SCANNERS is a nifty science fiction comic-book of a movie that makes excellent use of its low budget and hastily-written script. The film boasts a few extraordinary set pieces and some inspiredly gory special effects, as well as some resonant visual metaphors for the telepathic condition.
Ephemerol, an experimental tranquilizer, was tested on pregnant women during the 1940s and produced some severe long range side effects. Before the drug was taken off the market, 236 babies were born to the women tested. They were found to possess the ability to read minds. Dubbed "scanners,"
these powerful telepaths spread out through North America for decades until many were sought and rounded up by two mysterious and competing corporations: Consec, headed by Dr. Paul Ruth (McGoohan), and Biocarbon Amalgamated, headed by the deadly Darryl Revok (Ironside), a scanner assassin. Cameron
Vale (Lack) is a homeless drifter with the gift. He is abducted from the street and ends up in the healing hands of Dr. Ruth, who gives him medication that allows him to control his power. Vale is informed that Revok plans to take over the world with an army of evil scanners. He must link up with
his farflung "brethren" so they can determine their own futures.
Notorious for the scene in which Ironside uses his awesome scanning power to literally explode the head of another man, SCANNERS is relatively conventional by Cronenberg standards--though wildly imaginative by normal ones. Despite the loose ends and inconsistencies, SCANNERS is a memorable and
absorbing genre entertainment that has spawned several direct-to-video sequels. Cronenberg displays more confidence as a visual stylist here than in his previous films, but his storytelling abilities are not much in evidence. Matters aren't helped by Lack's weak lead performance, though his large,
emotive eyes add poignance to his predicament. Fortunately McGoohan (of television's "Secret Agent" and "The Prisoner") is on hand to provide an eccentrically entertaining performance as the fatherly Dr. Ruth. Ironside is fantastic as the lethal Revok, helping make this a popular cult favorite.
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