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  • Writer's pictureThe Screen Room

Scanners (1981)

I watched two bad horror movies last week.

The first has actually been mentioned a number times in the comments of various posts I’ve done over the last couple of years and the second is a film I’ve been curious about since I was a teenager.

The first film I didn’t enjoy enough to write a post about but the second I thought was worth the effort.

Scanners (1981)

(In case you were wondering, the other film was In the Mouth of Madness (1994). A little more on that after the technical bit…)

If you haven’t seen this movie it’s a classic 80s sci-fi/horror directed by David Cronenberg (The Fly).

It stars Patrick McGoohan (Braveheart), Michael Ironside (Total Recall), Stephen Lack (basically this and a few other things) and Jennifer O'Neill (again, this and a lot of TV movies) among others.

This is what it’s about according to IMDb:

A scientist trains a man with an advanced telepathic ability called "scanning", to stop a dangerous Scanner with extraordinary psychic powers from waging war against non scanners.

I’ve been aware of this film for years (the cover/poster in particular).

A friend of mine and I used to rent horror movies on VHS from a local video shop when we were kids. We’d choose which films we wanted and my friend’s mum would do the hiring because we weren’t technically old enough to watch them. I always remember seeing this film on the shelf but we never rented it for some reason.

Another reason I was curious about this film is because of a reference in Wayne’s World (1992).

Just after Wayne walks off the show shortly after an argument with sleazy producer, Benjamin (Rob Lowe), Garth is left to hold the fort as they go live and totally loses the plot. Their friend and crew member, Alan says: “You ever see that scene in Scanners where that dude’s head blew up?”

It’s always bugged me that I couldn’t relate to the reference. Well now I can.

As it happens that exact “head blowing up” scene popped up on my Facebook feed a few days ago which is what prompted me to watch the film.

The other movie (In the Mouth of Madness) is a John Carpenter film and one that’s rated quite highly. It’s considered his “last great film”. I’m afraid I have to respectfully disagree.

I love 1970s and 1980s John Carpenter movies! Halloween (1978), The Fog (1980) and The Thing (1982) are three of my favourite films of all time, but for me, Big Trouble in Little China (1986) was his “last great film” - although I did enjoy They Live (1988).

It’s as if he just forgot how to make good movies.

Anyway, back to Scanners!

This film is cheesy, dated and badly acted but d’you know what? I really enjoyed it.

To be fair, Patrick McGoohan is brilliant and unsurprisingly, totally outshines his co-stars. He’s a bit like the Donald Pleasance of Halloween: The “credibility”.

The guy who plays Cameron Vale (the main character) could’ve literally been plucked off the street and put in front of the camera without a script, he’s that bad. However, there’s something about him that makes you stick with it.

If awards were given out for physical acting and intense staring I think he’d have had a shot at an Oscar, but as soon as he has a line, it’s wood city!

Regardless, the film held my interest and a large part of that is because of him.

The movie’s got Cronenberg’s signature grit and gore all over it but being a huge fan of The Fly, I can’t believe how far he came as a filmmaker in just five years. As good as both films are, this isn’t a patch on The Fly, but at the same time I can see how his reputation grew due to the kind of films he made. They have a distinct style and he’s not afraid to take risks. I’d put him in the same category as Paul Verehoven for similar reasons.

If you like early 80s horror, comedic yet endearing performances that still manage to keep you on board, and a unique story with an infamous scene less that 15 minutes in, I recommend giving this a go.

Seen it? Let me know below.

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