Spoilers might be getting a headache.
I remember when I was a child and this movie’s posters started showing up in the local newspaper. Yes, I used to be really scared of just the previews for this feature. This is one of the most iconic films directed by David Cronenberg, so it had to be in this review. The movie does show its age, but you have to consider that audiences have evolved through the decades. What was considered shocking back then would barely bat an eyebrow now. The practical special effects retain some of their impact, although some concepts won’t fool any of today’s audiences.
Scanners (1981) was written and directed by David Cronenberg. A homeless man named Cameron Vale (Steven Lack) is captured by an organization called ConSec after exhibiting the powers of a scanner, a person able to use their mind to manipulate other people. Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan) explains there’s an underground movement led by a powerful scanner named Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside). Revok has already shamed ConSec by participating in one of their experiments and killing off a bunch of people in the process. Dr. Ruth wants to train Vale to find and fight Revok.
By today’s standards, the movie does have a lot of weaknesses. We have a bland protagonist in Cameron Vale who doesn’t seem to do much except be at certain places when things happen. Patrick McGoohan camps it up and chews the scenery as the crazy Dr. Paul Ruth, but at least he’s more entertaining to watch. Michael Ironside is definitely the breakout performance here, he speaks more naturally and puts a lot more charisma into his role as Darryl Revok. I wish I could say more about Jennifer O’Neill. She does a semi-decent role as Kim Obrist, but she’s not given much to do here.
The premise itself is conspiracy thriller fodder that of course ends up coming back to the same people which we started. The exciting bits are seeing the scanners fight each other and the practical special effects have a field day. You basically have one big showoff at the beginning and a big confrontation at the end. They’re good, specially through our old nostalgia lenses. There are quite a number of loopholes throughout each act that never get addressed, but at least we do end moving past Vale just walking along hoping a clue will fall on his lap. And then, there’s the most aged part of them all, the idea that as a scanner Vale can plug in via telephone to a computer and, I kid you not, make it explode. I dare say it was worth it to have that confrontation at the end.
Recommended for 80’s horror nostalgia. The effects are probably where you want to pay attention, but there’s a lot of filler in the middle with a bland protagonist. Michael Ironside stands out as the one performer who seems to have it’s mind tune in. There’s an overabundance of funny faces that scanners make when they’re using their powers that would probably challenge your suspension of disbelief. Fans of practical special effects should see it, but it does drag a lot in the middle. Modern horror audiences might find it too slow.
That will do for now.