Scanners (1981)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Eric Wrazen is a Technical Director and Sound Designer for live theatre, specializing in the genre of horror, and is the Technical Director the Festival de la Bête Noire – a horror theatre festival held every February in Montreal, Canada. You can see Eric as an occasional host and performer on Bête Noire’s Screaming Sunday Variety Hour on Facebook live. An avid movie and music fanatic since an early age, this is Eric’s first foray into movie reviewing.

It’s kind of difficult to review a film like Scanners without restating the common points that have been reviewed and discussed ad nauseum for decades within the horror community.

Its Cronenberg. It’s a classic. It’s a fun, yet flawed film. It starts (and kinda also ends) with an exploding head.

If there is one single aspect of Scanners that got it on the BBFC’s Sh*t list, it was that exploding head scene… which, incidentally, happens within the first 5 minutes of the movie! Scanners was most likely the fastest movie added to the list of nasty films as the reviewer probably only had to see the first 5 minutes before declaring “Blimey! EE’s gone and blown up dat mates ‘Ed, he did!” (Yes, in my mind, the BBFC reviewer has a Liverpool accent) and putting Scanners in the reject pile.

For the fact-focused crowd, Scanners was released in theatres in 1981. Directed by David Cronenberg and featuring some acting talents that SF, action, and horror fans will easily recognise: Michael Ironside as the baddie Darrel Revok, Patrick McGoohan as Dr. Paul Ruth, as well as lesser knowns Stephen Lack as our clueless Scanner hero Cameron Vale, and Jennifer O’Neill as Kim Obrist, another scanner who, is like the leader of a commune of hippie scanners, or something. Fun fact: the exploding head guy was played by Louise Del Grande, who is very familiar to old-timey Canadians, because he was the lead in a really popular “Murder She Wrote-style” mystery show that aired on CBC (Canada’s public TV broadcaster) for years. The show was called “Seeing Things” and Del Grande played… get this…. a crime-solving psychic!

The Scanners production itself was a troubled one. The movie was funded via a Canadian government tax incentive program (as were all of Cronenberg’s early films) and the catch was the film had to be in the can by a specific date in order to get the funding… which resulted in a rushed start to filming – before the final script was even done – which I feel adds to the unhinged and somewhat disjointed flow of Scanners.

Historical side note: Scanners was the first Cronenberg movie I saw in the theatre when it released in 1981! It’s one of the pivotal movies that got me hooked on bizarre, weird sh*t, and I will always love it for that reason. This was my first re-watch of Scanners in 40 years! (PS – f*ck, I am old). 

More useless information: It was filmed in and around Montreal, Canada (my hometown) in locations like a water treatment plant that was 10 minutes from my boyhood home, and “2020 University” – the very groovy 70’s shopping mall featured in the opening scene. 

The film itself is a fun ride if you are willing to accept some glaring flaws, such as: over AND under acting by the entire cast; continuity errors, obvious lack of basic understanding of how computers work, and an evil organization so badly run that the head of security is in cahoots with the guy trying to destroy the company, who is incidentally the son of the company’s head of R&D. 

Regardless, Scanners is a fun film to watch. I viewed the old MGM DVD release and now I’m seriously considering getting the Criterion release to enjoy all the extras.

2 thoughts on “Scanners (1981)

  1. This film boils down to two truly epic, memorable, gory scenes bookending an otherwise unhorror-ish but more thriller-ish cops’n’crime shoot’em up style movie. Clearly a classic, and it deserves to be recognized as such, but today it just doesn’t entertain or shock or titillate like so many of Cronenberg’s other films of the era (e.g., The Fly, Videodrome, The Brood) still do today.

    Enjoyed the read.

    Here’s my take:


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