“10 Seconds: The Pain Begins. 15 Seconds: You Can’t Breathe. 20 Seconds: You Explode.”
Director: David Cronenberg
Cast: Jennifer O’Neill, Stephen Lack, Patrick McGoohan
Synopsis: A scientist sends a man with extraordinary psychic powers to hunt others like him.
You have to admit that David Cronenberg certainly knew how to make a little go a long way back in the days when he was a modest director of cheap Canadian B-movies. I’m old enough to remember when Scanners was first released, and still recall the huge level of attention which that exploding head received. That one scene alone made it the must-see movie for young adults in search of a yucky thrill, and the fact that the rest of the movie was something of an anti-climax did nothing to damage its business at the box office. Who cares if the rest of the film isn’t very good if we get to see some guy’s head explode? Like an appearance from Hitchcock, Cronenberg placed the scene early in the movie, not, I suspect, to get it out of the way like Hitchcock did, but so that we’d hang around hoping it would happen again…
The story involves the recruiting by a shadowy organisation of a down-and-out (Stephen Lack – there’s a reason why you haven’t seen him in much else) who possesses the psychic ability to control minds. His name is Cameron Vale, and his ability isn’t unique – there are others like him out there. They’re known as Scanners, and nearly all of them have fallen under the spell of the sinister Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside – Total Recall) who, just like the schlockiest Bond villain, plans to use their powers for world domination. Vale is persuaded by Doctor Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan – All Night Long, Braveheart) to infiltrate Revok’s organisation with the aim of bringing it down from within.
Despite Cronenberg’s inventiveness, there’s no way he can disguise the b-movie cheapness of Scanners. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but it’s tempting to think that budgetary constraints might have influenced the decision to cast little-known actor Stephen Lack in the lead role. There are some who argue that Lack’s awful performance is a deliberate attempt to portray the trauma he has undergone as a result of his powers, but that doesn’t really ring true. An odd speech pattern might do it, or a physical tic – but to talk like a bad actor? I don’t think so, somehow. And apart from an effectively intense stare, his acting really is bad enough to be a distraction which damages the film. Thankfully, the wonderfully effective Michael Ironside is on hand to redress the balance a little as the charismatic bad guy whose own trauma over the voices in his head resulted in him trying to drill a hole in it. Unfortunately, Ironside isn’t on screen anywhere near long enough, while the beautiful but inexpressive Jennifer O’Neill, who receives lead billing, contributes next to nothing in the kind of role that calls upon her to do exactly that.
(Reviewed 9th April 2015)