Film (1980). Filmplan International/Canadian Film Development Corp. Written and directed by David Cronenberg. Cast includes Lawrence Dane, Michael Ironside, Stephen Lack, Patrick McGoohan and Jennifer O'Neal. 103 minutes. Colour.
This superior Psi-Powers movie easily outstrips Carrie (1976) and The Fury (1978). Pregnant women (we learn some way into the film) have been given an experimental Drug, ephemerol, ostensibly a tranquillizer but actually designed to produce paranormal offspring – scanners – who can exercise total control over the brains and nervous systems of others. The two oldest telepaths (brothers, it turns out) are corrupted – in different ways – by their power, though one (Lack) fights for human society, the other (Ironside) for the superhumans. The film is choreographed in the most exemplary manner, from the celebrated exploding-head sequence at the beginning to the final telepathic duel between the brothers and its enigmatic outcome. It is also advanced in sf terms, working sophisticated variations on the Mutant theme, streets ahead of the usual crudities of psi-power movies. Cronenberg's restless marriage of highbrow metaphor and lowbrow exploitation seldom works better than here, despite sometimes indifferent performances, especially Lack's. The novelization is Scanners (1980; vt David Cronenberg's Scanners 1981) by Leon Whiteson.
Cronenberg had nothing to do with the sequels, also Canadian, of which there have been four. The two direct sequels are Scanners II: The New Order (1990) – directed by Christian Duguay, produced by Pierre David and Rene Malo – and Scanners III: The Takeover (1991; vt Scanner Force), directed by Christian Duguay, produced by Pierre David. The spinoff "Scanner Cop" sequence comprises Scanner Cop (1993), directed and produced by Pierre David, and Scanners: The Showdown (1995 vt Scanner Cop II) directed by Steve Barnett and produced by Pierre David. Probably wisely, none of these even try to duplicate the sophistication and complexity of Cronenberg's vision, but they are slickly made, opting for stylized melodrama and lurid vigour in their accounts of human/scanner and good scanner/bad scanner clashes, and all retain Cronenberg's theme of telepathic powers coming at a painful cost. Scanners III is probably the most compulsive and relentless of the three, but all received more friendly attention from critics than is usual for straight-to-video exploitation film releases. The second film was novelized as Scanners II: The New Order (1991) by Janus Kimball. [PN/DRL]
see also: Pseudoscience.
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