I’m scanning you… right now!
Call me blasphemous if you must, but David Cronenberg’s Scanners is not the director’s finest hour. Sure, it has the exploding head and other gore effects we all remember, but when not bloodletting, it’s a dry, emotionless film, far more interested in plot than character. It was nonetheless a hit, and like most 1980s horror hits of course it had to have a chunkload of sequels. That brings us to this release, with the second and third films in the series on one disc, Scanners II: The New Order and Scanners III: The Takeover. (The franchise later saw a fourth film, Scanner Cop, but discussion of that one will have to wait for another day.
In a world much the same as ours, there exists a small percentage of the population with telepathic and telekinetic abilities. These people, called “Scanners” are often unable to control their powers and a lot of them are considered dangerous. A mysterious corporation is hunting, capturing and experimenting on Scanners, for seemingly nefarious ends. In Scanners II, we meet David (David Hewlett, Cube), who is just learning he has scanner powers. When a local politician starts using David’s powers for ill gain, David goes on the run, pursued by a murderous Scanner named Drak (Raoul Trajillo, Apocalypto). Then, in Scanners III we meet Helena (Liliana Komorowska, Screamers), a Scanner who takes an experimental drug to control her powers. She soon gets out of control, psychically killing anyone who gets in her way. Her brother Alex (Steve Parrish, Stone Markers) must now come out of hiding to stop her, in an explosive Scanner versus Scanner battle.
Mental telepathy is one of the most exciting—and terrifying—super powers of all. Just imagine peering into someone else’s mind, experiencing their most private thoughts, sending your own thoughts into their minds, and perhaps even controlling the actions of another with naught but your brainpower. The problem for filmmakers is that none of this is particularly visual. To depict telepathy on screen, it seems filmmakers have one of two options. They can either make with the crazy elaborate dream sequences to reflect people’s inner states of mind, or they can just have their actors stare at the camera all intense and bug-eyed with creepy sound effects and scary music playing. The Scanners movies decide on the latter. The suspense/action scenes too often boil down to the actors trying their hardest to convince us their heads are about to explode. It’s just enough to hang an entire movie on, let alone a movie series.
Scanners II is one those sequels that’s really a remake in disguise. Taking place in the same world as the first film, but bringing back none of its characters, part two is content to cover all the same beats as part one and leave it at that. Director Christian Duguay (The Art of War) checks off all the boxes, with a conspiracy hunting the Scanners only to have one good scanner fighting back, all leading up to an exploding head effect reminiscent of the famous one from the first film—except Scanners II makes you wait until the end to get to it. The movie also suffers the same flaws as its predecessor, in that it’s so stiff and plot heavy that there’s no connecting with these characters. Despite one or two nifty gore effects, the sequel is pretty much forgettable.
If Scanners II is the watered-down version of Scanners, then Scanners III is the jacked-up, spiked-punch version. Once again, there’s no returning characters except for the overall concept of the Scanners. Duguay returns as director, this time bringing a glossy, music video feel to the series. Instead of suspense/horror, Scanners III takes a B-movie sci-fi/action approach. It’s ridiculously cheesy, with all kinds of unintentionally hilarious scenes and over-the-top performances. It’s not a good movie by any means, but it’s certainly more watchable than the stodgy second movie.
One big problem with Scanners III is that it can’t decide who the main character is. When we see Helena fending off muggers at the start, this would appear to set her up as the movie’s hero. Once she gets on the drug, however, she turns into a maniacal super-villain overnight. Liliana Komorowska is clearly having a blast playing the bad girl, and we spend most of the movie with her killing her enemies and building her evil Scanner empire. When Alex reenters the movie well past the halfway point, it’s only then that we realize he’s the protagonist. On the plus side, the creators have added a little fighting and stunt work to Alex’s repertoire in addition to being a Scanner, turning him into something of a poor man’s Van Damme. During the big finale, it’s back to being all bug-eyed and intense, trying to convince us that awesome mental telepathy is happening even though we can’t see it.
The two movies look perfectly fine in high-def, a little soft at times, but clean, bright and colorful. The sound is good as well, although the music overwhelms the voices in a few scenes. Whether that’s the fault of the Blu-ray or the original film is unclear.
The pop culture gods and goddesses of Shout! Factory are currently rocking it with their Scream Factory line of releases, bringing new attention to a lot of cheesy horror favorites, but this Scanners II/Scanners III Blu-ray is not their best work. Where the disc falters is in its total lack of bonus features. This could have been the perfect opportunity to let us learn more about these two films and see them in a new light, but there are the two movies and that’s it. A DVD copy is included.
The only thing remarkable about Scanners II is how unremarkable it is. Scanners III, however, would be a fine choice for your next bad movie night with your drunken buddies.