Directed by Christian Duguay
Distributed by The Scream Factory
David Cronenberg’s 1981 sci-fi/horror opus Scanners has long been considered a classic amongst horror fans, due in large part to the infamous exploding head scene that occurs during its opening. That effect (crafted by the legendary Dick Smith) has pervaded pop culture even to this day, giving the picture a hook of notoriety that has almost outshined the film itself. The concepts and abilities introduced in that universe practically begged for a sequel… and it got one. In fact, it got a lot of them. And for some reason or another, nobody seems to remember anything about them. I know people who watch the first film regularly, yet they had no clue any further films existed until (who else?) Scream Factory came along to drop a double dose of telekinetic madness on home video. The fact of the matter is that both of these films – Scanners II: The New Order (1991) and Scanners III: The Takeover (1992) – were unceremoniously dumped onto VHS in the early ‘90s, totally bypassing any kind of a theatrical release.
It’s telling that they were produced within less than a year of each other. Truthfully, neither film comes close to matching Cronenberg’s initial vision, but each is kinda awesome in a “terrible ‘90s horror movie” sort of way. There also isn’t a single identifiable actor in either film, which might explain why no one was eager to pick them up for theatrical exhibition. A little gravitas can go a long way, you know? Still, the films do at least adhere loosely to some of the plotting set forth by Cronenberg, with Scanners II tying nicely into the first film via a minor, predictable plot twist while Scanners III takes a let’s-go-nuts approach and almost manages to become a cult classic in the process.
Scanners II: The New Order takes place ten years after the first film, introducing us to David (David Hewlett), a young man who has scanning abilities that he has trouble controlling because he lives in a major metropolitan city. All those minds “talking” at once create a lot of mental congestion in his head. He catches the eye of Commander John Forrester (Yvan Ponton), an ambitious leader who wants to assemble a team of scanners to help create a new order in the city. He’s been experimenting on scanners for years, doping them up with a drug called EPH-2 that’s supposed to ease their constant headaches and numb their abilities. But the problem is that it’s highly addictive, leaving most of his scanning team looking like drugged-out extras from the Forbidden Zone out of Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970). His latest find, a wanderer named Drak (Raoul Trujillo), is a volatile scanner who prefers to use his powers for evil; and Forrester needs someone who will play ball. He enlists David, and things go well at first until he learns that Forrester has intentions of eliminating the city’s top officials and inserting himself and other scanners in those high-ranking positions of power. David tries to get out, but Forrester sends Drak and another associate in pursuit. They learn David is hiding at his parent’s house, and they attack while David is out. His father survives, telling David he’s really adopted and that he’s got an older sister living in a cabin by the woods. David sets out to find his sister so that the two of them can storm Forrester’s compound and stop his insane bid to control the city.
The employment of drug addiction as a central plot point was popular in the early ‘90s. The first year of that decade alone saw this film, RoboCop 2, and I Come In Peace, all of which dealt with hardcore drug use and addiction in some way. The ‘90s were a period of reflection, when filmmakers looked back on the party hard days of riding the white pony in the ‘80s and turned the tide by showcasing the dangerous effects of drug abuse. There’s a clear allegory being drawn here by demonstrating how injecting EPH-2 wreaks havoc on the bodies of its test subjects. David, who remains “pure”, avoids these debilitating side effects by learning to cope with his abilities and focus them, rather than taking the easy way out by escaping into a drugged-out release from his constant pain. The notion of creating an elite scanner unit holds some interest, too, but those intentions are never fully realized. It really all boils down to David vs. Drak, which is a rehash of Vale vs. Revok from the last film. And the dude who plays Drak is no Michael Ironside. Forrester doesn’t make for an interesting villain because he’s just a regular dude hung up on power; he isn’t even a scanner. This, when you think about it, makes him pretty damn stupid, since he regularly abuses the exact kind of people he knows are capable of controlling the planet. Would you keep pissing off someone who can make your head explode? Right.
Don’t worry, fans, the series’ trademark cranial eruptions are present here. None of them even comes close to matching the intensity and HOLY SHIT!-ness of the first film’s opening explosion, but there are some mildly commendable effects shown here. Director Christian Duguay doesn’t turn this film into a frantic bloodbath, and there is a nice balance struck between furthering the story and satisfying the bloodlust of fans watching at home. I had hoped the climax would veer into a grandiose showdown between scanners – and it does to a degree – but things could have been punched up a bit more to increase the impact. As it stands, Scanners II is a decent, totally watchable sequel that expands upon the first film’s story while also managing to stand on its own thanks to some new ideas. It’s not great, but it’s good enough.
