Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Double Shot of Cronenberg - 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 or really any films of David Cornenberg, I decided to do a little revisiting and see if two films in particular really held up over time.


Okay, I can definitely see why SCANNERS came up as a possible remake. I think Cronenberg, in an attempt integrate his themes of leaving the flesh and the poisons that inhabit the mind and body into a more mainstream type of movie really took a mistep here, especially in light of the greatness that came immediately before (THE BROOD) and after (VIDEODROME). There are some great ideas present, and some really incredible scenes and images, but really you can't get away from what is essentially a hokey story about an underground movement of telepaths intent on controlling the world.

If you know anything about SCANNERS at all, you probably know about the head bursting scene. But to recap briefly, 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! Darrly 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 called 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 wholly awful, and that includes Patrick McGoohan as Dr. Ruth. 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 feels heavy and lifeless. 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. Silently a group of people come in and sit down in chairs, never opening their mouths. But their thoughts are loud, louder than a jet engine and the constant stream of words wreaks 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 see 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.

Although I can see why my 14-year old self would have loved this movie, it really doesn't hold up too well almost 20 years later. But for those of you who KNOW you want to see it, here's a clip of SCANNERS' most famous scene. Click the man before he explodes!

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