I'm sure that when we were all young, we wished we had psychic powers. We wanted to read the minds of the cheer-leading squad to see which one you had the best chance of getting into bed with. We wanted to be able to predict the future to make sure that we didn't get the clap from said cheerleader. And we wanted the ability to move physical objects with our minds so we could yank that cheerleader's top off from thirty yards away when she refuses to let you buy her dinner.
Okay, so maybe some of us would use these powers for good instead of evil. But then you watch Scanners, and realize "the hell with all that namby-pamby mental play, I want to use my mind to blow up some dude's head!"
That's right, the classic 1981 sci-fi horror flick features a man's head exploding, as well as some damn fine actors, a groovy plot and plenty of blood and gore for the squeamish ladies in the audience. Directed by the '80's master of vomit-inducing exposure to the nasties of life, David Cronenberg, Scanners has become a cult classic of biblical proportions.
The plot is simple, but intriguing. A small score of the Earth's population have mental powers, which can read minds or cause death, depending on how much power they choose to yield on a victim. Many of these psychics, dubbed scanners, have united with the evil Darryl Revok to overthrow the world and take it for themselves. One of the few good scanners left, Cameron Vale, is recruited to stop the malevolent faction, and is sent on a mission to save the planet.
Now, sure, James Bond has saved the world twenty times from destruction and domination, so that's nothing new. But if he went up against one of these scanners, his dinky Walther wouldn't hold it's own against deathly mental powers. This is enough to up the stakes is this flick.
Now, if you've already seen this (or my description of the plot was enough to make you stop reading, drop everything and rent the movie), you may come back to this article thinking "Okay Johnny, what damn fine actors were in the movie? I didn't recognize anyone except that evil scanner. On what grounds do you base this statement?"
Well, for starters, that evil scanner is played by an actor seen many times before. He's Michael Ironside, which you may remember from such winning movies as Total Recall, Starship Troopers and as the voice of Sam Fisher in the Splinter Cell video game series. Simply put, the man's been acting for years and he plays a damn god bad guy. I can't imagine anyone else pulling off half the acting job that Ironside did with Revok (although it is always fun to pretend. My top choices for a remake are Samuel L. Jackson, Shakespearian actor John Houseman or Sarah Michelle Gellar, just for humorous purposes).
Next, we have Patrick McGoohan playing the doctor who brings Vale over to the good side. For those of you unfamiliar with Mr. McGoohan, he's the genius behind one of the all-time greatest TV shows ever: The Prisoner. His top-notch acting ability and awesome voice carry over well into blood-and-guts horror.
Lastly, on the acting front, I bring Jennifer O'Neill and Stephen Lack to the stand. Both turn in performances that fall somewhere between Oscar Winners and Raspberry Winner. They're not bad, but not great. Stephen Lack never landed another huge, starring role after "Scanners," and from what I can piece together from the internet he's more of a painter now. I swear that I remember Jennifer O'Neill from a Chuck Norris movie or two, but I'll be damned if I can remember which one.
Back in the simultaneously wonderful and awful 1980's, horror movies became increasingly more graphic and violent, while the music industry made a downward spiral from which it would never return (that's right, just about every bit of music since the 70's has sucked, or at least come close to sucking). But Scanners stands above many of the others in the gore category in that it features many new special effects only found in books, drawings and the minds of serial killers.
For instance, the exploding head. If this is the only reason that you want to see the movie, fear not, for it comes pretty close to the beginning of the film. Maybe ten to twenty minutes in. But this was pretty inventive for the time as well. The thought of filling a movie screen with blood was a fairly new concept, especially with Cronenberg's reputation for wanting realistic and over-the-top gore. Which brings me to trivia tidbit the second.
Now, read Trivia Tidbit #2 over carefully. No where in that paragraph will you find the word 'computer' or the term CGI. Do you know why? First, CGI sucks. Hard. And second, to bust out some CGI in the 1980's would have cost more money then the entire country of Switzerland has in all its banks combined, and maybe won someone a Nobel Prize for scientific advancements. So no computer animation here, just good-old special effects wizards doing what they do best.
But the blood doesn't end here! It only gets worse (see his remake of The Fly for further proof of this). The finale features Revok and Vale in a scanning fight to the finish, complete with eyes popping and people spontaneously combusting into flames. After all is said and done, Cronenberg leads into one of the finest closing lines ever seen in a grade-B horror film. But if you want to get that line, you have to catch the movie.
Now, before I leave you all, I'll drop one more trivia tidbit. Sometimes, the trivia behind and during the film can be just as interesting as the film itself.
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