Directed By: David Cronenberg
Starring: Jennifer O'Neill, Stephen Lack, Patrick McGoohan
Tag line: "10 Seconds: The Pain Begins. 15 Seconds: You Can't Breathe. 20 Seconds: You Explode"
Trivia: Top-billed Jennifer O'Neill doesn't appear until the 37 minute mark
Blending a spy story with his own unique brand of body horror, writer / director David Cronenberg has, with his 1981 film Scanners, concocted an intriguing motion picture that those with a weak stomach may want to avoid.
After being identified as a “scanner” (a person with advanced telepathy, who is able to both read and control people’s minds), Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) is taken into custody and delivered to Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan), who has dedicated his life to studying this unusual phenomenon. An employee of ConSec, a firm that specializes in high-tech security, Dr. Ruth believes that Scanners, if properly trained, would make formidable weapons. Not everyone agrees; the company’s new director, Braedon Keller (Lawrence Dane), feels Dr. Ruth’s research has failed to produce any results, and should therefore be shut down. So, to prove his theories are correct, the good doctor sends his star pupil, Stephen Vale, to infiltrate a group of rogue scanners, which, led by the volatile Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside), intends to use telekinesis to take over the world.
Along with uncovering the fact that Revok is directly involved in the manufacturing of the drug Ephemerol, which is used by scanners to control their telepathic powers, Vale also finds there’s a traitor in ConSec, who is leaking vital information to Revok’s group. Hoping to end the hostilities (which have grown more violent in recent days) between the two organizations , Vale convinces fellow scanner Kim Obrist (Jennifer O’Neill), a former associate of Revok’s, to talk with ConSec. But what Vale doesn’t yet realize is there’s more to this situation than meets the eye, and not everything is as it seems.
With its story of corporate espionage and world domination, Scanners sounds more like a James Bond movie than it does a horror film, and, to be sure, it does feature several exciting shoot-outs, as well as one very powerful scene in which Vale uses his scanning abilities to hack into ConSec’s computer (a sequence that ends with a bang.. literally). In addition, Scanners turns a critical eye towards the pharmaceutical industry, which, it contends, sometimes puts profits above all else (apparently, Ephemerol has been around for years, and wasn’t always used to suppress scanning). But, in true Cronenberg fashion, Scanners also has its share of body horror, some of which is quite disturbing (the infamous “head explosion” still packs a punch, yet even this pales in comparison to the film’s gruesome finale).
With strong performances by Michael Ironside and Patrick McGoohan, as well as a number of surprising plot twists, Scanners is an intense motion picture, and while it may not be the most horrific movie that Cronenberg ever directed, it’s certainly one of his most interesting.