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“Scanners” (1981) Movie Review


Written & Directed by David Cronenberg

Starring: Jennifer O’Neill, Stephen Lack, and Patrick McGoohan

This released in 1981, expect spoilers. 

A scientist sends a man with extraordinary psychic powers to hunt others like him.

Scanners was THE late night HBO movie when I was a pre-teen. I couldn’t tell you shit about it expect that a dude’s head exploded – and that ruled. We used to rewind the VHS tape over and over and watch that scene in slow motion. If you remember that scene, then your cool as there’s nothing else cool about David Cronenberg’s iffy fourth film. I’ve been on an old school film run lately and thought an adult viewing and review might be fun. I’ll leave that part up to you.

Scanners are a group of men and women that can scan the thoughts of other people’s minds, even controlling and killing them if the situation calls for it. A rogue scanner is, of course, on a binge and kills other scanners without care. This brings us to the good scanner versus bad scanner portion of the movie. Our good guy. Cameron (Steven Lack) wakes up in a weird facility where he’s tied down and drugged often. His role is to find and eliminate his evil counterpart, the mind-blowing Daryll Revok (Michael Ironside). He befriends a super-hot scanner, the beautiful Jennifer O’ Neil as Kim Obrist, and they start their war on evil Scanners. Watch out.

The problem with this film is that Cronenberg managed to make the protagonist completely vanilla and one-dimensional. Well, technically, he wrote the antagonist and every supporting character the same way. There is zero characterization on either side of the scanner community and most villains operate like a sub par Bond villain. I didn’t care about these people and assume most cinephiles didn’t either. The film is boring and paced poorly, giving me plenty of time to wish I’d requested something else from good ol Netflix. This might be hard for Cronenberg’s fans to hear but this movie was a total shit piece. There wasn’t any barriers for the characters to overcome. The movie is 90 minutes of forcing one-dimensional characters through predetermined situations. No one grew or evolved in this film. Michael Ironside, despite all his skill, spends every scene making googly scanner eyes at his enemies. It looks like me at a party when someone puts Nickelback or Buckcherry on. There’s no reason for it and it sucks. Sorry, Scanners, you don’t get to be part of the old school movies that mattered. This really is one of the most boring films of the time period. Two yawns and one WTF. Pass.

Here’s the killer head exploding scene. Skip the remaining 90 minutes.

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5 Comments on “Scanners” (1981) Movie Review

  1. Victor De Leon // November 18, 2013 at 1:27 pm // Reply

    I’ve seen Trees that could emote better than Stephen Lack. Ironside was cool but you are right about just everything else. Scanners doesn’t hold up like it used to. It’s mostly a curiosity piece now because of Cronenberg’s status. His earlier films like Shivers and The Brood are better examples of his prowess behind the camera. I still dig checking out Scanners every so often, though. I loved McGoohan in this movie. Good review!

    • I really should have gone back for Shivers or The Brood. It had been 25+ years since I last saw Scanners. The memories were that of a 13 year old kid – they didn’t translate well.

      • Victor De Leon // November 18, 2013 at 1:51 pm //

        Exactly. When my kid (he’s 15) and I watched it last year we kind of laughed and chuckled through out the movie but we did like the gore.

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