Scanners (1981) - 8/10
I might be a little biased here. Scanners is an important film for me. It reminds me of staying up late watching things like Alex Cox’s Moviedrome, although I don’t think he ever chose this. He should’ve, it’s brilliant. I think. I’ve not watched it in nearly 30 years!
It’s films like this though that taught me there was a world away from mainstream cinema and that it was full of exciting ideas. Cameron (Stephen Lack) is a vagrant. He’s also a Scanner as Dr Ruth (Patrick McGoohan) tells him. He can hear people’s thoughts, but he’s no control over it and it’s driving him mad. Cronenberg films often look and feel stark, but this is one of the best. The uneasy score. The retro futuristic 70s sets. It’s got style. Getting away from the body horror effects associated with this film, its real ace is the simplicity of the premise. Being able to control people, once you know how, with just your mind. With some solid acting and ominous sound effects, you’re off to the races and this wastes no time in setting the tone for a brutal thriller. It’s the appearance of Darryl (Michael Ironside) that really pulls the trigger. He’s the bad guy, the one who already understands his Scanning power and is shall we say unscrupulous in his application. It helps that his stare is genuinely terrifying. It’s the perfect opening. We’ve got a disturbed killer with a disturbing talent and Cameron, a broken man who as of yet doesn’t realise how talented he is. ConSec (great name) is a company that deals in international weaponry. They’ve been working with Scanners, but their program with Dr Ruth has fallen apart. He thinks there’s a Scanner underground that poses them danger. With good reason, they’ve seen first hand what Darryl can do. So he sets about teaching Cameron what he’s capable of. As scary as Ironside is as Darryl. Vale is equally brilliant as the clean slate to be trained by Dr Ruth to neutralise the underground threat. It’s science fiction of course, but oddly believable. The Scanner ability is fantasy, but at the core of this is simply an angry destructive man who’s blind to anything else and a man who up until now has never had any other choice, but wants to do the right thing. It’s true that the bulk of the film is a series of set pieces with Cameron getting into mind battles as he tries to get close to Darryl, but Lack still carries it well. His slightly emotionless delivery keeps him unassuming and likeable. Cameron soon learns that he’s not been told the full story and this thing is much bigger than just him and Darryl. It’s dark and mysterious and digs deeper than the two central characters. Cameron finds someone he can really trust in Kim (Jennifer O’Neill). Together they use some neat tricks that eeriely foretell current tech to blow things up and exact revenge. Hey it’s the 70s, stuff has got to blow up. Everyone is great in this, but Ironside is the real star. He’s magnetic on screen and acts everyone else of it. It’s not flawless, but it’s the kind of film that doesn’t need to be and I was right, it’s still brilliant after all these years.