Canada: 1981
Original title : –
Directed by: David Cronenberg
Screenplay: David Cronenberg
Actors: Stephen Lack, Michael Ironside, Patrick McGoohan
Publisher: BQHL Editions
Duration: 1h39
Genre: Fantasy
Cinema release date: April 8, 1981
DVD/BR release date: November 24, 2022

A secret organization aims to study the Scanners, mediums with supernatural powers and overdeveloped mental faculties. She recruits a young medium to detect any Scanners that oppose her. He will discover the hidden aspects of this perilous mission…

The film


Scanners is the film which, in 1981, revealed David Cronenberg to the greatest number. In France, the film had managed to attract around 600,000 spectators in dark rooms, but above all, it was a real hit in video clubs throughout the 80s. And if we cannot reduce Cronenberg’s film to a only sequence, it seems all the same that the immense success met by Scanners with moviegoers of the time is linked to an impressive special effects scene pouring into “gore”, and featuring a head exploding in a spectacular firework of guts. The visual chosen by BQHL Editions to illustrate the new Blu-ray edition of the film also takes up this striking image.

One of the other most striking features of Scanners within David Cronenberg’s storied career is probably the fact that this is one of his most accessible films, or at least much less “visceral” than many of his earlier and later works. . Cronenberg abandons there for a time his obsession with the mutations of the flesh and settles down, with Dead Zone – The Accident, on the side of the filmmaker’s reflections on the power of the mind. Moreover, the story of the film finds its sources in another novel by Stephen King, “Charlie”, published in 1980, as well as in the scandal caused by certain teratogenic drugs administered to pregnant women in the 1950s, such as Thalidomide or Distilbène. In Scannersit is also a drug, Ephemerol, which transforms fetuses into beings capable of telepathy and telekinesis.

Designed and structured in the manner of the great paranoid thrillers filmed by Alan J. Pakula or Sydney Pollack in the 70s (with a touch of Michael Crichton for distrust of science), Scanners therefore imposes itself almost as a “general public” work. In the background, Cronenberg equally criticizes and warns against the takeover of society by large industrial conglomerates, such as the ConSec of the film, only against the inconsistency of pharmaceutical and/or scientific companies, which in order to reap more profits ignore tests and put dangerous products on the market. A speech which, in the aftermath of the Covid-19 health crisis, seems to have never been so topical.

Of course, David Cronenberg adds a broad touch of the fantastic coupled with a certain fetishism to the undertaking, and it cannot be denied that the concerns and more broadly the motives dear to the Canadian director are still very present, implicitly , at the heart of Scanners. Dark and far ahead of its time, David Cronenberg’s film ultimately turns out to be an interesting, intense, but also very uneven spectacle. The visual effects are good, but the moral dilemmas facing Stephen Lack’s character never manage to come across as truly compelling. The feeling of heavy paranoia that pervades the film is great, but Scanners still clearly has some lengths. The film’s villain, Revok, played by Michael Ironside, is excellent, but the final reveal almost seems to be designed as a mocking nod to The Empire Strikes Back.

Furthermore, the rediscovery of Scanners after many years allows us to realize that the film also foreshadowed one of the narrative ideas used by the saga Matrix. Indeed, if we remembered the film mainly for its head sequence which explodes, we had forgotten the formidable sequence of the telephone booth: the fact that David Cronenberg could have considered this idea in the early 80s, well before the appearance of the Internet, is indeed quite remarkable and frankly quite incredible.

The Blu-ray


It is therefore BQHL Editions which offers us today to (re)discover Scanners on Blu-ray, after a first edition dating from 2014 and now completely sold out. The High-Definition transfer used by BQHL for this edit appears to be exactly the same as the previous edit, and except for some extremely slight noise and minor compression artifacts, Scanners here retains a very solid visual appearance. The level of detail is good, the depth of field too, and the colors are stable and natural. The image is therefore quite exciting, with a preserved “cinema” grain and satisfactory sharpness. Unfortunately, the film is offered in 1080i (25 frames/second), which reduces its duration from 1h43 in dark rooms to 1h39 on video. Damage. On the sound side, VF and VO are both offered in original mono and mixed in LPCM Audio 2.0. Both versions restore the dialogues in a relatively clear and balanced way, the set occasionally shows a certain punch in the restitution of the legendary music of Howard Shore.

On the side of supplements, BQHL Editions invites us to find all the supplements already available on the 2014 Blu-ray. We will therefore start with a interview with Stephen Lack (24 minutes), which will discuss his memories of filming as well as his interactions with director David Cronenberg and special effects manager Dick Smith. We will continue directly with an interview with cinematographer Mark Irwin (15 minutes). The latter will first return to his career, from his beginnings in the X to the horrific transition in collaboration with David Cronenberg. The cinematographer will discuss his work with David Cronenberg, the famous exploding head scene, as well as his relationship worries with actress Jennifer O’Neill, unforgettable Immured alive by Lucio Fulci.

We will then continue with a interview with Pierre David, producer of the film (14 minutes), which will come back to the many difficulties encountered by the team on Scanners. Between an unfinished script, the whims of Jennifer O’Neill’s Diva or the difficulties of obtaining a satisfactory acting from the beginner Stephen Lack, the problems on the set were obviously quite numerous… We will finally end with a interview with Stephan Dupuis, special make-up supervisor (10 minutes), who will talk about his contribution to Scanners and of course the exploding head, as well as a interview with Lawrence Dane (6 minutes), who played the role of the right arm of the great villain of the film.

Last but not least, BQHL Editions also offers us a new supplement: a presentation of the film by Sébastien Gayraud (50 minutes), author and film historian specializing in fantasy cinema. It will replace Scanners in the career of David Cronenberg, will come back to many aspects, technical and thematic, of the film and will expand to the rest of the filmmaker’s filmography. Very interesting !

Blu-ray Review: Scanners – Film Review