By Marc S. Sanders
David Cronenberg’s Scanners, from 1981, is part of the Criterion DVD collection. So is Michael Bay’s Armageddon from 1998. Why? Beats the hell outta me, but what does that truly say about Criterion?
Scanners tells the story of people who are capable of mind controlling others. Some use this ability so powerfully that they can actually make a person’s head explode into what looks like what can happen when you leave a hot dog in the microwave too long. It’s likely how they achieved this visual effect, actually.
Well known cinematic henchman (with the cool voice) Michael Ironside plays a nasty scanner named Revok. In 1981, the best and most cheap way to display “scanning” was for Ironside to distort his face, roll his tongue back as well as his eyes and shake like he’s having a seizure or contending with intolerable constipation. Maybe in 1981, this would amaze and terrify me. In 2020, I wanna say “Michael, knock it off. Pick your toys up off the floor, and brush your teeth.”
There’s also Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack), a good guy scanner. He does the same kind of weird contortions though not as spastic as Revok. He’s been hired by some soft spoken scientist, Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan) – no, not THAT Dr. Ruth – to stop Revok from, I think, taking over the world. McGoohan, plays the role of mentor like he’s failing miserably at his audition for Obi Wan Kenobi.
A scan causes faces to convulse and squirt out blood that looks like Kool Aid. Maybe even your hands would catch fire. That’s about all Cronenberg offers here. Just a lot of schlocky, hamburger meat gore centered around Vale catching up to Revok. Eventually, we learn how a scanner became a scanner. It’s not very eye opening. The final frame does offer a twist but the credits roll too quickly thereafter to really relish that moment.
I can only envision that Scanners was one of those cheapie, mindless, B movie horror flicks on USA Up All Night with Rhonda Shear, during the late ‘80s & ‘90s.
Certainly mindless at least, and that’s the irony. A film about performing mind control and yet it doesn’t have a brain cell in its mix.