UTG’s 31 Days Of Halloween: ‘Scanners’

Of all the holidays celebrated worldwide, no single day is more loved by the UTG staff than Halloween. With the arrival of the year’s best month, the time has finally come to begin rolling out a plethora of features and special announcements we have prepared in celebration of our favorite day, including the one you’re about to read.

Now in its third year, 31 Days Of Halloween is a recurring feature that will run throughout the month of October. The hope and goal of this column is to supply every UTG reader with a daily horror (or Halloween-themed) movie recommendation that is guaranteed to amplify your All Hallows’ Eve festivities. We’ll be watching every film the day it’s featured, and we hope you’ll follow along at home.

[Warning: the material within is positively NSFW]


Day 30: Scanners (1981)

Scanners, David Cronenberg’s 1981 followup to The Brood, has been heralded as one of the films that defined Cronenberg’s career. Scanners is less a horror movie and more an espionage flick. The two genres work together to bring something that of course, is bloodily macabre, but also something that is thrilling to watch. With makeup effects by Dick Smith–whose other brilliant work can be seen in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist–this little early-80s piece of obscure indie horror is one of the best cult favorites out their today.

Scanners are normal looking people who possess telepathic abilities that can control a person and their body’s functions. Burdened by hearing every person’s thoughts they pass by, scanners are deemed dangerous and are hunted down by ConSec, a weapons and security corporation. In comes Cameron Vale (Patrick Lane), a powerful scanner living as a homeless man. After he causes a woman to have violent convulsions because of the bad things the woman said about him, Cameron gets captured by ConSec. ConSec then uses Cameron as their own personal weapon to hunt down Darryl Revok (Starship Troopers’ Michael Ironside), the leader of an underground scanner group focused on killing whomever gets in their way of domination.

As the opening credits roll, you’re not quite sure what to expect of Scanners. A man gets arrested for causing a woman to seize, a car chase occurs, and a covert game of psychic international surveillance is thrown into motion. Working on a $3.5 million budget in the Canadian film production system, Scanners was put into a precarious position from day one. Cronenberg wrote the shooting script for the film every morning from 4 to 7 a.m. and then moved straight into production. You can see when you watch the film that not a lot of pre-designed sets were used during production. This was also because of limited budget. Cronenberg had to drive around cities in Canada to find places to shoot, on the fly (no pun intended).

scanners gif

Mind-blowing. As you can see above, a man’s mind is literally being blown in one of the most famous scenes in horror cinematic history. To get that shot done, the special effects crew filled a plaster head with fake blood & guts and fired a shotgun at it from behind. Weirdly enough, this extremely complex and grotesque shot occurs near the beginning of the film. Some may argue that everything goes downhill from that scene, that nothing ends up being as shocking or conversational. Scanners is an odd duck, it lacks the sexual flourishes that are usually so relevant in Cronenberg’s pictures and ends up being his most conventional film, in retrospect. So why is something that is so conventional and predictable held above tons of other entries into classic cinema?

The prospect of what scanners are hide those conventionalities in plain sight. Imagine a world where you don’t quite fit in, where you have a secret that will only make people distance themselves from you. Now add a dash of superpowers and you have a study about the use of ‘free will.’ The ultimate decision between hurting those that don’t understand you and helping them understand, is a basic but relatable concept. People talk all the time about what they would do with whatever Marvel superhero’s superpower they like most. Instead, Scanners brings realistic implications to that lofty and dreamy idea of having immense power. That’s why people still bring up Cronenberg’s work all of the time; the man has a way with any kind of story.


Ah, the final battle sequence. To me, this 5-minute finale is the pinnacle of why Scanners stands so far out amongst others. Here, we literally have a film where the physical struggle between two people takes place in the mind, body, and soul. The climactic sequence between Darryl Revok and Cameron Vale is made to look like the most grotesque of thinking matches between smart people. And to think the kids on the debate team in high school didn’t have superpowers. Imagine if they were scanners! After the film’s big twist, everything comes to a screeching halt with a cut to credits. The utterance of a few words by the victor makes you wonder if Cronenberg himself takes pleasure in leaving the viewer cold once the credits roll.

This Halloween, horror movies are aplenty. If you want to indulge in Scanners or any Cronenberg film for that matter, you will be reminded of the creative horrors that can be shown on screen. Who knows? Maybe you even find a new favorite that you will keep revisiting for the rest of your life.

Scanners is available on Criterion Blu-ray today, which I recommend to be the most definitive experience for the film. Unless you have a local theater playing it on 35mm, that is.

Editorial written by: Sam Cohen
Last year’s Day 30 film: The Monster Squad

Sam Cohen
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