I first remember hearing about the film Scanners when home video first appeared on the scene here in the UK. A lot of the businesses with a selection of rentable videos in the early days weren’t exclusively video shops. There was a shop near my school called Clockmakers (which is weird as it was a liquor shop. Just kidding) which had started with a selection of 50 or so videos. They had free copies of a catalogue for a company called Guild Home Video. I took a copy when I was in the shop with my Mum when she collected me for lunch one day. I took it to school with me and pored over the horror section more than any other section (huge red flag) and it was here that I saw the garish, lurid and utterly brilliant artwork for the Scanners VHS.
When I got to see the Scanners video artwork up close it was a revelation. The man on the front cover looked like his veins were going to burst and the head of the man on the back had just exploded. Where had this film been all my life? If there ever was a point in my life where my parents had cause to worry about me, it was now. But as they wanted to see the horror movies I had just started to watch on VHS, they didn’t relent. ‘You want us to rent Scanners for you? It’s an X certificate? No problemo!’ And so that’s how I got to see the film- with the rest of my family. And we all loved it!
I could go through the minutiae of the plot but instead, I’ll just recite the one-line story outline that someone has handily contributed to IMDB-
‘A scientist trains a man with an advanced telepathic ability called “scanning”, to stop a dangerous Scanner with extraordinary psychic powers from waging war against non-scanners.’
Thank you, nameless IMDB contributor.
Scanners feels like the apex of Cronenberg’s run of low-budget horror movies. That’s certainly not to denigrate classics such as Shivers, Rabid and The Brood but Scanners feels like Cronenberg was making the ultimate Cronenberg movie at the end of the first phase of his feature-length filmography. It feels lean with absolutely no filler. It also feels as if all of the elements we had come to expect at that point from his films have been turned up to 11. These included such ingredients as the most Cronenbergian character names to date (Darryl Revol, Arno Crostic and Kim Obrist are some of my favourite character names from ANY film), the special effects (if horror fans thought the sight of Samantha Eggar revealing all in The Brood couldn’t be topped, they were in for a shock. Scanners contains possibly the most notorious special effect ever created. Dick Smith created the exploding head and he really excelled himself. For my money, this special effect is the greatest in a film I’ve ever seen) and the sinister institutions where dark things happen. All are amplified for Scanners and it works wonderfully.
I love the character of Benjamin Pierce, the artist who keeps himself sane through his art. And what art it is. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen characters conversing inside a giant papier-mache head. Cult film fans will know Robert Silverman who plays Pearce from the classic films Prom Night and Jason X.
Scanners also features one of the best baddies in film history- Darryl Revok, brilliantly played by Michael Ironside. Whether it’s the head exploding scene, the footage of him in the psychiatric hospital in which he describes why he’s drilled a hole in his head or the finale, he is fantastic! It really is one of the great performances and one of the best I’ve ever seen.
Howard Shore’s music score is also a huge part of why Scanners is so special. Right from the offset, the music is brimming with urgency and drama. Other tracks on the soundtrack are made up of sinister-sounding computer-generated bleeps and beeps. It’s perfect for Scanners.
And then there’s the ending. Wanna see a scanner take on another scanner?! Of course you do! And it’s as brilliant, gory and disgusting as you think it’s going to be. It even gets metaphysical with flames appearing out of palms. It’s fantastic.
Scanners also upped the ante when it came to other horror films. John Carpenter realised that his film The Fog didn’t work as it wasn’t brutal enough. Producer Debra Hill said that it was because of Scanners.
Scanners opened at number 1 in the US Box Office for the week it opened. It is also now part of The Criterion Collection. It’s a film I never tire of and a film I have seen many, many times. This doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon.