31 Days of Halloween — Day 29: Scanners (2015) — by Dr. Shock

Editor’s note: Dave “Dr. Shock” Becker is a host on Horror Movie Podcast and the Land of the Creeps horror podcast. He is also the mastermind behind DVDInfatuation.com, a movie review blog where he is watching and posting one review every day until he reaches at least 2,500 movie reviews. Follow Doc on Twitter: @DVDinfatuation.

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 between the two organizations (which have grown more violent in recent days), 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.

— Dr. Shock

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3 thoughts on “31 Days of Halloween — Day 29: Scanners (2015) — by Dr. Shock


    Day 29 – Phenomena (1985)

    Much like many of the great horror directors of the 1970’s and 1990’s, I can’t say Argento has aged too well with his recent movies. Luckily, unlike some of his American contemporaries, I still haven’t seen all of Argento’s best movies. From his prime period, I’ve greatly enjoyed what Argento I have seen with Suspiria, Deep Red, Opera, and Tenebre being the ones that instantly spring to mind. Phenomena has been one I’ve been meaning to watch for awhile now thanks to the interest factor of an Argento film with Dr. Loomis himself, Donald Pleasence. Perhaps it’s because I’m so used to seeing Pleasence as Loomis, but I saw a lot of Dr. Loomis in Prof. John McGregor. Like Loomis, McGregor is someone that recognizes the evilness in the killer similarly to how Loomis saw Myers. More importantly though, Pleasence allowed for the most emotional moments in the film.

    The first emotional moment is a bit silly, but seeing Dr. Loomis interact with his pet chimp may just be my favorite thing in the world. I love monkeys and chimps, so seeing one interact so much with such a significant character from the horror series that made me a movie fan was even more fun than it was likely intended to be. Seriously, I dare anyone to watch McGregor chastise his chimp and not have a goofy smile on their face. This relationship between McGregor and his chimp plays a critical role later on as the killer goes after McGregor. This scene worked incredibly well for me. Here you have the poor chimp locked out the house, realizing that something is wrong, and desperately trying to break in while it’s making all of these heartbreaking cries. Meanwhile, McGregor wakes up and the viewer is forced to witness something never done in a Halloween movie – the death of “Dr. Loomis”. It’s heartbreaking and I know that sort of emotional would not have been there had a different actor been used and the chimp on the outside showing his despair. All of this sets up a final moment in the film that was incredibly rewarding. I don’t want to spoil what happens, but it ended the movie with me very pleased with what I saw.

    I found Phenomena a bit weird in that it felt as if it was two stories combined into one. The first story is all about Jennifer (Jennifer Connelly) and her unusual relationship with insects. It’s a bit of a weird story and due to how unusual it is, I wonder if it was merely a concept that was tacked onto another story because it couldn’t exist on it’s own? The other story is far more common as there’s apparently a killer on the loose, knocking off teenage girls. It’s your typical giallo story with a killer apparently wearing black gloves, and killing their victims in violent ways. On one hand, this isn’t your typical giallo with the heavy emphasis on animals, but it’s also one that might be a little too out there for anyone who enjoys a good hack and slash type of film.

    The music in Phenomena was glorious. Not surprisingly, a great soundtrack in an Argento film is credited to Goblin. The music in the film was mostly heavy rock base that at points reminded me of something you could hear in a video game made by Sega Genesis. It’s the sort of soundtrack I wouldn’t mind listening to on it’s own and I found myself banging my head a little to the beat. The great thing about Goblin is that they can so easily turn a tune into something haunting to help the fright element of whatever movie they’re supplying music.

    The final fifteen-twenty minutes of Phenomena were pretty fantastic. One crazy moment after another occurs and all you can do is sit back and watch it all unfold. While a little predictable by 2016 eyes, the turnaround reveal was expected, but it was still a nice WTF moment. For a movie that had been “Clean” for the majority of the movie, all of that changes while Jennifer falls into a pit filled with body parts, maggots, mud, and possibly excrement? Meanwhile, the cop that was there to save the day is all bloodied up and chained to the wall. He’s forced to break his thumbs to get his hands on the one threatening Jennifer’s life. That’s all before the big turnaround reveal and what happens in the small boat. Which the boat scene is only before the out of nowhere surprise death just before the end of the movie. And then THAT is before the final surprise of the moment, the aforementioned rewarding moment that ended the movie on such a high note. It’s one of the craziest final acts I can remember seeing in a horror movie. The viewer has no idea what to expect and it somehow keeps surprising you. These scenes alone helped up my rating of the film.

    Overall, Phenomena is Argento at his best, presenting a movie that isn’t so typical from what movies I’ve seen him make prior to this. With Argento always being more well known for his trippy and violent visuals, Phenomena more than lives up to that. The fun factor is there with McGregor’s relationship with his chimp. Considering it’s one of her very first movies, it’s interesting seeing a pre-Labyrinth Jennifer Connelly. I would say that if you have any desire to watch Phenomena, watch the original uncut version rather than the shortened US version that was re-titled as “Creepers”. Supposedly the latter version is difficult to comprehend. Otherwise, don’t be afraid to check out Phenomena to witness Dr. Loomis interact with a chimp, Jennifer Connelly interact with insects, and a very Friday the 13th sort of story at the heart of the film.

    Rating: 8/10

  2. Thanks again for the review Dr. Shock. I loved Scanners when I first saw it. Years later, I picked up an inexpensive copy on video and settled in for my second viewing. I enjoy most of Cronenberg, love the story and Michael Ironside, but I can’t help but wonder how great “Scanners” could’ve been had they been able to fill the Cameron Vale part with an actor who could, well, you know…act. Stephen Lack’s delivery is so wooden, it’s downright uncomfortable to watch.

    Sometimes I wonder if Cronenberg knew it too, as he soon stepped up the casting with James Woods in “Videodrome” shortly thereafter.

    I tend to hate remakes on principle, but I could totally get behind a “Scanners” reboot. So many great scenes and story in that film!

  3. Day 29: Jeepers Creepers 2 (2003)
    Rating: 6/10

    I like the Creeper and his mythology so I enjoyed this film. We see much more of the Creeper in this film, which is fun, but cuts the scariness of the monster.

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