SEPTEMBER 8, 2013
When I watched the original Scanners for this site a few years back, I was kind of disappointed with it - take out the headsplosion (which I had already seen) and maybe 1-2 other little bits, it was a fairly boring film, with Cronenberg's usual insistence of not having any fun weighing down a pretty goofy concept. Thus, it probably won't surprise anyone to discover I found Scanners II: The New Order and Scanners III: The Takeover to be more to my liking; neither of them are particularly GOOD movies, but they rarely bored, and director Christian Duguay dove headfirst into all the different ways a Scanner might use his or her powers, giving them an energy that satisfied me to a certain extent.
Scanners II focuses on a Scanner named David who is recruited into an organization where his kind are sent to the dirty work of various crooked politicians. Of course, it doesn't take long for him to realize this is a bad use of one's time and tries to free himself of their control, only to be chased endlessly. It's actually a lot like the first Universal Soldier, with the main evil guy from the organization constantly in pursuit - there's even a scene where our hero goes to his family home and gets some answers only for his adoptive parents to be put into danger. It's here that we find out how this connects to the original (spoiler): David is the son of the 1981 film's heroes, and has a sister to boot - though this a bit of a botched reveal, as he should only be about 10 years old instead of 30 or so (or the movie should be set roughly in 2013). I like movies that tie together, sure, but this connective tissue is flimsy and unnecessary, since it's not like the ones in the first film were the parents of ALL the scanners in this movie (or the next one), and thus we don't need to know why HE has the power. And the way the first film's heroes are killed is pretty weak - they apparently forgot about their powers since they just get taken out by a regular (non-Scanner) guy.
Once David goes on the run it improves; the first half hour is basically a remake of the original as we're introduced to the world of Scanners all over again, complete with a headsplosion that will end up on a highlight reel or one of those 100 best kills compilations on Youtube. I don't know what the budget of these things were, but it feels like a cable movie of that era; not overly cheap, but just BLAND, making it hard to get too involved as it just seems like everyone's going through the motions. Drak (this movie's Revok) is a fun wild card, but it's not until him and David are truly pitted against each other that the movie really takes off. There's some new stuff with the Scanners too (and thankfully no "body switching"), like when David and his sister team up to use their powers to mind-control a guy past some security checks in order to infiltrate a compound, and there's a goofy bit where Drak uses his abilities to kick ass at Operation: Wolf, an old arcade game. And no matter what issues I may have had with the film, they're all rectified by the end credits theme song, which is a ballad on par with Bonfire's "Sword and Stone" from my beloved Shocker.
Scanners III is even more action packed, to the point where it's barely even horror anymore. Sure, there's still a few headsplosions (including one under water!), but it's purely an action thriller, even cribbing parts from Rambo III. This time it has no relation to the others at all beyond the core concept (and someone even specifically says it's the 90s, so it's possibly a prequel to part 2, assuming anyone was putting any thought into it), but it offers the most intriguing good vs evil pairing yet - a man named Alex vs his sister Helena, with the former returning from Thailand to stop the latter when she goes nuts and begins decimating everyone involved with the study/creation of Scanners, including their father. The Thailand stuff is where it feels like a Rambo ripoff; he goes there to become a monk and live in seclusion after he accidentally kills someone at a party while being encouraged to show off his powers (so it can't be a prequel since the end of 2 set up the idea that Scanners aren't dangerous and just want to be left alone). There's some martial arts fighting and even an older mentor type a la Richard Crenna who comes to see him and encourage him to help take up the fight - the deja vu was laid on pretty thick, in other words.
Needless to say he eventually rejoins the world to take on his sister, though not before hooking up with his ex girlfriend and getting a haircut. Again, it's all a bit blandly shot (there's a reason Christian Duguay's filmography is mostly DTV/television work), but there's more action than even Scanners II, including a rooftop shootout and even a car chase, plus more scanner villains than usual (Helena gives them all these little discs that they can put on their necks and intensify their powers, and they form a little mob tasked with finding Alex). Plus they finally figure out that they can blow up something besides heads - one guy gets his finger "scanned" off, and Helena takes care of a pigeon that pooped on her as any Scanner should (and I love the bewildered expression on a character's face a few minutes later when he keeps finding feathers on the table). There's even a dance routine, for some reason - Helena gets pissed at her douchey boyfriend and scans him into gyrating around like an asshole at some fancy restaurant. Again, it's a completely goofy concept at its core, so the idea that Duguay and his writers aren't taking it very seriously and using it as a vessel for what amounts to typical B-movie action fare, to me, is better than being all dry and stuffy about it.
Scream Factory is putting these two out on Region 1 disc for the first time, I believe - there was a European release of the "trilogy" but that's about it, and this is definitely their debut on Blu-ray. As you might expect they're hardly reference worthy transfers - there's only so much a high def release can do with a cheap film - but they're quite good all the same, with fine audio (2.0) and no DNR tinkering. Sadly they lack any extras whatsoever - both films are on the same disc (there's a DVD packaged inside as well) and the menu only offers the choice between them - no scene selection menus are available, just chapter breaks. The Euro release had some interviews with Alan Jones, it's a shame that they haven't been brought over. But, for those of you who are like me and don't import discs, it's great to finally have them on disc instead of junky, inferior VHS tapes.
There are also a pair of spinoff movies under the Scanner Cop title; no idea how those are or if they're worth seeking out (no disc release for those either, far as I know), but as the only true franchise to be spun off from a David Cronenberg idea (can't really count Dead Zone or The Fly as those were other people's stories to begin with), it demands some attention. All of his peers (Carpenter, Craven, etc) saw at least one of their creations turned into total junk, so it's sort of like a rite of passage in a weird way. Maybe someday I'll give the original another chance - I doubt these will get put back in the player all too often, but I currently consider them better, and I'm not too comfortable with saying I'd rather watch a Christian Duguay movie than a David Cronenberg one.
What say you?