Scanners (David Cronenberg, 1981)
A scientist (Patrick McGoohan) sends a man (Stephen Lack) with extraordinary psychic powers to hunt others like him.
This low budget horror thriller from David Cronenberg has a huge cult following. In a goal to discover more about this fellow Canadian’s filmography I had to dig into this particular film with extremely high expectations since the cream of the Blu-Ray/DVD collector world, the Criterion Collection, has recently announced the release of a big chunky three discs set of this classic.
When I watched Scanners the plot reminded me of some other titles: especially The Fury (1978) and Carrie (1976). I know that at the time it came out it was often linked with Ken Russell’s Altered States for the reason that it is about psychic powers and the exploration of the infinity of the human mind. However, both films couldn’t be more different. While Russell had a huge budget, Cronenberg was working with a small envelope trying to get the more out of his courageous story and semi-amateur actors. Scanners is a dedication to the art of making movies out of nothing and the absolute desire to tell a story to an audience and making a point that its creator is talented and wants to make mainstream films with his personal voice.
Much like David Lynch, Cronenberg creates ambiances and textures with his exploration of the mind. Slowly he was making the pattern of the body horror genre that he invented. One comment from Roger Ebert’s review of Scanners was that it was pushing on his plot instead of developing his characters in this milieu. Ebert was quite right and Cronenberg’s films to follow will prove that the director learned the lesson and dig more and more into psychology and the identity of the metamorphosis of his characters.
The feeling of cheap horror from Scanners makes it even more charming as a 1980’s film that was partly shot in Montréal and Toronto. It is an inspiring film that sweats talent and a will to breakthrough from his director. Much like Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead, we are witnessing the birth of two geniuses. However, with Cronenberg the best was to come.
Finally, even if at first it feels campy and cheap at times, the watching enjoyment is present and as a pleasure we don’t feel guilty at all. It is a very important film in Canadian film history and a great horror entry.