The Film (3/5)
An odd looking homeless man, named Cameron (Stephen Lack), discovers he can hear the minds of anyone around him. While looking for food at a mall, he accidently nearly kills a woman with a violent form of ESP. The man is shot and captured. He is brought to the ConSec company where he meets Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan). Ruth informs him that he is a Scanner, a special kind of human with a high level of ESP. Unfortunately, some of the Scanners are becoming power hungry and want to rule humanity. One such Scanner is Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside), a violent and unstoppable man who will kill anyone who doesn’t join him. Dr. Ruth decides to train Cameron and send him on a mission to find Revok. But is Cameron strong enough to survive Revok’s wrath?
David Cronenberg is the master of body horror. But he is also a master story teller with endless ideas about humanity and where it’s going. Some of his films like his feature length debut, SHIVERS (1975), predicted the AIDS crisis of the 1980’s and VIDEODROME (1983) showed a closer to true future where media slowly dehumanize us. SCANNERS (1981) is an odd duck in his filmography, as the ideas are ambitious and the insane make up effects and gore shots are part of horror history, but the story is uneven and weak. The rushed production and script issues are apparent from the get go. Plot points and twists are awkwardly forced into the story, and the third act is rushed. The biggest positive is the mind-blowing effects by Dick Smith. The opening head explosion is legendary and the ending battle between the Scanners, is painful to watch at times. The stunt work and brief action set pieces also add a bit of spy drama to the movie.
While the story itself is a huge mess, the hidden themes and style save the film. One element of the movie that is fascinating is the homoerotic natural of the film. While not hugely obvious, the movie is filled with coded messages. The idea of having a hidden (or as Dr. Ruth puts it, Invisible abilities at birth) attraction to more of your kind, mirrors silently checking out lgbt people looking for signs of connection. A more opened message is the movie’s treatment of dangerous pharmaceuticals. The origin of the Scanners is related to this drug, and the movie talks about the ill effects of drug addiction during pregnancy.
On the cast side of things, the biggest issue is the lead character of Cameron played by Stephen Lack. There’s plenty of jokes about Lack’s performance and how it’s “lacking”, but ultimately he is just too wooden. His character isn’t fully developed until a ham-fisted origin story at the tail end of the film, but by that point too much damage is done. He almost turns into self-parody as he yells Revok with almost zero emotion. Michael Ironside shines in this early role. He makes a charismatic villain and it’s a shame he isn’t in the movie more. Patrick McGoohan classes up the movie whenever he is on screen. With his deep and powerful voice, he gives the uneven script backbone. Jennifer O’Neill, who is also top billed, isn’t given much to do other than react to stunts or add a female element to the film.
The first audio track on this Region B is the LPCM 2.0 Channel German. As I don’t speak German, I stuck with the English language 2.0 track. Both sound wonderful with no sudden drops in pitch or music. The German had sharper sounding dialogue. A third track is also included. The sound effects and soundtrack only track is smooth and highlights Howard Shore’s offbeat choice of music. Not to mention the some of the slimy and off putting sound work. German subtitles are included for the movie.
SCANNERS has an outstanding looking 1080p HD transfer. The black levels are sharp and the shadows are clear and mixed in. The crisp picture is full of detail. Some scenes you can clearly count the hairs on Patrick McGoohan’s head.
The main extra is an Audio Commentary with Marcus Stiglegger. The track is in German with no subtitles, so I can’t judge the contents. Up next is Ephemerol Diaries: An Interview with Stephen Lack. Lack comes off as a nice guy and shares many funny antidotes from the film’s production. There’s also an image gallery of mostly German movie posters for the film, the Original US Trailer, TV spot, Original beat up German Trailer, and a newly remastered version of the same trailer. Rounding out the package, the Blu-ray comes with reversible cover art.
SCANNERS is a huge cult favorite, that sadly doesn’t hold up. The gore and themes are still as great as ever, but the uneven script, embarrassing performance by Stephen Lack, and bad pace just derail the movie. Not terrible, but not great either. This Subkultur Entertainment Blu-ray impresses with excellent sound and picture. Recommended.