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Scanners (1981) 

scanners Poster

Director: David Cronenberg
Writer: David Cronenberg
Starring: Jennifer O’Neill, Stephen Lack, Patrick McGoohan, Michael Ironside
Review By: Griff


One thing that they loved to do in the early 80’s is make a guys head explode. If your horror movie didn’t have an exploding head then it wasn’t a horror movie. Probably two of the finest examples of this are Maniac (1980) (previously reviewed by yours truly) and todays film, Scanners. This film is pretty well known for aforementioned exploding head scene. In fact I am sure there are a lot of people out there who have seen the head go pop and have never seen the whole film.

Scanners is about a group of “special” people that have ability to scan and control other peoples minds. Cameron Vale (Lack) is a particularly powerful scanner who lives a tortured life. He doesn’t know how to control his power and is constantly overwhelmed by hearing other peoples thoughts to the point of it being maddening. After Cameron has a really bad episode at the mall he is abducted by a company called ConSec that has been trying to weaponize the Scanners. Dr. Paul Ruth (Cameron) is the head of the Scanners project and he helps Cameron control the maddening voices in his head.  Cameron soon forms a bond with Dr. Ruth and stops resisting his captors.

scanners still 2

Trying to stop ConSec is Darryl Revok (Ironside) a renegade scanner who also possess abilities greater than normal scanners. Revok sneaks into a press conference that ConSec is holding and causes some considerable mayhem when explodes another scanners head during a presentation. After the incident the board members of ConSec would like to shut down the scanners project but Dr. Ruth comes up with a plan to use Cameron as a spy to infiltrate the scanner underground and weed out Revok. Ruth helps train Cameron to control his powers and sends him out to locate Revok. Along the way Cameron discovers the truth about his past and uncovers the secret behind Revok’s master plan.

scanners still 3

Scanners is an interesting early effort from Cronenberg. (He followed this up with Videodrome.) It definitely has enough plot twists to keep people guessing and it featured some pretty radical special effects for the time. Where it slips is with the casting of Stephen Lack as Cameron Vale. His acting is so bad it’s almost laughable and it makes it difficult to take this movie seriously. There are also some huge leaps of faith with the plot that will definitely leave you scratching your head. Still, Scanners is good campy fun and if you are a fan of the horror genre this is required viewing. Scanner gets 2 guys out of 3 from me.

2guys copy


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • joe September 6, 2013, 7:09 pm

    Hey mark,
    Looks like I better check this one out. Pretty sure that I watched this on cable back in the day but I’m always up for exploding heads and bad acting not to mention I have to admit that I am a fan of the James woods and Deborah harry starring thriller videodrome. Thanks for another flick to check out.

    • Griff September 9, 2013, 1:03 pm

      It’s definitely worth a watch. Good clean fun.

  • Chris September 7, 2013, 1:07 am

    I prefer Videodrome, but Scanners is not bad. Saw it for my Halloween marathon last year. Impressed by the the special effects, and the creepy performance by Michael Ironside.
    It was scary to be thrown into the mind of the patient, listening to all those voices. Perhaps David Cronenberg was using the film as a metaphor to comment on society’s prejudicial attitudes towards the mentally ill. In the context of the story, schizophrenia comes to mind. Being forced to live on the fringes of society as their powers/weaknesses are feared and misunderstood by many. Sort of like how the “X-Men” movies worked out.

    • Griff September 9, 2013, 1:07 pm

      Thanks for the comment Chris, there is always a little something extra going on with the Cronenberg movies. Especially with Videodrome. Definitely another classic and worthy of praise.

  • Tim The Film Guy September 7, 2013, 4:36 am

    Need to watch this again :D

    • Griff September 9, 2013, 1:04 pm

      Thanks for the comment Tim. Yeah I hadn’t seen this one since the 80’s myself. It was fun giving it a rewatch after all these years.

  • Sean September 7, 2013, 9:45 am

    This movie had a bit of a revival on video in the early-Nineties when it was referenced in Wayne’s World. It’s funny how a movie as twisted as this ended up being almost child’s play for what Cronenberg would later unleash.

    • Griff September 9, 2013, 1:10 pm

      Thanks Sean! I remember at the time this was pretty much the cutting edge of special effects. The head explosion was one of those game changer type moments. (Although I think the shotgun to the face in Maniac is the better of the two) It’s crazy how things have changed in such a short amount of time.

  • Brandon Early September 7, 2013, 9:43 pm

    I’m always glad to see Cronenberg getting some love. One of the very first substantial posts I ever wrote for the Dog Farm was an overview of pretty much all of Cronenberg’s genre movies. His entire filmography is almost infinitely rewatchable.

    • Griff September 9, 2013, 1:06 pm

      Thanks Brandon! In a bit of frightening news I hear they are talking about remaking Rabid. Sounds like a recipe for disaster!

      • Brandon Early September 9, 2013, 6:23 pm

        Was it Rabid? I was thinking I’d heard Shivers was up for a remake. That only stuck in my mind because I have a bit of a crush on Lynn Lowry. lol I think Shivers might have even more of a potential to be a train wreck in the wrong hands. You’d think something like Scanners would have more box office potential and more name recognition. Of course, it’s probably only a matter of time before that happens, too.

  • ckckred September 9, 2013, 4:34 pm

    Nice review. I remember catching this one night on TV. Really enjoyable film.

  • Thaddeus September 14, 2013, 8:40 am

    Cronenberg did a great job with this early film. A lot of his themes are present, and I respect the hell out of the guy for putting so much intelligence and art into a genre pic. The plot does strain credibility – and I don’t mean the super-powers – but I appreciate the slower pace this movie uses. Scanners makes great viewing alongside The Fury.

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