David Cronenberg Retrospective: Scanners
Scanners! You were far sillier than I remembered!
Cronenberg’s next film after The Brood lacks its gravitas. Scanners actually differs from almost all Cronenberg films in that there is far less emphasis on psychological and physiological irregularity, and almost none of the skewed sexuality that permeates his other films. Scanners is, dare I say it, a pretty straight horror/sci-fi flick.
With simply outstanding manual effects, of course!
Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) is your standard issue vagrant, who also happens to be a telepath. Vale’s unique abilities (drink!) have precluded his enjoying a conventional lifestyle, as he’s unable to block out the thoughts of anyone he encounters. Strangers are always disdaining Cameron as a derelict hobo, even though I think he’s a pretty nice-looking, well-kept guy. But no matter, we’ll go with this derelict story.
Vale is recruited, rather mandatorily, by ConSec, a company specializing in weaponry, and he’s taken under the wing of Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan), who tells him that he’s a Scanner. What’s scanning? Ruth explains, “It’s the direct linking of two nervous systems separated only by space.” Basically, it’s using your brain to do super cool stuff like THIS to other people:
Dr. Ruth (yes.) tells Vale that there’s a rogue Scanner on the loose, the superbly named Darryl Revok, played by all-around bad-ass Michael Ironside. Ruth sends Vale after Revok, and Vale bumbles around and gets pretty much everyone else killed on his mission. He meets some other Scanners on his merrily inept way—namely artist Benjamin Pierce, played by Robert Silverman from The Brood, who is inutterably awesome as that crazy guy again. Pierce deals with the trauma of being a Scanner by creating some truly heinous art.
Cameron also encounters the breathtaking Kim Obrist, played by Jennifer O’Neill who gets top billing in this film, even though her screen time and the significance of her character do not seem to warrant it. Clearly, Cronenberg gave her top billing based on the Pretty Factor, which I can fully support.
Michael Ironside as Revok is magnificent, taking up all the air and space in the film with his diabolical machinations, the intense delivery of his lines and his distinguished receding hairline.
Patrick McGoohan is also remarkable as Dr. Ruth. He’s something of a Dr. Raglan character from The Brood, although I would never claim that McGoohan, majestic beard notwithstanding, is anywhere in the same league as Oliver Reed, as Jerry so aptly demonstrated in his review.
The acting is all pretty captivating, with one minor, itty bitty exception. Stephen Lack. Yes, I mean the lead actor. You know, the one with all the screen time? He suuuuucks. Lack is a truly contemptible thespian. He’s wooden and banal and I can only imagine that Cronenberg cast him entirely on the strength of his seriously intense eyeballs. Yeah, with peepers like that, I can imagine that he might be scanning my brain. Until he opens his mouth, at which point my disbelief can only be suspended so far.
Lack’s Prowess of Suck isn’t the only thing that makes Scanners rather difficult to take seriously. For a Cronenberg joint, there sure are a LOT of guns. It’s one wacky shoot-out after another, like Beverly Hills Cop up in here! If Scanners can literally melt someone’s face with the strength of their brain power, do they really need so many guns?
All of the above aside, Scanners is definitely weird and fun. The Scanners actually purr when they’re scanning–their brains purr. It’s awesomely creepy. There are Scanner fetuses, ‘splodey eyeballs, and an actual SCAN-OFF between Vale and Revok. Yes, you heard me right…a SCAN-OFF! Get to it, boys!
Naturally, I wish there were more sexual oddity and psychological bedlam in Scanners, typical Cronenberg-style, but any film that has a character named Darryl Revok uttering the following line is still above and beyond most flicks you’re going to see:
“We’re gonna do it the Scanner way. I’m gonna suck your brain dry!”
See, how can I complain about that?