Scanners Blu-ray Review

Written by Joel Harley

Blu-ray released by Second Sight Films

Directed and written by David Cronenberg
1981, Region B/2, 103 minutes, Rated 18 (UK)
Blu-ray released on April 8th, 2013

Stephen Lack as Cameron Vale
Jennifer O'Neill as Kim Obrist
Michael Ironside as Darryl Revok
Patrick McGoohan as Dr. Paul Ruth
Lawrence Dane as Braedon Keller
Robert A. Silverman as Benjamin Pierce



The greatest head explosion scene in the entire history of cinema. Whatever else David Cronenberg's Scanners has to offer, its place in cinematic history is secure. Like many others, I'm sure, I saw Scanners once, and the only thing I remember about it is the exploding head sequence. With that in mind, I was eager to revisit the film and rediscover the reason that head goes boom in such an iconic manner.

'Scanners' is the term given to people with the uncanny ability to read others' thoughts and move objects with their minds. Troubled tramp Cameron Vale is one such talented fellow. Captured by a government which fears and loathes him (so far so X-Men) Cameron is tasked with helping to find and catch fellow Scanners, in the same way that Angel occasionally helps Buffy kill vampires on Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Hellboy bashes fellow demons as part of the day job at the BRPD. Even among other Scanners, Vale is a powerful telekinetic, as evidenced by his inadvertently attacking a woman in his local shopping mall. And then there's renegade Scanner, Darryl Revok (genre stalwart Michael Ironside) – the man responsible for the film's most famous moment. The stage is set for quite the showdown.

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The infamous head splatter scene occurs surprisingly early into the film, during a press conference between rival Scanners. It's one Hell of a way to get your audience's attention (not that Cronenberg has ever had trouble in that department). Like the eyeball to the wooden splinter or shark versus zombie in Zombie Flesh Eaters, the film's most memorable moment does overshadow the rest of the action, but that's not to say that Scanners is a bad movie. Compared to Videodrome, Dead Ringers and The Fly, it's a lesser work, but that makes it no less interesting. It's more overtly science fiction than most of Cronenberg's films during this era, but it still contains its fair share of gruesome and disturbing moments. Many horror fans would, in fact, count the head explosion amongst the top five gore scenes of all time.

scanners-03 scanners-04

After that, Vale is tasked with finding terrorist Revok. But as he comes to learn more about his own powers and the people like him, he begins to question whether he can actually bring himself to kill Revok. And since Revok is played by Sam Fisher himself, mister Ironside, one has to wonder whether he's even capable of doing so anyway. One thing's for certain though: audiences hoping for a gory horror movie in which a mad psychic runs around making folks' heads explode are bound to be disappointed. A relatively subtle slow-burner, Scanners is one of Cronenberg's least gory movies. There's another scene bookending the film though, which showcases the director's talent for body horror and disturbing gore. There's something to please most audiences.

scanners-05 scanners-06

Despite it not really being as memorable as some of Cronenberg's other movies (just a personal opinion – others will loudly disagree) Scanners is still a worthy entry in the director's oeuvre. The film may not be especially mindblowing, but it is undoubtedly a minor classic of the genre.

Video and Audio:

That head explosion scene has never looked so gooey and awesome. The Blu-Ray transfer cleans up the film nicely, although it still looks somewhat dated in places. The music sounds fantastic, with the main theme tune booming all over the menu and during the film's best moments.

Special Features:

The exploding head sequence gets its own featurette – everything else is just gravy. Exploding Brains & Popping Brains is an interview with makeup effects artist Stephan Dupus, the man behind Scanners' best moments (if you don't count Cronenberg). My Art Keeps Me Sane is an interesting, if bitchy interview with Star Stephen Lack, in which he describes just what it's like to work with the great David Cronenberg. He enthuses about the big head explosion with almost as much excitement as I have done here. There are also interviews with the film's cinematographer, the executive producer and bad guy Lawrence Dane. Both Cronenberg and Ironside are conspicuously absent. Overall, however, it's a decent set of features which justifies shelling out the extra cash for this re-release. It's worth it for Lack's entertaining interview alone. Nice hat, too.


Movie: 4 Stars buy-scanners-dvdbuy-scanners-steelbook
Video: 4 Stars
Audio: 4 Stars
Features: 4 Stars
Overall: 4 Stars


*Note: The screenshots on this page are publicity stills and not a reflection of the Blu-ray image.*




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Joel Harley
Staff Reviewer
Haribo fiend, Nicolas Cage scholar and frequently functioning alcoholic. These are just some of the words which can be used to describe Joel Harley. The rest, he uses to write film criticism for Horror DNA and a variety of websites and magazines. Sometimes he manages to do so without swearing.
Other articles by this writer


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