Scanners is a 1981 science fiction horror film written and directed by David Cronenberg and starring Jennifer O'Neill, Stephen Lack, Michael Ironside, and Patrick McGoohan. The film is about a corporation, that attempts to use people with telepathic and telekinetic abilities for its own purposes.


The year is 1985, where Scanners are people with powerfully intense telepathic and telekinetic abilities. ConSec, a weaponry and security systems company, captures a homeless scanner named Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) at a shopping mall. Vale has been able to get by using his telepathy to make people eating near him allow him to partake of their meals. Vale psychically overhears two women talking negatively about him, when suddenly one of them begins to convulse. Without knowing he is responsible for this, Vale attracts the attention of two ConSec agents. He supposedly possesses tremendous scanner power, which 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 was brutally 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 killed, 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 about 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. Vale then infiltrates the Ripe Program computers through a payphone. In a last attempt to kill Vale, Keller orders a group of computer scientists to make the program self-destruct as Vale is plugged into 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 tranquilizer 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. Vale's body is ravaged terribly by Revok's attacks to the point of burning, but before his body is destroyed completely, Vale takes aim at Revok and it is implied, that he completely overwhelms him. Revok's eyes turn white and as he screams the scene suddenly cuts to black.

Kim wakes up 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 (and is missing the characteristic scar between the eyebrows) and utters the last words of the film, "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, with Cronenberg writing the script between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. each morning throughout shooting. Since the production design team had no time to build sets, in some instances the crew had to drive around looking for things to shoot. As a result, Cronenberg has said, Scanners was a nightmare to make.

Master make-up artist Dick Smith (The Exorcist, Sweet Home) provided the prosthetic make-up effects for the often-cited exploding head and the climactic scanner duel. The effect was made by filling a prosthetic head with bought livers and shooting the head from behind with a shotgun.

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 as a sedative, and its use led to severe malformations of children when taken during pregnancy.


Scanners was released on January 14, 1981 and grossed $14.2 million.


Film critic Roger Ebert gave Scanners two out of four stars and wrote, "Scanners is so lockstep, that we are basically reduced to watching the special effects, which are good but curiously abstract, because we don't much care about the people they're happening around". In his review for The New York Times, Vincent Canby wrote, "Had Mr. Cronenberg settled simply for horror, as John Carpenter did in his classic Halloween (though not in his not-so-classic The Fog), Scanners might have been a Grand Guignol treat. Instead he insists on turning the film into a mystery, and mystery demands eventual explanations that, when they come in Scanners, underline the movie's essential foolishness".

Awards and honorsEdit

Although Scanners was not nominated for any major awards, it did receive some recognition. The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films gave the film its Saturn Award in 1981 for "Best International Film", and, in addition, the "Best Make-Up" award went to Dick Smith in a tie with Altered States. The film had also been nominated for "Best Special Effects."

Scanners also won "Best International Fantasy Film" from Fantasporto in 1983, and was nominated for eight Genie Awards in 1982, but did not win any.

Sequels and other adaptationsEdit

Scanners spawned sequels and a series of spin-offs; a remake is being developed. None of these projects has involved Cronenberg as director.




As of February 2007, Darren Lynn Bousman (director of Saw II, Saw III and Saw IV) was announced to direct a remake of the film, to be released by The Weinstein Company and Dimension Films. David S. Goyer was assigned to script the film. The movie was previously planned for an October 17, 2008 release, but has since been delayed.

In popular cultureEdit

  • 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 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 à 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 samples from the movie in the song "Decryption" on the 1994 album Patashnik.
  • In the 1995 movie Tommy Boy, Richard (David Spade) asks, "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 whom 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, includes a song, "Scanners".
  • On "Weird Al" Yankovic's 2003 Poodle Hat album, the single "Couch Potato" mentions Scanners.
  • Scanners was referenced on the March 17, 2008 The Big Bang Theory episode "The Cooper-Hofstadter Polarization", whereby the characters of Sheldon and Penny attempt, unsuccessfully, to make people's heads explode like in the film.
  • The Future Sound of London used samples from the movie for "Among Myselves" on the album Lifeforms.
  • Loefah used a sample from Scanners in his tune 'The Goat Stare' on the DMZ label.
  • The animated sitcom Family Guy references Scanners in one of its "cutaway scenes", where Peter eats a Fudgsicle in one bite, then winces, screams, and his head explodes.
  • The clip of the exploding head is played frequently on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
  • Skinny Puppy used a sample from the movie in the song "Fascist Jock Itch" on the album Rabies.

External linksEdit

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