Friday, October 21, 2011

31 Days of '81 Horror: Scanners (David Cronenberg)

When you think of the expression “body horror” in relation to cinema, one man’s name probably comes to the forefront of your mind, Canadian writer-director David Cronenberg. With the exception of his funny car racing film Fast Company, Cronenberg specialized exclusively from his feature debut, Shivers, in 1975 to 1988’s Dead Ringers in brainy horror films that dealt with the effects of altered, modified or mutated human bodies as the source of the terror. Unlike his first three horror films (Shivers, Rabid and The Brood), the horror in the human structure in Scanners is not transmitted or manifested sexually, but via the mind.

Mixing action, suspense, some gallows humor, technology and yes, a great head explosion, Cronenberg crafts a world, not so different than ours, where a select few people carry a genetic imprint that grants them telepathic capabilities and the ability to control minds. The more advanced of these scanners can communicate with computers and alter infrastructure or even transmit enough energy to cause the aforementioned head explosion. Taking an approach that would be applied in the X-Men films, the scanners seem to see the burden of their mutation as something of a crutch that leads them to sever ties to the human race, often times after causing harm to themselves in a vain attempt to be “normal’, with the exception of one evil renegade scanner mastermind, who we know is evil because he’s played by Michael fucking Ironside, who is assassinating scanners and injecting newborns with the drug that causes the abnormality in an attempt to create an army of scanners at his beck and call for eventual world domination. The only hope for salvation rests in the hands of a troubled mysterious homeless man, Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) who learns how to harness his powers from a scientist that spearheaded the scanner program (Patrick McGoohan) who shares a secret past relationship with Cameron.

With aplomb, director David Cronenberg makes Scanners his most ambitious film to date. He creates a futuristic world that is large in scope (if limited in geography) with a naturally lived in quality. While his budget may have been small, he makes the limited resources work in his favor by having many of the major moments set in offices and board rooms, aiding the corporate infested vision of the future. And when there is a big chase scene, he proves a deft director of action sequences. Dick Smith’s make up effects team does a tremendous job throughout, but especially in the final body melting confrontation between Ironside and Lack; and frequent Cronenberg collaborator Howard Shore provides a synthesizer based score that is eerie and matches the coldness of the characters and the locations.

Until his next film, Videodrome, David Cronenberg never was gifted with, let’s say an "accomplished", actor in the leading protagonist role. That is certainly the case here with Stephen Lack. Wooden and emotionless to the extreme, his performance was always the sticking point keeping myself from fully embracing the film. I am not sure if it took multiple viewings to get this, or if I am just a fool, but this time around I saw Lack’s awkward inhuman performance as being conceived as such, he is a character who knows little about himself or the human race after all. Lack’s distant nature also serves as a nice complimentary extreme separation between his paternal doctor (McGoohan chewing scenery left and right) and his main advisory, the gleefully sadistic and fatalistic Michael Ironside.


Mummbles said...

Probably in the minority and need of another viewing but I disliked this movie a lot. Thought it was just boring and the main actor was terrible...I will have to give it another watch. Great head explosion though!!!

le0pard13 said...

This was the one film that really put two (though they had done work before) on the map, IMO: David Cronenberg and Michael (fucking) Ironside. I never looked at either of them the same way and could not but follow them in whatever they did from this point forward. Did Stephen Lack do anything after this? Hmm... I wonder. Great look at this one, Colonel.

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