Scanners are men and women born with incredible telepathic and telekinetic powers. There are many who exercise the benefits of their special gifts in a safe and judicious manner. However, there is a group of renegade scanners who plan to create a race that will rule the world.
Scanners is a 1981 Canadian science-fiction horror film written and directed by David Cronenberg and starring Jennifer ONeill, Steven Lack, Michael Ironside, and Patrick McGoohan. In the film, "scanners" are people with unusual telepathic and telekinetic powers. ConSec, a purveyor of weaponry and security systems searches out scanners to use them for its own purposes. The films plot concerns the attempt by Darryl Revok, a renegade scanner, to wage a war against ConSec. Another scanner, Cameron Vale, is dispatched by ConSec to stop Revok.
Darryl Revok is the most powerful of all the scanners, and is the head of the underground scanner movement for world domination. Scanners have great psychic power, strong enough to control minds; they can inflict enormous pain/damage on their victims. Doctor Paul Ruth finds a scanner that Revok hasn't, and converts him to their cause - to destroy the underground movement.
Private security firm ConSec plans to showcase potential "scanners", people with exceptional powers of telekinesis, telepathy, and mind control. However, when ConSecs scanner attempts to read the mind of a volunteer from the invited group, the scanners head explodes. ConSec officials surmise that the volunteer was himself a scanner and initially take him into custody. However, he is able to use his powers to kill the men guarding him and escape.
ConSec security head Braedon Keller advocates shutting down scanner research, but program head Dr. Paul Ruth disagrees, noting that the assassination and escape have shown the weapons potential they had sought to demonstrate. Ruth attributes the operation to a scanner named Darryl Revok, who Ruth says has his own underground network of scanners in competition with ConSecs program. He argues that ConSec should recruit scanners to their cause to infiltrate and bring down Revoks group.
To this point, scanner Cameron Vale has lived an unhappy life as a social outcast, due to his inability to cope with the unceasing stream of other peoples thoughts bombarding his mind and his not even knowing the cause or nature of his condition. After bringing Vale into ConSec, Ruth has administered a drug called ephemerol, which inhibits his scanning ability. Ruth asks for Vales help, explaining that he is a scanner and that Revok is killing all scanners who refuse to join him.
With Keller working for him as a spy, Revok learns of Ruths plan and dispatches assassins to follow Vale as he begins his search for Revok by visiting a scanner named Benjamin Pierce. They kill Pierce. Before he dies, Vale reads from his mind a name - Kim Obrist. Vale tracks down Obrist, who has formed a telepathic alliance with a group of other scanners. Vale attends a meeting, but assassins for Revok strike again, with only Vale and Obrist escaping. Scanning an assassin, Vale learns of a drug company, which he then infiltrates. He finds that large quantities of ephemerol are being distributed under a program called "Ripe," run by Revok himself through ConSec. Vale and Obrist return to ConSec, where Ruth suggests Vale scan the computer system to learn more about Ripe. Meanwhile, Keller tries to kill Obrist, but she escapes. Keller kills Ruth while Vale and Obrist flee the building.
Vale accesses the computer network through a telephone and pulls ephemerol shipment information. When Keller discovers this, he orders the computer system destroyed while Vale is plugged into it. The plan backfires and the computer explodes, killing Keller and leaving Vale and Obrist to investigate the shipments. They visit a doctor on the list of recipients, where Obrist suddenly discovers she is being scanned by the unborn baby of a pregnant woman. Vale concludes that Ripes purpose is to disseminate ephemerol to pregnant women, making their babies scanners. The two are ambushed by Revoks men and abducted.
Revok reveals that ephemerol was a tranquilizer developed by Ruth for pregnant women that had the unintended side effect of causing the unborn children to become scanners. Ruth learned of this from providing the drug to his own wife during her pregnancies. The two resulting children were Revok and Vale, who, as the longest-term scanners are more powerful than any other scanners. By mass distributing ephemerol, Revok plans to create a new generation of scanners, giving him the manpower to execute a plan of global domination over non-scanners, with Revok heading this new empire. Revok asks Vale to join, but Vale refuses and the two have a final scanning showdown against one another. As their battle causes the blood vessels in their bodies to begin to burst open, Vales body ignites and his eyes explode. Revoks eyes turn white and he shouts in agony.