Scanners III: The Takeover, on the other hand, is a blissful slice of absurdity. The film completely ignores the events and characters of the previous films, only retaining the concept of Ephemerol and its effects on unborn children. At the onset, we’re introduced to Alex (Steve Parrish) and his sister, Helena (Liliana Komorowska), both of whom are scanners. Scanning is a known trait in society, and Alex is goaded into using his powers as a party trick to impress drunken friends. But as he’s playfully pushing his best friend across the floor using only the power of his mind, someone bumps his shoulder, causing Alex to lose focus and mentally shove his buddy (dressed as Santa) right off his balcony high above the city. The event devastates Alex, so much so that he decides to flee the country and become a monk somewhere in Thailand (sadly, no Scanner Monk spinoffs have followed). In his absence, Helena becomes the sole heir to their father’s pharmaceutical company, a company which happens to produce EPH-3, yet another experimental drug that is intended to alleviate the constant pain scanners suffer. Sure, it’s not even close to being ready for human trails, but Helena doesn’t care so she slaps a patch on her neck to let the drug take effect. It works, but there’s the unfortunate side effect of it making her totally psychotic. And this is where Scanners III gets fun – with Helena using her incredible powers for all kinds of nasty, hilariously wrong antics. As you’d expect, Alex is the only one who can stop her, leading to his return and combat with his mental equal.
You’re a fan. You’ve been watching Scanners films. And you’ve been thinking, “Why haven’t I seen someone use scanning to make their boss do an embarrassing dance in front of a potential client?” Wait no longer friends, because Evil Helena has way too much fun with her powers. Annoying pigeon making noises nearby? BOOM! Someone points their finger in a threatening manner? EXPLODED! Don’t like the doctor’s diagnosis? BLOW HIS HEAD UP! Helena manages to figure out that she can scan people through the television, allowing her to influence a talk show host and his guest into canoodling on stage. And it works on VHS, too! So, now she can broadcast a scan signal to everyone in America. The film’s story is absolute crap, hardly interesting. But it more than makes up for that by unleashing a flurry of nasty little gore gags. One of the best deaths in the movie occurs when someone gets scanned underwater, resulting in a crimson explosion that rises up from the depths like a nuclear test. And there isn’t even enough time to discuss the Thailand kung-fu scanner fight. Suffice it to say, this film runs wild with generating new ways for a scanner to totally destroy people. It’s ridiculous from about 2/3 of the way in all the way up to the end credits. If only they’d had this pace right from the start, it could have been Ninja III: The Domination (1984) epic.
Both films come home with the same a/v specs – a 1.78:1 1080p transfer (which would be the original aspect ratio debut for both titles), as well as an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track. Scanners II exhibits a heavy layer of grain throughout its running time, an issue that is only exacerbated in dark lighting. The image itself is moderately defined, displaying some crisp lines and a sharp picture for the most part. Faces show an average, unspectacular amount of detail, but flesh tones do appear to be natural and lifelike. The film has a muted color palette, so there aren’t many bright colors that pop off the screen to add some contrast. It looks about on par with any other direct-to-video low-budget flick produced over 20 years ago, to be honest. Scanners III fares about the same, although the grain here does veer into full-on noise territory in a few scenes, chief among them the boardroom meeting. This entry featured more daylight scenes, and the better lighting conditions allow the picture looks sharper and brighter. The print has some noticeable dirt specks that sporadically appear, whereas the print for II looked to be in better shape. On the audio side of things, neither track is impressive by any means. Scanners II actually showcases some good panning effects between the front end assembly, almost managing to mimic surround sound. The moody sax & piano score comes through clear and free from any audio defects. Dialogue is well-balanced in the mix. Scanners III was more of a mixed bag, with some dialogue levels sounding too low in the mix. There’s not much presence, leaving the sound anemic and lacking range. It would’ve been nice to get some low-end support on these films, but considering the rush job done on both for production it’s not surprising they sound like, well, really low-budget productions. Neither film has subtitles.
Also, neither film has extras. “Not even a trailer?” you say? No, not even a trailer.
Although neither film here comes close to matching the first – both in intellect and acting abilities – there’s a certain charm to watching them. Scanners II plays out very much like an expected sequel would, only with a few new elements added in to differentiate it from its predecessor. Scanners III, however, manages to go from being a chore to almost becoming an exploitative gem thanks to some fun gross-out gags that are peppered throughout the abysmally dull plot. Now Scream Factory just needs to get on releasing a twofer of both Scanner Cop films and that’ll wrap up the series on home video.
2 1/2 out of 5
3 out of 5
0 out of 5