Movie Review: “Scanners”- A Film with the Potential to Blow Your Mind

Written by Angela December 11, 2013


Violent sci-fi action horror films are as aligned with the 1980s as cocaine and synth-pop. Some stamped out an imprint on our cultural consciousness (“The Terminator” and “RoboCop,” etc.), while others drifted from collective memory as swiftly as Cabbage Patch Kids. David Cronenberg’s 1981 Canadian feature “Scanners” is torn between these two camps. The special effects and concept are certainly deserving of recognition, although the film’s overall execution explains why it was been buried in the 1980s horror-movie graveyard.

Cameron Vale (played by the lack-luster Stephen Lack) is a cardboard cutout of a hobo living in a shopping mall. The reason his character has the personality of dried cod is because he possesses the rather marginalizing ability to connect his nervous system to other people’s, and “scan” their minds as a result. There are others like him, known as “scanners”. A weaponry company called Consec is attempting to recruit and wield these scanners, but a big scary scanner named Daryl Revok (a young Michael Ironside) isn’t too keen on this idea. He blows up some heads to express his disapproval of scanners being used as weapons, which I guess makes sense if your action movie needs a villain. Anyways, Vale is hired by Consec to hunt Revok down before he can crack anymore craniums.

“We’re gonna do this the scanner way.”

For a Cronenberg movie, the plot is surprisingly formulaic. Instead of emphasizing subversion or metaphor, what we have here is a good ol’ fashioned action flick, complete with a hero, a villain, a quest, a female sidekick, and a standard plot-twist at the end. Because of this, the movie isn’t exactly original; the concept of underground wars occurring between mutants is reminiscent of other sci-fi classics such as Marvel’s “X-Men” series or Katsuhiro Otomo’s “Akira”. The story, though bland, is easy to follow, so viewers are free to admire the way the performers scrunch their faces as they try to enact mind control. The special effects are also a fun element, reminding contemporary audiences that science fiction films predate the age of CGI. The problem, however, is that this film definitely would have benefited from some modern-day help.


While movies like “The Terminator” or “RoboCop” were some of the first mainstream Hollywood films to really push the envelope in the sci-fi action/horror genre, “Scanners” just doesn’t have the confidence to push anything very hard. It presents some neat ideas and some memorable scenes, but attempts at suspense or excitement end up falling flat. Perhaps the film was limited by its budget, or perhaps it was simply unclear at the time how great it could have been, and how far it could have gone since nothing really had ever been done like it before. Either way, there are gaps left in the film where adventure and gumption are missing, filled instead by a heavy sense of stodgy uncertainty.


Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” was screened only a year after this film in 1982, proving that making a great sci-fi action film was certainly possible for the time; “Scanners” would have definitely been better if it were made 20 or 30 years later. A remake of the movie, with updated music, cinematography, acting and editing techniques is something that I’d actually support, so long as at least some of the same SFXs are used. Overall, the “Scanners” of 1981 is better if viewed as a pitch of a great movie rather than an actual feature film. Here’s hoping that someone out there in Hollywood reaches into the barrel of potential remakes and pulls this title out.

Overall Rating: 6.5/10

Scanners poster



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About Angela

Angela McInnes is an English major and up-and-coming horror film aficionado. To her, happiness is a bottle of rum and a creature-feature on a Saturday night.

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