Friends, there are a handful of films in my youth that I was able to catch at the local drive-in theater or on the likes of The Movie Channel, that helped to make me the Monster Kid I am today. Just a few of those movies include It’s Alive, The Exorcist, Phantasm, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Shining, and of course Scanners. Which you might be interested to learn was released on January 14th of 1981 – marking today as the 40th anniversary of David Cronenberg’s science-fiction horror classic.
Scanners is one of my favorite Cronenberg movies, it also has the noteworthy honor of being the only picture where I saw the first half of the film at that beloved drive-in theater of my youth, and caught the ending on The Movie Channel nearly a year later. As I had reached the ripe old age of nine when the film hit our neck of the woods, I can only assume that I was worn out from school and daily play when my Father and I originally watched it. Although I can tell you that before I succumbed to sleep I was watching with rapt attention – especially after that infamous scene where Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside) uses his psychic abilities to detonate the head of a fellow “scanner”. An effect as I understand it that was attempted unsuccessfully in a few different ways – resulting in Gary Zeller (Dawn of the Dead, The Last Dragon) requesting his fellow crew members take shelter in their production vehicles – before laying down behind the dummy of Louis Del Grande and using a shotgun pointed at the back of it’s head.
If you’ve not had the pleasure of watching Scanners for yourself – it concerns a young man by the name of Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack), a drifter who possesses a powerful and dangerous psychic ability. His inability to control it however has driven him nearly to the point of insanity, and after lashing out with his powers at an innocent bystander – he is captured by a shadowy military organization called ConSec. It is there while under the care of Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan) that Vale learns he is one of 247 individuals who possess psychic abilities – called “scanners”. Under the tutelage of Dr. Ruth, Vale is able to develop and control his powers, learning in the process about a renegade “scanner” by the name of Darryl Revok. Who is not only waging a secret war against ConSec (And possibly for a good reason) but dispatching any likewise gifted individuals who will not join him in this crusade. It is Dr. Ruth’s hope that Cameron will go undercover and seek out Revok – stopping him from amassing an army to take on the rest of humanity.
I’ve read online that David Cronenberg does not have the fondest of memories on the making of Scanners, as it was something of a rushed production due to the need to claim available Canadian tax credits. This resulted in the film beginning production without the sets being built or even the luxury of a completed screenplay. Forcing Cronenberg to write pages daily – when he wasn’t seeking out locations for the film to shoot on later in the evening. Interestingly enough, it would seem that the origins of the story for Scanners is thanks to two other scripts that Cronenberg had written before he began filming 1979’s The Brood – entitled Telepathy 2000 and The Sensitives.
Now as I have already mentioned, I really like Scanners – even if I am forced to admit that there are other films by Cronenberg that are vastly superior. I think when all is said and done though, it is the comic book feel of the film that keeps me revisiting Scanners at least once a year. In closing out this article, if you feel like celebrating the 40th anniversary of Scanners – it is available to stream on HBO Max.