Soon thereafter, Obrist enters the room to find a charred body on the floor. She hears Vales voice coming from the corner of the room: in the corner, is Revok - his head scar gone and his eyes the same blue as Vales. He faces Obrist and announces, "Weve won."Jennifer ONeill as Kim Obrist
Stephen Lack as Cameron Vale
Patrick McGoohan as Dr. Paul Ruth
Lawrence Dane as Braedon Keller
Michael Ironside as Darryl Revok
Robert Silverman as Benjamin Pierce
Louis Del Grande as First scanner
The story is structured as a futuristic thriller, involving industrial espionage and intrigue, car chases, conspiracies, and shoot-outs (including a gruesome scanner duel between Vale and Revok at the end). It was the nearest thing to a conventional science fiction thriller Cronenberg had made up to that point, lacking the sexual content of Shivers, Rabid, or The Brood; it was also his most profitable film until The Fly six years later.
Because of the oddities of Canadas film financing structures at the time, it was necessary to begin shooting with only two weeks pre-production work, before the screenplay had been completed, with Cronenberg writing the script between 4 and 7 a.m. each day throughout shooting. Since the production design team had no time to build sets, in some instances the crew had to drive around looking for things to shoot. As a result, Cronenberg has said, Scanners was a nightmare to make.
Make-up artist Dick Smith (The Exorcist, Amadeus) provided prosthetics for the climactic scanner duel and the iconic exploding head effect.
Scanners was released in the United States on January 14, 1981 by Embassy Pictures, and grossed $14,225,876 at the box office.
Scanners maintains a 79% on Rotten Tomatoes, with positive reviews from Chicago Reader, the Austin Chronicle, and TV Guide. Film professor Charles Derry, in his overview of the horror genre Dark Dreams, was far more positive, citing Scanners as "an especially important masterwork" and calling it the Psycho of its day.
Film critic Roger Ebert gave Scanners two out of four stars and wrote, "Scanners is so lockstep that we are basically reduced to watching the special effects, which are good but curiously abstract, because we dont much care about the people theyre happening around". In his review for The New York Times, Vincent Canby wrote, "Had Mr. Cronenberg settled simply for horror, as John Carpenter did in his classic Halloween (though not in his not-so-classic The Fog), Scanners might have been a Grand Guignol treat. Instead he insists on turning the film into a mystery, and mystery demands eventual explanations that, when they come in Scanners, underline the movies essential foolishness".
Awards and honors
Although Scanners was not nominated for any major awards, it did receive some recognition. The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films gave the film its Saturn Award in 1981 for "Best International Film", and, in addition, the "Best Make-Up" award went to Dick Smith in a tie with Altered States. The film had also been nominated for "Best Special Effects."
Scanners also won "Best International Fantasy Film" from Fantasporto in 1983, and was nominated for eight Genie Awards in 1982, but did not win any.
Mondo released the Howard Shore score for Scanners, alongside The Brood, on vinyl; featuring cover art by Sam Wolfe Conelly.
- Main Title (1:37)
- Vale Captured (4:09)
- Ephemerol (1:21)
- The Ripe Program (2:52)
- The Injection (2:50)
- Dirge for the Assassins (2:38)
- Vale’s Lonely Walk (1:03)
- The Dart (1:34)
- Scanner Duel (5:48)
Scanners spawned sequels and a series of spin-offs; a remake was announced in 2007, but as of 2014 has not gone into production. None of these projects has involved Cronenberg as director.
Although its name is similar, A Scanner Darkly is not related to the Scanners films.Scanners II: The New Order (1991)
Scanners III: The Takeover (1992)
Scanner Cop (1994)
Scanners: The Showdown (a.k.a. Scanner Cop II) (1995)
In February 2007, Darren Lynn Bousman (director of Saw II, Saw III, and Saw IV) was announced as director of a remake of the film, to be released by The Weinstein Company and Dimension Films. David S. Goyer was assigned to script the film. The movie was planned for an October 17, 2008 release, but the date came and went without further announcements, and all the parties involved have since moved on to other projects. In an interview with Bousman in 2013, he recalled that he would not make the film without Cronenbergs blessing, which was not granted.
In July 2011, it was announced that Dimension was planning to adapt the franchise as a television series.