Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Scanners (1981)

"We're gonna do this the Scanner way...I'm gonna suck your brain dry!"

In the world of "Oh, God...they're doing another mindless remake," it was announced that the director responsible for the SAW sequels (not the original SAW, mind you, the sequels) it set to helm a remake of David Cronenberg's 1980 SF/horror flick SCANNERS. The weird news that accompanied this was that David Goyer (BATMAN BEGINS, the BLADE movies) would be writing the screenplay. Since it's been years since I've seen SCANNERS, I decided to do a little revisiting and see if the film holds up after so many years.

I can see why it came up as a possible remake. SCANNERS feels a little like Cronenberg trying to integrate his themes of leaving the flesh and the poisons that inhabit the mind and body into a more mainstream type of movie. It works, but suffers ( think) a bit from being the "middle child" sandwiched between the greatness that came immediately before (THE BROOD) and after (VIDEODROME). As usual, there are some great ideas present, and some incredible scenes and images, but it's embedded in a hokey story about an underground movement of telepaths intent on controlling the world.

Although, writing that last sentence, my inner geek is really digging that idea, so maybe I liked it better than I realized?

If you know anything about SCANNERS at all, it's probably the "head bursting" scene. To recap: due to experimentation on pregnant women, some children have grown up to be "Scanners," people with tremendous telepathic powers - they can read your minds and control your bodies, even to the point of blowing your mind, baby! Darryl Revak is the leader of the underground, intent on taking over the human race. The ethically shaky Dr. Ruth finds a young previously unknown Scanner named Cameron Vale, who is trained to go after and stop Revak.

With the exception of Michael Ironside, who plays up Revak as creepier than anything this side of Hannibal Lecter, the cast is pretty awful, and that includes Patrick McGoohan as Dr. Ruth. There are moments when Cronenberg feels uncertain, not knowing how to embed his great scenes and ideas into what really amounts to a low budget action film. When he tries to move the story along, it can feel a bit heavy. But when he focuses on the world of the mind and its power on the body, the scenes are eerie and intense. In the beginning Cameron is tied up in an abandoned warehouse. A group of people silently come in and sit down to observe him. Their mouths never open, but their thoughts are a cacophony, and the constant stream of words wreak havoc on Cameron's mind and body.

When Cameron hooks up with Kim, a hot little telepath, they travel to a doctor to find the answers to how Scanners were originally created. While in the waiting room, Kim is unexpectedly "probed" by a Scanner. She looks around and sees nothing, until her eyes finally fall on the belly of an expectant mother. It's a great, quiet, tense scene, but the dread is quickly dispersed by the following exchange:

"What happened?"
"I was scanned. The the waiting room..."
"She scanned you?
"No...her child...her unborn child scanned me."

These words are delivered in such a way you'd wish your head would explode.

Of course no Cronenberg film would be complete without the unravelling of the flesh and the mind into a chaotic swirl of ambiguity and gross-out, and SCANNERS delivers again, as we witness perhaps the most visceral psychic battle ever put to film. Eyes pop out, people catch on fire, veins explode, and in the end successful psychic transference occurs. Of course, the downside is you now have to live as Michael Ironside and live through the making of V: the Series.

Enjoyable enough, but I think SCANNERS is a movie for my 14-year old self. The 36-year old would rather just watch the head bursting scene over and over again.

You'd think the opposite would be true, right?

For those of you who want to see it, here's a clip of SCANNERS' most famous scene. Click the man before he explodes!

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