Scanners (1981)

Another film that I watched on a whim on BFI player is one that has been on my list for years. Scanners is a sci-fi horror directed and written by David Cronenberg and follows a sub-species of humans called Scanners, people who can control others with their minds. When one Scanner, Daryl Revok (Michael Ironside), goes rogue and starts to hunt down other Scanners in order to take over the world, security system corporation Consec uses social outcast, Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack), to infiltrate the community to bring Revok down. Assisted by the allusive Dr Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan), Cameron must hone his powers in order to face Daryl whose powers are much stronger than the other Scanners. He teams up with the powerful Kim (Jennifer O’Neill) and they work together to bring Daryl down.

The plot itself is linear as Cameron goes from social outcast to leading the fight against Daryl. We see him come out of his shell and become stronger than the Scanners until he is strong enough to fight Daryl. The climactic scene between them is fantastic and unexpected. Relying on the actors’ physicality and strong use of gory special effects, the scene is larger than life but also extremely simple due to its setting and the focus on the actors. Cronenberg knows that he doesn’t have to go above and beyond to create an effective fight scene and therefore brings no distractions. The focus on facial expressions also adds to the intensity of the film. I personally like that the film throws you into the situation and we are introduced to the world of Scanners through Cameron’s own realisation and experience.

The most iconic scene in this film is definitely the head explosion where we first meet Daryl in which he violently kills a fellow Scanner by causing his head to explode. Very few scenes in films make me jump and this one truly did. The brilliance of the physicality of the Scanning process is highly intense and the build-up in this scene had me on edge the entire time. I also think that the character of Daryl is one of the films highlights for me. He is an interesting character who was clearly distressed and reactive to the environment around him. He is relentless in his quest for world domination, even attempting and succeeding to violently kill other Scanners in order to do so. This contrasts with Cameron who is hugely reluctant to join his cause and has no inner conflict to do so. The two Scanners are polar opposites on the sides of bad and good.


I really like the style of the film. It’s sci-fi but doesn’t feel like it due to its realistic setting. The Scanners themselves look like regular humans and the Scanning effect is very physical and relies on the actors rather than the special effects which are bring the results. The special effects are one of the strong points and are brilliantly gory. It is not a film for the faint of heart. There are exploding heads, charred bodies and plenty of guts throughout. Even the scenes that don’t have gore are full of horror as we see the affect that the Scanners have on other humans. It doesn’t feel like a horror in the traditional sense, however, because of its sci-fi aspects so it’s a film that sits in its own genre.

Cronenberg’s long time collaborator Howard Shore provides a score that really brings the film to life. The Scanning process is enhanced by Shore’s score with it’s use of futurstic sounds and abnormal tones. Being an avid fan of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003), one of my favourite aspects is Shore’s revolutionary score so listening to this soundtrack made me realise what a great talent he is. He captures the tone and unease of the film perfectly that it seems that the film is shaped by the score at times, particularly those intense scenes when the Scanning is reaching the climactic point.

Overall, Scanners is a film that brings special effects in abundance but also asks a lot of its actors and the result is a great film that revolutionised the horror genre. It’s a film that showcases Cronenberg’s brilliant mind and imagination and his reluctance to follow trends and put himself in a box.

What do you think of Scanners? Let me know in the comments below!

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