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Scanners is a 1981 action / science fiction / horror film written and directed by David Cronenberg.


Scanners are people with telepathic and telekinetic abilities. ConSec, a weaponry and security systems company, captures Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) at a mall. He supposedly possesses tremendous scanner power, that ConSec wants to exploit, but he has become a derelict because he cannot cope with the overload of hearing others' thoughts. Meanwhile, ConSec's last scanner is murdered at a press conference by scanner renegade Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside). Revok escapes, killing five people.

Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan), the head of ConSec's Scanner Section, decides to infiltrate the Scanner Underworld by "converting" Vale and sending him to find Revok. At the same time, a new head of security, Braedon Keller (Lawrence Dane) joins ConSec. Ruth tells Vale that scanners can suppress their telepathic powers by injecting themselves with the drug ephemerol and sends him to find Revok. The only lead is Benjamin Pierce (Robert A. Silverman), an artist who tried to kill his family as a child.

After discovering Pierce's address in a gallery exhibiting his morbid sculptures, Vale goes to visit him and finds him living in isolation. Revok, intent on killing all scanners unwilling to join his renegade faction, sends four assassins to dispatch Pierce. Pierce is shot and Vale flings the assassins into unconsciousness. As Pierce is dying, Vale scans his mind and obtains information on where to find other scanners.

Vale meets Kim Obrist (Jennifer O'Neill) and other scanners who have adjusted to their powers by forming a mutual telepathic circle. The party is ambushed by Revok's assassins, who are killed by Obrist. All scanners but Vale and Obrist are killed trying to escape.

Vale infiltrates Revok's Ripe Program and finds out a large quantity of ephemerol being delivered. He and Kim go back to ConSec to inform Ruth. They find out that Keller is a traitor. Keller kills Ruth by Revok's orders. Vale and Obrist escape by scanning the ConSec guards and infiltrate Ripe Program through a payphone. In a last attempt to kill Vale, Keller orders a group of scientists to make the program self-destruct as Vale is plugged to it. The plan backfires and the laboratory explodes, killing Keller.

Vale and Kim visit Dr. Frane, who has been prescribing ephemerol to pregnant women. Kim is shocked that an unborn baby has scanned her. As they leave his office, they are ambushed by Revok and shot with anesthetic darts. When Vale wakes up, he is in Revok's office. Revok tells him that they are brothers and that scanners were the children of pregnant women, who were prescribed ephemerol. Revok reveals his plan to distribute ephemerol and make an army of scanners, inviting Vale to join him. Vale refuses and they battle through mind control, apparently to the point of mutual destruction.

Kim wakes up several hours later and finds Vale's incinerated body on the floor. She psychically senses Vale's thoughts and calls out to him. She discovers Revok is cowering in a corner, hidden under Vale's jacket. He reveals that he now has Vale's blue eyes, uttering his last words, "We've won" in Vale's voice.



The story is structured as a futuristic thriller, involving industrial espionage and intrigue, car chases, conspiracies, and shoot-outs (including a gruesome scanner duel between Vale and Revok at the end). It was the nearest thing to a conventional sci-fi thriller Cronenberg had made up to that point, lacking the sexual content of Shivers, Rabid or The Brood; it was also his most profitable film until The Fly six years later.

Because of the oddities of Canada's film financing structures at the time, it was necessary to begin shooting with only two weeks' pre-production work, before the screenplay had been completed. As a result, Cronenberg has said, Scanners was a nightmare to make.

Master make-up artist Dick Smith (The Exorcist) provided the spectacular prosthetic make-up effects for the exploding head and the climatic scanner duel.

Cameron Vale and Kim Obrist's children (David Kellum and Julie Vale) are shown in the sequel to this movie.

The use, marketing, and birth defects caused by the fictional drug ephemerol parallel the real-life drug thalidomide. Thalidomide was chiefly sold and prescribed during the late 1950s and early 1960s to pregnant women, and led to severe malformations of children when taken during pregnancy.

References in other media

  • The 1976-1984 sketch-comedy series SCTV included a recurring sketch titled Farm Film Report in which Big Jim McBob (Joe Flaherty) and Billy Sol Hurok (John Candy) satirized conventional film review programs, using a stereotypical redneck slant. Consistently, their favorite film was Scanners, with all other films compared to it and found wanting. The sketch routinely closed with the salute to the audience: "May the Good Lord watch over you, and blow ya up real soon!"
  • In the 1992 movie Wayne's World, at one point Garth freezes while on TV, prompting an onlooker to comment, "Ever see that scene in Scanners when that dude's head blew up?"
  • In a 1993 episode, 511-"Gunslinger", of the television series Mystery Science Theater 3000, Dr. Clayton Forrester offers "The Scanner Planner" (which, of course, deals with blowing up people's heads a la Daryl Revok) as his end of the episode's "invention exchange". Dr. Forrester then proceeds to use the lessons taught in "The Scanner Planner" to blow up first Tom Servo's head, and then (by the end of the episode) TV's Frank's head. The cover of the planner features the iconic image of Michael Ironside as Daryl Revok, as he is shown during the film's climactic "Scanner battle".
  • The Norwegian ambient artist Biosphere used some samples from the movie in the song 'Decryption' of the 1994 album Patashnik.
  • In the 1995 movie Tommy Boy, Richard (David Spade) states "Did anyone see Scanners?" when he realizes the orders have been cancelled.
  • A 1996 episode of Saturday Night Live featured a sketch titled "Jimmy Tango's Fat Busters". Jim Carrey poses as "Jimmy Tango", a formerly obese man who lost weight through the use of crystal meth and a vibrating heat bead suit. Jimmy interviews members of the crowd, some of which have already started using his "program". One member (played by Will Ferrell) claims to be the devil, at which point Jimmy baits him into fighting with the phrase "talk is cheap, scan me" and the two begin having a scanner battle, ending with Ferrell bleeding from the scalp and begging Jimmy to stop.
  • Rapper Phoenix Orion's 1998 album, Zimulated Experiencez, included a song titled Scanners.
  • On "Weird Al" Yankovic's 2003 Poodle Hat album, the song Couch Potato mentions Scanners by name.
  • Scanners was referenced in a 2008 episode of The Big Bang Theory whereby the characters of Sheldon and Penny attempt, unsuccessfully, to make people's heads explode like in the film.
  • The English band The Future Sound Of London used some samples from the movie in their songs.
  • In the South Park episode called "Canada On Strike", Tay Zonday's head exploded just like in this movie.
  • The Daily Show frequently uses the exploding head scene to illustrate "mind blowing" news.
  • In an episode of Family Guy, Peter Griffin eats half a Popsicle in one bite and his head explodes in the same way as the famous scene.


Scanners also has sequels, a series of spin-offs, and a remake is in the works. None of these projects have involved Cronenberg as director.




As of February 2007, Darren Lynn Bousman (director of Saw II, Saw III and Saw IV) will direct a remake of the film, which will be released by Dimension Films. David S. Goyer, who wrote Batman Begins, will script the film, and the movie itself was previously planned for an October 17, 2008 release, but has since been delayed and the movie was pushed back to 2009.


External links

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