Sunday, 7 April 2013

Scanners (1981)


Probably most famous for THAT scene, Scanners has more to offer than exploding heads.  Ok, so it is an iconic scene and rightly deserves that status, but there is actually a great story in there too.  Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) has a powerful telekinetic power but without guidance can't control it; because of this he is living as a bum.  When Dr Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan) who works for ConSec (a company which OCP from Robocop is surely based on) takes him under his wing, Cameron learns to control this "scanning" power and is sent on a mission to find a very powerful and dangerous scanner called Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside).

I really like this film; it is a well written story and David Cronenberg is creative in his direction.  There are several instances of mundane scenes that are made noticeable by the movements the camera makes.  I love the 70s vibe and the almost animalistic noises when someone is being scanned.  Add to this Howard Shore's rather weird but perfectly placed score and the result is a slightly unsettling film whose atmosphere really sticks with you.

Scanners is not without its faults; probably most obvious is the acting, which is average at best.  That is of course except for Michael Ironside who is brilliant as the unhinged Darryl Revok.  Though the only substantial piece of dialogue he really has is during his final confrontation with Cameron, Michael's Revok has a presence that casts a shadow over the whole film.  This can't be said of Stephen Lack though; I can't quite decide whether he just can't act; or if that is how Cronenberg wanted the character played, and Stephen's William Hague-esque voice just doesn't do him any favours.

The special effects are suitably gooey, very much in the style of The Thing.  Of course the highlight is the exploding head, achieved with a shotgun behind a prosthetic head full of offal.  Almost because of the early spectacular scene, it's easy to overlook the final confrontation which is also fairly spectacular, Cameron clawing at his own face is pretty gruesome.  Though the final reveal is a bit perplexing.

Scanners does look very dated, a fact that I think would distance an audience looking for slick special effects and not much else; but look beyond this and you realise that the film is so much more.  After all, no one ever accuses The Italian Job of being rubbish just because it looks old.  Scanners deals with themes of social misfits (rather like the mutants in X-men) and corporate/scientific conspiracy; everyone loves a good conspiracy.  Cronenberg would revisit the scientific meddling perhaps more famously in The Fly.  Maybe not the most original ideas, but Scanners manages to squeeze a hell of a lot into 90 minutes, and does it with style. That maybe a 70s style, but with such a strong script and a great Michael Ironside, that style works really well.