In 1981 David Cronenberg directed Scanners, a reasonably low budget horror movie shot on the streets of Toronto that went on to become a cult classic thanks to great performances from Michael Ironside and Patrick McGoohan and some great, gory scenes of exploding heads! Well, ten years later a pair of follow up films were made without the involvement of Cronenberg, they being Scanners II: The New Order and Scanners III: The Takeover (which was also known as Scanner Force. Quite frankly, they're not nearly as good as the original, but when judged on their own merits, they're entertaining enough. Shout! Factory, through their rapidly expanding horror specialty label Scream Factory, releases these two sequels on Blu-ray in North America for the first time.
SCANNERS II: THE NEW ORDER
The film starts with a scene in an arcade (remember those?) where a rogue Scanner is suffering from serious headaches and in the midst of fight back against a freak out. When he uses his mind to control a shooting game, things get bad and messy before he's brought down by local authorities who bring him to a Doctor Morse (Tom Butler) who is using his resources to study the Scanners. He wants to figure out exactly what gives certain people the ability to see things with their minds that others cannot. As the Scanners can obviously be quite dangerous, Morse uses powerful narcotics to keep them under control, and he doesn't seem particularly concerned about the addictive qualities his prescriptions carry or the side effects that they cause.
One of Morse's supporters is a top cop named Commander John Forrester (Yvan Ponton). He and Morse want to be able to use the Scanners' abilities for good and to help out with police work. Enter a young man named David Kellum (David Hewlett), a smart kid, a university student. He's exactly the type of Scanner that they're looking for. As Forrester grooms David to be his secret weapon in the war on crime, his ego starts to get a boost from all that they're able to accomplish together. As Forrester quickly begins to lose sight of his initial good intentions, David has to team up with his sister, Julie Vale (Deborah Raffin), to stop him before he goes too far with his proposed plans to use Scanners to create a so called New Order.
Directed by Christian Duguay, this sequel sets aside the brooding slow-burning intensity of Cronenberg's original film and replaces it with a fast paced series of set pieces connected by a reasonably engaging storyline that takes what was previously established and runs with it. The concept is solid, it explains some of the reasons that the Scanners might exist and how they initially mutated from ‘regular' people and from there it explores the possibilities that they could hold were their powers brought to a national stage by way of Forrester's political aspirations. It does all of this quite quickly, moving at a surprisingly rapid pace and favoring action set pieces over character development but we do get to know David at least enough to know that he's a genuinely good guy.
Performances are okay. Not amazing, but certainly acceptable enough. Hewlett is an affable enough type, he makes a good hero. His teaming up with Raffin as Vale works and ties into the original continuity of the first film in an appropriate enough manner. Ponton is fun as Forrester, watching him attempt to basically climb to power is enjoyable while Butler makes for a fine scientist. The movie is well shot, making good use of its Montreal locations. Yeah, this isn't the original, it doesn't try to be, but it's plenty entertaining in its own right and not a bad follow up at all.
SCANNERS III: THE TAKEOVER
So with the reasoning behind the existence of the Scanners now more or less explained, this third film, also directed by Duguay and shot directly after finishing the second movie, introduces us to Doctor Elton Monet (Colin Fox), a man who has dedicated himself to studying the Scanners. His reasons for doing so are very personal: his son and daughter, Alex (Steve Parrish) and Helena (Liliana Komorowska), are Scanners and in his younger days Alex inadvertently killed his best friend. What makes Monet's studies so important is that he thinks he has found a cure. The catch? He needs some human guinea pigs for testing purposes to confirm his findings.
Helen, surprisingly enough, agrees to let Monet use her for research. As Alex is off in Asia hoping that Buddhist teachings will help him to better control his abilities, this seems to be his only option but before he tries things out on a family member, he feels he needs to refine things a bit more, but when she gets an unbearable headache she takes a dose without his knowledge and feels better instantly. What she doesn't realize is that the drug has also had an effect on her psyche, giving her an insatiable lust for sex and destruction that she's not quite able to control. When she effectively gets revenge against a doctor who molested her in her younger days, she realizes the power she has and sets about recruiting an army of Scanners figuring she can get her father's drug out there in larger quantities and use it to her advantage. Once she realizes she can transmit her powers around the world through television broadcasts, all bets are off… until Alex comes back and realizes what his sister has been up to in his absence.
This one is pretty scattershot. There are great ideas here: the use of television and mass media devices as a delivery device for a narcotic and the use of narcotics in controlling mental telepathy are both interesting ideologies to explore but the movie crams in a whole lot more than that and this winds up taking away from the more effective central ideas at the core of the story. Subplots aplenty are introduced here and not to the movie's benefit. The angel with Alex over in Asia is an interesting one but it almost contradicts the more technological ideas being explored in the other aspects of the movie and instead of working with the main storyline, it almost feels like the writers (there were a bunch of them involved here) crammed the concept for a fourth movie into this third one just because. The end result is a movie that has some really effective scenes and that does occasionally explore ideas in good ways, but which is undermined by its own ambitions and inevitably gets pretty messy.
The performances are okay and some of the gore effects are well done. The score sounds a little dated but otherwise works for the most part. Sometimes the film's low budget shines through but most seasoned horror movie fans won't have much of a problem with that. This could have been a contender, but it's not. It's disjointed and sloppy; though to its credit, it does have a few effective moments that make it worth seeing for fans of the first two entries in the series.
Both films are transferred in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 1.78.1 widescreen. Some of the effects shots show unusually heavy grain but outside of that, the movies look quite good. Detail is solid and color reproduction is nice. Black levels stop short of reference quality and some of the darker scenes get a little bit murky but it's just as likely this has to do with how and when the movies were shot more than anything else. Some minor crush shows up in some of those darker spots as well. Texture is good, you'll pick up on fibers in the different outfits that the characters wear, while skin looks nice and natural. There are no obvious instances of heavy filtering, artificial sharpening, edge enhancement or overzealous noise reduction. All in all, the movies look very nice.
We get DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo tracks for both movies and while neither movie offers up a reference quality listening experience, you get the impression as you watch these movies that the lossless mixes do a nice job of replicating the movies' original audio. Some of the scenes involving the Scanners doing their thing build to some pretty solid tension and the added depth offered here compared to the DVDs do good work in helping to do that. The levels are properly balanced throughout and there aren't any problems with any hiss or distortion. The scores and effects sound nice and dialogue is always clear and easy to understand.
Extras? No, not a one. Just a standard static menu offering you the choice to watch one movie or the other. This is a DVD combo pack, however, so a DVD with standard definition versions of both movies is also included in the case.
Neither Scanners II: The New Order nor Scanners III: The Takeover can match the quality of David Cronenberg's original film as they don't show the same sort of creativity. The first sequel is a fun B-grade horror pictures in its own right, and the second is a mess. That said, they follow up on the story told in the first film in some interesting ways, they're both quite well paced and reasonably slick in the effects department which offers up some memorable scenes of head blasting carnage. The Blu-ray double feature from Shout! Factory is sadly as barebones as they come but it looks and sounds pretty good. Easily recommended for fans of the series (mainly on the strength of Scanners II), a solid rental for the curious.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.