science fiction body horror with some great special effects and it all zips along at a gleeful pace.