Scanners ★★★½

Part of Hooptober 4

Chapter 5: Didn't I Blow Your Mind (This Time)?

In the 80s there was a show on the CBC called Seeing Things. It was about a clairvoyant reporter who solved crimes. I saw all of one episode of the show, but I remember seeing many, many ads for it when I was a kid. Every ad had at least one shot of actor Louis Del Grande's face, staring and concentrating as a vision came to him. I think there was even a sound effect played when he had these visions, though I might be making that up. The show, perhaps because it was around in my youth, became the quintessential Canadian production. It just feels so damned Canadian.

David Cronenberg always makes his movies look and sound Canadian. But Scanners, out of all of them feels perhaps the most so. And, for me, that's because Louis Del Grande shows up for all of two minutes. His role is pretty unforgettable though. If you know two things about this film it's that Cronenberg directed it and a head explodes. And if you know one thing about it, it's the head exploding part. It's Del Grande's head. And it blows up spectacularly.

The first fifteen minutes of this movie are spectacular in fact. There's a chase in a very 70s looking mall, with horrible blood red and brown stone decor (a mall I am pretty sure I visited as a child), there's the head exploding scene, which looks like it was filmed at my University (which had much brutalist architecture), and there's a violent showdown between some nameless company men and the villain of the piece, Michael Ironside (arguably the most intimidating Canadian ever to be born). The Canadianess of the film is almost at overkill level for me.

But then, the movie falters a bit. Or more to the point, it slows down. The horror aspect is suddenly replaced with a mystery, and the gore, probably due to budget restraints, is removed. There are sill weird, inspired moments, of course. There's the very Cronenbergian scene where two characters have a conversation inside a sculpture of a giant head. But much like Seeing Things, there's a lot of staring with intent. Staring with intent looks really good when the end result is a blown-up head, but not so much when the target only appears to suffer a migraine, or, perhaps constipation.

I would have loved more fireworks, and by fireworks I mean flying brain matter. But the way that Scanners was financed the production had to start quickly, and with the screenplay being written on the day of shooting, I imagine it would be hard to put together such effects on the fly. It's still a fun experience overall though. Cronenberg never betrays his Canadianess, nor his grossness. The end showdown is truly disgusting in a way only Cronenberg would think to do. It makes up for a lot of the lull that came between the beginning and the end. Scanners biggest mistake is blowing our minds so early on. But really whatever violent extravagance is missing from this film, Cronenberg more than made up for it in his latter, more, um, fleshed out movies. With his next few films Cronenberg made exploding heads look like flesh wounds, and flesh wounds like exploding heads.

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