It’s strange that we live in a world where a studio passed on David Cronenberg’s sequel/reboot of The Fly, yet Scanners was turned into a franchise. Although revered by fans, I don’t believe the original Scanners to be one of Cronenberg’s best efforts; to me, it exists as little more than the source of the famed exploding head GIF that has floated around on the internet for years.
Scanners was a moderate success at the box office back in 1981, but it must have picked up more steam on VHS in ’80s (the iconic head explosion, coupled with intriguing cover art, likely persuaded many rentals) to encourage not one but two sequels a decade later. Scanners II: The New Order was released straight-to-video in 1991, and Scanners III: The Takeover hit shelves the following year.
Sequels that are produced back-to-back often utilize the same cast and continue a storyline, but that is not the case for Scanners II and III. Despite the efforts sharing a director (Christian Duguay, Screamers) and even a writer (B.J. Nelson), each one is a standalone sequel. The only common thread is the “scanners” themselves – a select few individuals with unique and often deadly telepathic abilities.
All things considered, Scanners II: The New Order may be the best film in the series. David Hewlett (Cube) stars as David Kellum, a med school student suffering from increasingly excruciating headaches. When police officer John Forrester (Yvan Ponton) and scientist Dr. Morse (Tom Butler, Freddy vs. Jason) inform him that he is a scanner and there are others like him, David’s life is changed forever. He uses his powers for good, stopping would-be criminals like a superhero. When he discovers Forrester is plotting to take over the city, David sets his sights on his former handler.
Scanners III: The Takeover isn’t quite as engaging as its predecessor, but it gets the job done. This time around, we get to see scanner against scanner. When an experimental drug for scanners turns Helena Monet (Liliana Komorowska) into a power-hungry maniac, it’s up to her brother, Alex (Steve Parrish), to stop the chaos. The sibling rivalry comes to head with a final battle between the scanners, which is supposed to be an epic showdown, but the unintentionally cheesy scene plays out more like a contest to determine who can make the funniest scanning face.
Until now, Scanners II and III had never hit DVD in North America. Thanks to Scream Factory, however, the once-obscure sequels are available together in a Blu-ray and DVD combo pack, with both films on each disc. There are no special features – uncharacteristic for Scream Factory – but it’s hard to complain, considering the films are rare and it’s a two-for-one deal. Although the movies were made on limited budgets, the high-definition transfers look good.
Believe it or not, two more films exist in the Scanners canon: 1994’s spin-off, Scanner Cop, and its 1995 sequel, Scanner Cop II. Like Scanners II and Scanners III, they were never available on DVD in the United States. Perhaps we’ll see Scream Factory put them out in the future.
Cronenberg, of course, was not involved in any of the sequels. I don’t know that he ever made an effort to see them, but I can’t imagine him being a fan of their over-the-top style. They may lack the original’s stylish direction, but the successors are mindlessly (no pun intended) entertaining. They also retain the solid practical effects – best showcased by the head explosions, of course.
Although decidedly not Cronenberg-ian, Scanners II and Scanners III are fun, fast-paced and action-packed, as far as direct-to-video movies go. They’re a great way to tide fans over until the original Scanners comes to Blu-ray, which is rumored to be released by Criterion later this year.