Scanners (1981, David Cronenberg)

Sometimes it’s enough just to deal with one’s own thoughts rifling through the brain. Poor Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack), despite his dull, gormless expression, probably has all of that to contend with as well as the thoughts of other people around him.

Such is the life of a scanner: telepathic individuals with an ability to read minds and explode heads if they stare at someone long enough. Vale is recruited by a doctor to stop Daryl Revok (Michael Ironside), an especially powerful scanner, in a plot that builds to one hell of a staring contest by the end of the film. And aside from the entertaining conclusion, a fine score and some terrific practical effects (if you haven’t seen Scanners, you have probably seen the exploding head gif doing the rounds on Internet forums), there isn’t much going for Scanners, which languishes under the truly awful central performance from the ironically named Stephen Lack.

Lack sums up Scanners biggest problem alongside the acting: it’s at times oppressively dull. To quote Harold Zoid of Futurama fame: ‘Just because it’s a dramatic scene doesn’t mean you can’t do a little comedy in the background.’ Now I am not saying Scanners needed a pie gag in every scene, but there is a dourness – a relentless, stoney-faced tone – permeating every moment of what is, essentially, a pretty silly film. Any wry smirks are, it seems, unintentional. Cronenberg strikes a better balance in later films like The Fly.

Fans of his work will find much to love. But to someone who is, admittedly, far from a Cronenberg disciple, Scanners is a visually appealing headache. (4)

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