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It’s been 40 years since David Cronenberg’s visionary tale of telepathy, telekinesis and by now a recurring theme in the Canadian director’s work, espionage surrounded by political and government conspiracies embedded in a deeply psychoanalytical point of view. 

It’s hard to believe that this is Cronenberg’s seventh outing in the director’s chair, having already produced body horror films such as Shivers and Rabid, the latter of which had been reimagined by The Soska Sisters and is well worth your time. Scanners still has that low budget, earth feel to it that is often expected in the first few films in one’s career, and only two years later he would serve up a double hitter in the classics Videodrome and The Dead Zone.

Another theme that is prevalent throughout Cronenberg’s work is that of an uprising, often from an oppressed group or individual, but also that of misguided intentions that lead to their true calling.

In the case of Scanners, we are first introduced to Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack), who is ostracized from society by appearance at first, being a homeless figure trying to survive on the streets, but we quickly learn that he harbours the ability to read people’s minds and inflict pain on those who torment or ridicule him through telekinesis. This ability comes attached to a group in society known as scanners and when he is detected in a shopping mall, he is soon hunted down and subjected to close scrutiny and rehabilitation by Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan). 

Once he conforms to the will of Ruth and with it the Government agency that takes advantage of Ruth’s knowledge, Vale is then charged with hunting down a group of vigilantes led by Revok (Another fine turn from Michael Ironside). Can Revok be controlled? Or is there more to Revok’s revolution than meets the eye?

Scanners can be bookmarked as the film that changed Cronenberg’s career, moving away from the body horror image that had shaped his career at this point, and moving him into the mainstream playing field.
It still has some moments that reflect the style and substance that made Croeneberg’s name on screen, most notably this head explosion scene…

The prognosis:

Scanners does suffer a little in exposition and the lead performance from Stephen Lack, is somewhat stilted which detracts from engaging with the narrative. Whether this is down to the performance of the actor in question or the director’s choice in portrayal is hard to pin down, but it certainly curbs the film from being Cronenberg’s finest moment. It is still an enjoyable ride though and well worth your time to explore a master visionist honing his craft. 

  • Saul Muerte