Blu-ray Review: Scanners (1981)

Scanners BR CoverDistributor: Second Sight Films

BBFC Classification: 18

Director: David Cronenberg

Starring: Jennifer O’Neill, Stephen Lack, Patrick McGoohan, Michael Ironside, Robert A. Silverman

Having brought a certain level of sophistication and intelligence to the horror genre with feature films like Shivers, Rabid and The Brood, David Cronenberg’s first film of the 1980s moved away from the director’s penchant for physical and biological abnormalities and concentrated on the powers of the mind.

A vagrant called Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack – Dead Ringers) is what is known as a ‘scanner’ – somebody with the powers of telepathy and telekinesis – and after an incident in a shopping mall where he ‘scans’ somebody who he overhears talking about him, Vale is picked up by ConSec, a security company trying to utilise scanners, run by Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan – The Prisoner). Vale is drafted in to hunt down Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside – Total Recall), a rogue scanner whose powers have grown considerably stronger than other scanners and who has turned against ConSec.

With all of Cronenberg’s films to that point containing some sort of social commentary, Scanners was no less subversive with its underlying themes of segregation and until his groundbreaking remake of The Fly in 1986, Scanners remained Cronenberg’s most profitable film. Originally released smack-bang in the middle of arguably David Cronenberg’s most prolific period, Scanners received a certain level of notoriety amongst audiences who couldn’t get enough of one particular scene. As the film is over 30 years old it’s hardly spoiling it to say that the scene involves two scanners scanning each other and one of their heads explodes and, if nothing else, seeing that still brilliant special effect in HD is enough of a selling point.

But there is more to Scanners than just that one scene. Michael Ironside’s menacing performance as Darryl Revok is reminiscent of Jack Nicholson in The Shining (depite both movies being in production around the same time, but there is a similarity), exuding lethal madness every time he’s on the screen, and the final battle between him and Stephen Lack’s Cameron Vale is a tour-de-force of practical effects as the two go head-to-head – literally – in a conflict of minds to see who is the most powerful. Away from the big special effects scenes, the film is fairly stark and has little in the way of glittering set designs, which adds to the dystopian feel and keeps the mood fairly sombre.

However, Scanners is not without its faults, the main one being the performance – or lack(!) of one – from Stephen Lack, who seems to drift from scene to scene with his bulging eyes doing all of the work. His line delivery is quite painful throughout and he never manages to convey any sense of power or heroism. Possibly deliberate on Lack’s part to try and get across the sense of somebody who doesn’t know his place in society, but take away Michael Ironside’s sinister performance and there’s not enough from Lack to carry the film.

The visuals in Scanners still stand up as testament as to what can be achieved with practical effects. The squibs that explode during a shoot-out scene don’t look like real gunshot wounds but the over-ripe redness of the blood and the action of the explosion fits the heightened violence of the film, and it all looks gorgeous in HD. Extras on the disc are made up of interviews with some of the key players from the film, including Stephen Lack, make-up effects artist Stephen Dupuis and executive producer Pierre David. Nothing from David Cronenberg or Michael Ironside but what is there is informative and Stephen Lack even manages some emotion whilst talking, which would have been better used during the actual film but never mind.

As is typical of most of David Cronenberg’s works, Scanners isn’t totally straightforward or easy to take in without having to ask a few questions, but that’s the reason why Cronenberg is so revered amongst genre fans. Whether you’re new to the film or are looking to upgrade from your old DVD then this Blu-ray edition is certainly worth picking up for the quality of the visuals and the nice and shiny steelbook edition looks marvellous sat on the shelf, but if you’re after some deeper supplementary material other than interviews with people who aren’t David Cronenberg or Michael Ironside then it may be worth hanging on to those old DVD’s as well.


Special Features: My Art Keeps Me Sane interview with star Stephen Lack, The Eye of Scanners interview with cinematographer Mark Irwin, The Chaos of Scanners interview with executive producer Pierre David, Exploding Brains and Popping Heads interview with makeup effects artist Stephan Dupuis, Bad Guy Dane interview with actor Lawrence Dane.

UK Release Date: 8th April 2013

Second Sight Films – Website


2 thoughts on “Blu-ray Review: Scanners (1981)

  1. Pingback: Blu-ray Review: The Brood (1979) | Ancient Slumber

  2. Pingback: Blu-ray Review: The Fury (1978) | Ancient Slumber

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