Scanners (1981)

Director: David Cronenberg

According to Wikipedia this was Cronenberg’s biggest commercial hit to this point in his career, returned something like $15m on a $3m budget which was fair business… seems also to have been his most straightforward film so far too (though I can’t judge that as I’ve not seen much of his earlier work, just his first two short features and Fast Company, which is… unrepresentative). One thing that is hard to deny, though, is that the film is, rightly or wrongly, known for that one scene, and that one understandably infamous special effect. What surprised me when I first saw the film a few years ago, though, was, well, how not a horror film it otherwise was until you get to the climactic showdown… if anything, Scanners is really more of a conspiracy thriller with a SF undercurrent, involving telepaths created as a side-effect of a pregnancy drug; ConSec, a company dealing in weapons and security, is using these scanners for its own purposes, and finds itself opposed by a rogue scanner (Michael Ironside) basically out to rule the world with the “scanner underground” he’s creating, leading ConSec to send out their last scanner (Stephen Lack) to stop him. Except Lack’s good guy is more like Ironside’s bad guy than he realises… Ironside is fine as Revok, and I just wish the film had used him a little bit more than it did; Lack is more problematic as Vale, because he is, well, kind of lacking. Apparently he is and was better known as an artist than as an artiste; either way he doesn’t exactly bring much in the way of screen presence, does he… I wouldn’t be as harsh as the IMDB commenter suggesting he should’ve got a Razzie for his work, but equally I’m not sure I side with his defenders saying Vale was supposed to be a flat character; it’s a thin line between flat character and just flat acting and I think Lack lands on the wrong side more often than not. He’s a weak link in a film that was already kind of ordinary, and which I think wouldn’t be particularly remembered if it weren’t kind of overshadowed by the exploding head business that the rest of the film doesn’t quite live up to…

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