Scanners (1981) — Psychics wage war against each other

“I’m gonna suck your brain dry! Everything you are is gonna become me.”

Justin’s rating: This film blew my mind

Justin’s review: It’s not every movie that can be instantly known and completely summed up in a single image or animated GIF. But it happens. It happens. The problem is, when a movie is reduced down to such, people feel like they already know it and don’t have to see it.

That’s always been the case with Scanners and me. Everyone knows it as “that film where the one dude blows up the other dude’s head with his mind.” The problem is, that’s just five seconds of a 102-minute runtime, so there must be some other story in there as well. Plus, it kicked off a franchise of two film series, so I figured it was high time to get past the shallow surface and dive deep into this David Cronenberg special.

And in truth, this movie is so much more than a meme. In the first few minutes, a rogue “scanner” (that’s a powerful psychic) infiltrates a mind-reading demonstration and brings about mass casualties. He’s Revok (the legendary Michael Ironside), in insane man out to gather up all of the scanners of the world to his cause — or else eliminate them.

The only hope that ConSec, the security agency that was studying scanners, has is to unleash a scanner of their own to track Revok down. So their lone hope is a disturbed man named Cameron (Stephen Lack), who’s got to learn how to use the Force while he races to eliminate the very guy who wants him dead.

ESP and psychic phenomena was quite trendy in the ’80s — such as we saw in Vibes and Firestarter — and Scanners has a great deal of fun setting up an entire world populated with special people who can read minds, set others on fire, toss folks across the room, and, yes, make heads pop like ticks. The concept of two groups of scanners effectively waging war on each other is a great one.

It’s such a solid premise that it’s only somewhat held back by Cronenberg’s wonky storytelling techniques. I know the guy’s a cult legend and all that, but I find that his movies are usually as flawed as they come. Scanners struggles against languid pacing, an obnoxious soundtrack, and characters who talk like they’re desperately thinking of their next lines.

It took a while for Scanners to be discovered and gradually pupate into a cult flick deserving of what ended up being two sequels and two spin-offs. But there’s nothing quite like the original, even if it is 10% people staring bug-eyed at each other until one of them flops back onto the floor.

Didja notice?

  • Government trackers like to hang out in the mall like anyone else
  • Who’s calling who a “human piece of junk?”
  • The jumble of voices that the Scanner is hearing in his head
  • This soundtrack is so annoying
  • Wow you really don’t have to wait long for this movie to get to the head ‘splosion
  • There are 236 known Scanners
  • I don’t think this is an art gallery. I think it’s Cronenberg’s living room.
  • “Now I know what it feels like to die.”
  • This movie loves its shotguns

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