Film By Film: My SCANNERS Marathon
Sunday, October 13, 2013 at 08:31PM
James Oxyer

 

I had a bit of spare time on my hands not too long ago, so I decided to sit down and knock out every film in the Scanners franchise in one go. Needless to say, I’m still recovering, but I think getting my thoughts on each film in the series down on the website for October (yeah, they’re mainly sci-fi, but there’s definitely some horror elements). I’m keeping my thoughts brief because I would definitely go for giving some of them the full review treatment someday. Nevertheless, it would probably be a good idea to brace yourself for some maple leaf telekinetic madness:


Film By Film: The SCANNERS Series

Scanners (1981)

Scanners really isn’t one of David Cronenberg’s finer efforts, truth be told. Don’t get me wrong; I really like the film, but it has a very weird feeling throughout where it’s straddling the border between a genuinely good sci-fi/horror/thriller worthy of mass acclaim and a cheap Canadian exploitation flick with a convoluted plot looking for ways to make people’s heads explode. And in the end, it’s both. The story, centered around a young man with extraordinary telekinetic powers (referred to as a “scanner”) is recruited by a medical organization to track down a rogue scanner (Michael Ironside!) bent on world domination, isn’t told very well, it feels like Cronenberg is bullshitting his way through some scenes and hoping the audience doesn’t call his bluff. But if you can get past those moments, Scanners turns out to be an engaging sci-fi/thriller that’s, well, thrilling. Toss in the greatest exploding head effect you’ll ever see (alongside other great gore and make-up effects), a record shop called the “Disc-O-Mart” (not a pivotal plot point at all but that’s still great), and a more-awesome-than-you’d-think final telekinesis battle, and this one comes with a strong recommendation from me as, technically, the “best” Scanners movie.

Scanners II: The New Order (1991)

Get this: a sequel to a David Cronenberg movie not made by Cronenberg and made ten years after the original. This should be a disaster. But for some reason, I found myself really digging this trashy Canuxploitation flick. Here we have another scanner who’s recruited by the commander of the police force to help stop crime and ultimately rise to power. The scanner uncovers his dirty secrets and sets out to stop him and his planned “new order.” Let me paint a picture of Scanners II for you: take all my complaints about the first (convoluted plot, wooden acting), multiply them by fifty, and add in even more exploitative gore effects. That is this movie. I do think the original is much better, but this one moves at a faster clip so it’s more suitable for casual “I need something to do that doesn’t require brain activity” viewing on a lazy afternoon. There’s some painfully dated early-nineties culture on hand too, but the one thing that has aged well are the gore effects. TWO exploding heads this time and other assorted effects inserted just because they could. It’s a pretty trashy good time, and it’s occasionally boring, but trust me, the night is still young.

Scanners III: The Takeover (1991)

Hey, hey you there: take everything I just said about Scanners II and multiply that by a hundred. While that movie danced in and out of trash territory, Scanners III slams its foot on the gas and roars into it full-speed. This is probably my favorite of the Scanners movies (it’s also the one most people dislike the most, go figure) all due to sheer camp value. The plot this time around revolves around a young female scanner who takes an experimental drug to suppress her scanning-migraines but the drug has a side effect that turns her into a raging mega-bitch. She then begins a takeover of her father’s company with plans to ultimately take over the world, and only her scanner brother can stop her. That plot alone sounds like good fun, but the details are what make this flick crazy. Pantless dance scenes, the funniest “scanning faces” in the series, outrageous deaths (including a hysterical finger explosion effect), terrible one-liners, and so much more. It’s easy to tell that no one’s taking anything seriously, and I am oh-so fine with that.

Scanner Cop (1994)

There really was nowhere to go after Scanners III was gloriously vomited upon the world, so the Scanners series pulled a Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and gave it a new look. This one’s about police officer Sam Staziak, who happens to be a scanner. A disgruntled criminal (Richard Lynch!) is hypnotizing innocent civilians into killing cops at random and it’s up to Staziak to track him down using his telekinetic powers. Scanner Cop is the “best” film in the series right after the original, but unfortunately, it’s my least favorite out of all of them. It retains a lot of good things found in previous entries, like phenomenal effects work (this time from John Carl Buechler) and adds in better acting and a better plot. However, it probably wasn’t a good idea to watch this one right after III because the two are radically different. Scanner Cop takes itself entirely too seriously, which is one of its faults. The really major fault is that Sam is the sole scanner in the whole movie. This elements a lot of suspense in the fight scenes because you always know who’s coming out on top. But despite not playing a scanner, Richard Lynch is still his rugged villain-y self, and that’s always surefire entertainment. Plus there’s an interesting, if really out of place, plot point where Sam goes to Hell via his scanning powers, but nothing is really done with it. It also feels a lot less Canadian than the past three films, which might also be why it’s not up to snuff. Eh. It’s not a bad watch, but it could’ve been better...

Scanner Cop II (1995)

...like this. Why couldn’t the first one have been like this? I’m glad the marathon was ended on a positive note because Scanner Cop II surprised me with how entertaining it was. The big reason why? There’s a scanner antagonist. This sequel finds Staziak facing off against a diabolic scanner that escaped from the mental institution Staziak put him in. Now he’s sucking the life force out of other scanners and gaining power to destroy Sam. This one’s got everything I was looking for in the first Scanner Cop movie; classic scanning battles, fun action scenes, lots of gooey gore (the melting effects are frequent and fantastic), and some likable characters. But only one head explosion though. What up with that?

 

I’d like to compare the Scanners series to sloths: they contribute nothing to society, they don’t get anything done, but I love them to death. Seriously, I wouldn’t have minded if this series went on until the end of time and just got crazier with each passing film. Even the weakest film is still pretty darn good, and that’s a feat not many series that have spanned five-plus films can say. It’s a really good marathon if you ever have eight hours to spare, despite the drastic tonal shift from Scanners III to Scanner Cop. So go ahead; bask in the head-exploding, vein-popping, constipation-faced, horribly dated Canadian-ness of them all. You won’t regret it.

 

Rankings:


1. Scanners III: The Takeover

2. Scanners

3. Scanners II: The New Order

4. Scanner Cop II

5. Scanner Cop

 

And a great supercut of Scanners III promoting the Blu-Ray (yeah, it’s on Blu!):

 

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