Blu-ray Review: ‘Scanners’

Released on Blu-ray for the first time this week courtesy of Second Sight Films (in a stylish steelbook package, no less), David Cronenberg’s cult thriller Scanners (1981) is a near-prefect distillation of the Canadian director’s key preoccupations with psychoanalytics and transmogrification. Stephen Lack stars as protagonist Cameron Vale, a drifting vagrant blighted by deafening voices in his head. Little does Vale know that he is, in fact, a ‘scanner’: one of a handful of individuals in the United States blessed (or perhaps plagued) with telepathic powers. However, not all of Vale’s kin are as sheepish about their talents.

Saved from the streets by understanding ConSec corporation employee Dr. Paul Ruth (The Prisoner’s iconic Patrick McGoohan), Vale is recruited to seek out the psychotic Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside), a dissident scanner with world domination on his twisted, utterly destructive mind. It’s soon revealed that the unhinged Revok – who bears a distinctive scar on his forehead after an incident with a drill – is building a personal army of brain-pilfering soldiers with which to enslave humanity. Thus, the conflicted Vale sets off to track down his mark whilst encountering other, more peace-loving members of his unique biological sub-order, including pacifist scanner Kim Obrist (Jennifer O’Neill).

Still one of Cronenberg’s finest hours (with perhaps only 1986’s The Fly and 1988’s Dead Ringers towering above it), Scanners is a dark and ruthlessly observed satire on both the American pharmaceutical industry and the rise of conformity culture, showing the cataclysmic results of enforced ‘groupthink’ upon a vulnerable cross-section of modern society. Complex mental illness is implied in each scanner, with Robert A. Silverman particularly well-drawn as a homicidal telepath-turned-conceptual artist; the formerly untapped resources of his mind freed from their restraints, yet suppressed through a zen-like dedication to aesthetic experimentation. For the other scanners, however, ConSec’s drug ‘ephemerol’ seems the only release from psychological dissonance – but is it?

Cronenberg completists will find much to pour over with this new Blu-ray release, Second Sight Films complementing an impeccably restored main feature with several compelling interviews with key talent – including the starring Lack, cinematographer Mark Irwin and makeup effects artist/body horror specialist Stephen Dupuis. Also rereleased on DVD and Blu-ray this week are the two Scanners sequels – 1991’s Scanners II: The New Order and Scanners III: The Takeover – which, whilst both vastly inferior to their forebear, do at least provide a distracting extension to Cronenberg’s original brave new world.

Daniel Green

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