Still Blowing Minds 38 Years Later – Celebrating Scanners

January 14th, 1981 is one hell of an auspicious occasion in the annals of horror releases. Scanners, a film that successfully combined sci-fi and mystery, laced with potent punches of gore mesmerized audiences and helped American filmgoers become aware of who will be known as the Baron Of Blood, David Cronenberg. A name that none of us would have probably known if the now legendary filmmaker did not decide to change his focus of studies in college from Science to Literature, and end up embracing his inner storyteller.



After terrifying audiences with the parasitic psycho-mania of Shivers in 1975 and the uncommon aggressive outbreak of his Rabid in 1977, Cronenberg went on to create The Brood in 1979. The Director took on a deeply personal tone with this production focusing on mutant offspring.  He admitted in his 1992 book entitled Cronenberg on Cronenberg, that he based the story around the nastiness involving the deterioration of his relationship with his first wife. He went on to say that he found the shooting of the climactic scene involving the strangulation of character Nola Carveth by her husband, to be “very satisfying.” Cronenberg yet again shifted gears in 1981 with the eventual cult classic, Scanners.



“There are 4 billion people on earth. 237 are Scanners. They have the most terrifying powers ever created… and they are winning.”


“10 Seconds: The Pain Begins.  15 Seconds: You Can’t Breathe. 20 Seconds: You Explode.”


The story for Scanners is simple enough: A powerful, renegade Scanner named Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside) has created an underground movement intent on world domination. After what is an aggressive and dangerous display of power, Revok becomes a wanted man by an agency known as ConSec. A doctor at ConSec, Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan) finds Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) who is another Scanner and decides to utilize his psychic abilities as a valuable weapon against Revok.


I remember being a kid and walking through the local video store, searching for my next rental on one occasion. My eyes were darting from the various VHS covers and then, BAM! My gaze became fixated on this simple yet kind of scary image of a man in a shirt and tie, seeming like he was about to explode. I recall becoming excited as I picked the copy up and read both front and back covers, wondering why I had never seen this in the store before. Come to find out, I never saw it on the shelf because it was always checked out. I don’t think I rode my bike home so fast in my life than on this day. I was fucking ready for Scanners.

Unfortunately not everyone was ready for Scanners or the type of graphic horror Cronenberg brought to the screen. After reviewing the film in 1981, famed movie critic Roger Ebert wrote, “Scanners is a new horror film made with enough craft and skill that it could have been very good, if it could find a way to make us care about it.” Thankfully Ebert, who in my opinion, had a penchant for condescending ways, could not have been more wrong. Some films and some filmmakers themselves take time to sink into the hearts and minds of movie goers. David Cronenberg and his film, Scanners is a great example of this. Although the movie did more than his previous to help gain a favorable reputation as a filmmaker for himself, especially in America, it still took some time to earn the kudos deserved. Eventually, the film even gained the coveted Criterion Collection treatment proving Ebert wrong. People did fucking care.



You see, I believe Scanners was just enough far removed from his previous, rather complex  films to help allow a wider audience to enjoy his unique creative energy. Cronenberg plucked strings of dischord and immense cinematic pleasure all at once and became dubbed as The King Of Venereal Horror but the release of Scanners showcased his incredibly eclectic style. His vision coupled with the legendary talents of Makeup Master Dick Smith and Special Effects Supervisor Gary Zeller help spawn a heavily celebrated addition in the history of film. The constant collaboration between composer Howard Shore and himself has proven beneficial and this, only their second endeavor together, is no exception. Scanners is also home to one of the most iconic sequences in horror; the head explosion. It truly is a rare treat, a magnificent blending of horror, sci-fi, intrigue, and hands fucking down phenomenal special effects that are still highly regarded to this day. It is not an easy film to forget, as is any Cronenberg flick, but there is simply something so truly special about it that I feel my words just can’t do it justice. David Cronenberg, a cornerstone of the Body Horror subgenre, master filmmaker and personal hero, has entertained, bewildered and inspired so many with Scanners and it continues to do so 38 years later.



Posted by Danni Winn

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