Scanners

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Scanners
Scanners.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by David Cronenberg
Produced by Claude Héroux
Written by David Cronenberg
Starring
Music by Howard Shore
Cinematography Mark Irwin
Edited by Ronald Sanders
Distributed by
Release date
  • January 14, 1981 (1981-01-14) (United States)
  • January 16, 1981 (1981-01-16) (Canada)
Running time
103 minutes[1]
Country Canada
Language English
Box office $14.2 million

Scanners is a 1981 Canadian science-fiction horror film written and directed by David Cronenberg and starring Jennifer O'Neill, Steven Lack, Michael Ironside, and Patrick McGoohan. In the film, "scanners" are people with unusual telepathic and telekinetic powers. ConSec, a purveyor of weaponry and security systems, searches out scanners to use them for its own purposes. The film's plot concerns the attempt by Darryl Revok, a renegade scanner, to wage a war against ConSec. Another scanner, Cameron Vale, is dispatched by ConSec to stop Revok.

Plot[edit]

Private security firm ConSec plans to showcase a powerful new potential weapon: "scanners", psychics with telepathy, mind-control, and telekinesis. However, when ConSec's scanner demonstrates his powers, the volunteer turns out to be a more powerful scanner, who causes the ConSec scanner's head to explode. When ConSec officials attempt to take the "volunteer" into custody, he kills them and escapes.

Stung by this embarrassing experience, ConSec security head Braedon Keller advocates shutting down ConSec's scanner research program. Program head Dr. Paul Ruth disagrees, saying the assassination and escape demonstrate scanning's potential. Ruth attributes the operation to an evil scanner named Darryl Revok who, Ruth says, has his own underground network of scanners competing with ConSec's program. He argues that ConSec should recruit scanners to their cause to infiltrate and bring down Revok's group. Dr. Ruth brings in scanner Cameron Vale, a homeless social outcast driven mad by his undisciplined power, and injects him with ephemerol, which temporarily inhibits his scanning ability and restores his sanity. When Vale's mind is clear, Ruth asks for his help, explaining that Vale is a scanner and Revok is killing all scanners who refuse to join him. Under Ruth's guidance, Vale learns to control his scanning abilities.

Unknown to Dr. Ruth, ConSec's security head, Keller, works for Revok as a spy. Revok learns of Ruth's infiltration plan and dispatches assassins to follow Vale as he visits an unaffiliated scanner named Benjamin Pierce, who may know Revok's whereabouts. Revok's assassins brutally shoot Pierce to death. Enraged, Vale uses his telepathic power to kill the assassins. As Pierce dies, Vale reads from his mind a name—Kim Obrist. Vale tracks down Obrist, who has formed a telepathic alliance with a group of other scanners in opposition to Revok's group. Vale attends a meeting, but Revok's assassins strike again; only Vale and Obrist survive. Scanning an assassin, Vale learns of a drug company, which he then infiltrates. He finds large quantities of ephemerol are being distributed under a computer program called "Ripe", run by Revok himself through ConSec. Vale and Obrist return to ConSec, where Ruth suggests Vale scan the computer system to learn more about the Ripe program. Meanwhile, Keller attacks Obrist and kills Dr. Ruth while Vale and Obrist flee the ConSec building.

Vale accesses the computer network through a telephone and pulls ephemerol shipment information. When Keller discovers this, he orders the computer system shut down while Vale is scanning it; Keller hopes to harm or kill Vale by doing so. The plan backfires and the computer explodes, killing Keller and leaving Vale and Obrist unharmed. They visit a doctor on the list of ephemerol recipients, where Obrist discovers a pregnant woman's fetus has scanned her. Vale realizes ephemerol also causes fetuses to become scanners when administered to pregnant women. Obrist and Vale are ambushed by Revok's men and abducted.

Revok reveals to Vale ephemerol was originally developed by Dr. Ruth as a tranquilizer for pregnant women. Ruth learned about the drug's side-effect by providing it to his wife during her pregnancies. Revok reveals that he and Vale are brothers and Dr. Ruth was their father. Because their mother received the highest dose of ephemerol, Revok and Vale are the most powerful scanners. By mass distributing ephemerol to unwitting doctors, who prescribe it to their pregnant patients, Revok plans to create a new generation of scanners to take over the world, which he will control. Revok asks Vale to join him, but Vale refuses. The two have a final telepathic battle against one another; Vale's body is incinerated, but his mind takes over Revok's body. Obrist enters the room to find Vale's charred body on the floor. She hears Vale's voice coming from the corner of the room. In the corner is Revok—but his head scar is gone and he now has Vale's eyes. He faces Obrist and announces in Vale's voice, "We've won."

