Scanners (1981)
April 9, 2018 6:06 PM - Subscribe

A scientist sends a man with extraordinary psychic powers to hunt others like him.

Criterion Collection: With Scanners, David Cronenberg plunges us into one of his most terrifying and thrilling sci-fi worlds. After a man with extraordinary—and frighteningly destructive—telepathic abilities is nabbed by agents from a mysterious rogue corporation, he discovers he is far from the only possessor of such strange powers, and that some of the other “scanners” have their minds set on world domination, while others are trying to stop them. A trademark Cronenberg combination of the visceral and the cerebral, this phenomenally gruesome and provocative film about the expanses and limits of the human mind was the Canadian director’s breakout hit in the United States.

NYTimes: 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. Reason is not required in horror films, but when it's invited in, the film maker must take the consequences, as Brian De Palma did in his otherwise gaudy ''The Fury.''

Slant: Scanners ages well. In a cinema presently glutted with pandering hero fantasies of the “one” who’s meant to liberate us from corrupt drudgery, it’s refreshing to revisit a movie that looks upon such pat optimism with contempt. Angry, narratively pared, and memorably lit in shades of industrial fugue-state gray by cinematographer Mark Irwin, the film certainly fulfills Cronenberg’s narrow design, which is also the rub. The film is surprisingly routine and emotionally drab for the director, particularly compared to the tragic familial intimacy of The Brood, which immediately preceded it and which remains one of the director’s most despairing and original works. The symbolic telepath story often appears to be at odds with the actual plot, which is a stalk-and-run narrative that reduces the power of the best scenes. The characters are interchangeable. The car chases and gunfights are disappointingly ordinary considering that the principles can mentally connect to supercomputers or other humans’ nervous systems. You can’t help but wonder why Cameron, or particularly Darryl, wouldn’t just bypass all the thriller convolutions and proceed straight to their target and start in with the obsessive one-upmanship body horror. This film ends at a point where Cronenberg’s subsequent Videodrome would just be getting started: with identities mooted and the new flesh beginning to emerge. Scanners has a gratifyingly gnarly sense of punk cynicism, but it never entirely breaks free of its own containment, which is to say the obligations of genre.

Roger Ebert: The problem with “Scanners” is really very simple: It is about its plot rather than about what happens to its characters. That is a big difference. Movies that are about their plots force their characters through their predestined paces. Movies that are about characters seem to happen as we're watching them. “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.


Mind. Blown.

DVD Review in The Dissolve

Looking back at David Cronenberg’s Scanners

Beyond The Meme: Revisiting ‘Scanners’

A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Burst: David Cronenberg's 'Scanners,' in a Blu-ray/DVD Edition

Exploding head aside, Scanners is one of Cronenberg’s most conventional films
posted by MoonOrb (3 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think this is considered canonically the best movie head explosion ever.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:31 PM on April 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

Have not seen all of this but it came across as b-movie cheesie horror with a bit of scifi philosophy smooshed on. I realize it's a 'classic' and I should give it a decent viewing but it did not grab or scare or even particularly gross me out.
posted by sammyo at 6:11 PM on April 10, 2018

Ebert hits the nail on the head vis a vis early Cronenberg: it's not even that the director cares about horror effects over character, as many horror directors do. It's that Cronenberg cares more about ideas than anything. If Scanners is less than it could be, that's probably because we don't care about its faceless hero. I'm not sure Cronenberg would have recognized this as a problem at all at this point, but he seems to get it in his next films -- casting charismatic leads like James Woods and Christopher Walken -- and definitely realizes by The Fly and Dead Ringers that the kind of grand operatic tragedies he wants to make must first give us someone to love.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:37 AM on April 11, 2018

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