Scanners at 40: The Curious Case of Cronenberg, as Always

Originally appeared in Crooked Marquee.

Ten minutes into David Cronenberg’s Scanners comes a defining moment that changes the way we look at the film. ConSec, a private military organization, is known to produce individuals with telepathic abilities, branded as ‘scanners.’ At an event to demonstrate the company’s forte to VIPs, a ConSec representative asks the attendees to volunteer for a scan, which would allow the scanner to gain control over the person volunteering. While the hesitant visitors choose to remain in the audience, Darryl Revok, the antagonist, raises his hand. The ConSec scanner and Revok sit down in front of unevenly seated, eager spectators. So far so good, but there is an ominous sensation in the air. The scanning process commences, and an escalating high-pitch noise augurs the impending doom. By the time the visitors – and the viewer – discern things are getting out of hand, Revok makes the scanner’s head explode, and the ruptured flesh strews all over. This is not mind-boggling in 2021, but when Scanners was released in 1981, this was unimaginable in a film. As ironic as it may sound, the head-explosion scene became the film’s face over the years. 

Cronenberg’s films never flinched from depicting bloodshed. In fact, his films thrived in it, with Shivers (1975), Rabid (1977), and The Brood (1979) shocking the viewers upon  their releases. Shivers had a grotesque parasite attacking the residents of an apartment on an island and triggering a sexual assault epidemic; in Rabid, a blood-sucking stinger pierces from the lead’s arm-pit; and the unnatural, deformed killer-babies of The Brood send a shiver down our spines. Cronenberg’s body-horror flicks – which he both wrote and directed  – toy with wicked ideas that make us wonder whether they emanated from the mind of a compos mentis writer trying to pen a screenplay, or were the residuals of his hazy nightmares. 

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