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Scene of the explosion of a ConSec scanner's head

The story is structured as a futuristic thriller, involving industrial espionage and intrigue, car chases, conspiracies, and shoot-outs (including a gruesome scanner duel between Vale and Revok at the end). It was the nearest thing to a conventional science fiction thriller Cronenberg had made up to that point, lacking the sexual content of Shivers, Rabid, or The Brood; it was also his most profitable film until The Fly six years later.[citation needed]

Because of the oddities of Canada's film financing structures at the time, it was necessary to begin shooting with only two weeks' pre-production work, before the screenplay had been completed, with Cronenberg writing the script between 4 and 7 a.m. each day throughout shooting. Since the production design team had no time to build sets, in some instances the crew had to drive around looking for things to shoot. As a result, Cronenberg has said, Scanners was a nightmare to make.[citation needed]

Make-up artist Dick Smith (The Exorcist, Amadeus) provided prosthetics for the climactic scanner duel and the iconic exploding head effect.[2][3]

Release[edit]

Scanners was released in the United States on January 14, 1981, by Embassy Pictures, and grossed $14,225,876 at the box office.[4]

Reviews[edit]

Scanners maintains an 80% rating on Rotten Tomatoes,[5] with positive reviews from Chicago Reader, the Austin Chronicle, and TV Guide. Film professor Charles Derry, in his overview of the horror genre Dark Dreams cited Scanners as "an especially important masterwork" and calling it the Psycho of its day.[6]

Some reviews were less positive. Film critic Roger Ebert gave Scanners two out of four stars and wrote, "Scanners is so lockstep that we are basically reduced to watching the special effects, which are good but curiously abstract, because we don't much care about the people they're happening around".[7] In his review for The New York Times, Vincent Canby wrote, "Had Mr. Cronenberg settled simply for horror, as John Carpenter did in his classic Halloween (though not in his not-so-classic The Fog), Scanners might have been a Grand Guignol treat. Instead he insists on turning the film into a mystery, and mystery demands eventual explanations that, when they come in Scanners, underline the movie's essential foolishness".[8]

Awards and honors[edit]

Although Scanners was not nominated for any major awards, it did receive some recognition. The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films gave the film its Saturn Award in 1981 for "Best International Film", and, in addition, the "Best Make-Up" award went to Dick Smith in a tie with Altered States. The film had also been nominated for "Best Special Effects".

Scanners also won "Best International Fantasy Film" from Fantasporto in 1983, and was nominated for eight Genie Awards in 1982, but did not win any.[9][10]

Soundtrack[edit]

Mondo released the Howard Shore score for Scanners, alongside The Brood, on vinyl; it features cover art by Sam Wolfe Conelly.[11]

Legacy[edit]

Scanners spawned sequels and a series of spin-offs; a remake was announced in 2007, but as of 2014 has not gone into production.[12] None of these projects has involved Cronenberg as director.

Sequels[edit]

Spin-offs[edit]

Remake[edit]

In February 2007, Darren Lynn Bousman (director of Saw II, Saw III, and Saw IV) was announced as director of a remake of the film, to be released by The Weinstein Company and Dimension Films. David S. Goyer was assigned to script the film. The film was planned for an October 17, 2008, release, but the date came and went without further announcements, and all the parties involved have since moved on to other projects.[12] In an interview with Bousman in 2013, he recalled that he would not make the film without Cronenberg's blessing, which was not granted.

Television series[edit]

In July 2011, it was announced that Dimension was planning to adapt the franchise as a television series.[13]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "SCANNERS (X)". British Board of Film Classification. February 10, 1981. Retrieved October 19, 2014. 
  2. ^ Vincent Canby "Scanners" The New York Times (14 January 1981); "Scanners" Variety (1 January 1981); "Scanners" Cinemafantastique
  3. ^ Kinnear, Simon (August 15, 2011). 50 Best Movie Special Effects. TotalFilm.com archive Retrieved January 24, 2012
  4. ^ "Scanners". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2009-01-08. 
  5. ^ http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1018315-scanners/
  6. ^ Derry, Charles (1987). "More Dark Dreams: Some Notes on the Recent Horror Film". In Waller, Gregory. American Horrors: Essays on the Modern American Horror Film. Chicago: University of Illinois Press. p. 173. ISBN 0-252-01448-0. 
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger (January 1, 1981). "Scanners". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2009-01-08. 
  8. ^ Canby, Vincent (January 14, 1981). "Scanners". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-01-08. 
  9. ^ IMDB Awards
  10. ^ Allmovie Awards
  11. ^ Mondo Selling ‘Scanners/The Brood’ OST On Vinyl Tomorrow
  12. ^ a b Fleming, Michael (2007-02-27). "'Scanners' moves to new dimension". Variety. Retrieved 2015-12-08. 
  13. ^ Andreeva, Nellie. "Dimension To Develop 'Scanners' TV Series". Deadline.com. 

Further reading[edit]

  • "Scanners: Retro Classic Film No. 17" by Jonathan Hatfull, SciFiNow No. 77, pages 122–125. Discussion of the first film's story, actors, director, etc., and its production. Four pages, 10 photos including opening exploding head scene and final scene, large format British magazine; issue appeared on newsstands in the U.S. in March 2013.
  • "Heads you lose: Scanners", Total Film, No. 213, December 2013, pages 140–141. Illustrated discussion (color photos and drawings) of the exploding head scene with comments by writer-director David Cronenberg, producer Pierre David, and actor Stephen Lack.
  • "Explosions of Grandeur" by Michael Doyle, Rue Morgue Issue 146, July 2014, pages 30 – 32. Comments by Cronenberg and Lack on the difficulties of the production: unfinished script, motorist tragedy, and special effects of opening and closing scenes. Three pages, eight color photos, including behind-the-scenes.

External links[edit]