In 1981, Scanners was another early gem for director David Cronenberg (which hopefully will receive the rumoured Criterion treatment soon). The mixture of a fantastic story, gory special effects and, of course, Michael Ironside, made it a hit for the man who would go on to create Videodrome (another favorite of mine), The Dead Zone and The Fly. So with all that success with Scanners and the inevitable screaming of “franchise” by Hollywood, Scanners II and Scanners III, both directed by Christian Duguay, eventually saw the light of day ten years later. To fill the void of a lack of a North American home release for the two sequels, Scream Factory has released a two-pack Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack. While it’s obvious that neither sequel matched the original in a number of ways, do they still warrant your attention?
In Scanners II, the film picks up where the original left off, as the government moves to control and harness the powers of the scanners. A Doctor Morse (Tom Butler) has developed techniques for controlling the scanners through narcotics. Aiding him is an ambitious and unethical cop named John Forrester (Yvan Ponton). The duo are looking for a specific scanner who will be invaluable in their crime-fighting task force. They find it with David Kellum (David Hewlett), a man whose scanner powers result in a foiled corner store robbery. As Forrester begins to mold David into the perfect weapon for the government’s war on crime, Forrester’s plans to create a new world order with his group of scanners is discovered by David. Horrified, David resolves to stop Forrester before it’s too late.
Scanners II substitutes the slow burn story of the first film in favour of showing us more action sequences intertwined with the plotlines regarding Forrester’s political ambitions, as well as explaining just where scanners come from. Performance-wise, Hewlett performs well as our hero, hitting the right notes as the naive farmboy who grows up very quickly after becoming aware of Forrester’s plans. As for Forrester, Ponton also does a nice job as the villain, though like the rest of the performances, it’s quite obvious from when we first meet him he’s your cliche’d bad guy. The real highlight of the film is the effects. Heads do explode in this one, along with folks melting, leaking snot from everywhere, gunshots galore and more fun stuff with bladders. Unfortunately, the film really does come across as more of a remake of the original more than anything, with slight tweaks in the story and some story elements that cause the film to drag during its 100 minute runtime. Overall, the film is early 90s cheese with some fun effects. While it pales in comparison to the original, it’s still a fun follow-up.
In Scanners III, the existence of scanners has been revealed to the public. A doctor Elton Monet (Colin Fox) has been spending years trying to find a cure for their condition, as Monet’s own son and daughter are scanners. After Monet’s son, Alex (Steve Parrish), accidentally kills someone at a Christmas party, Alex goes on a religious retreat to try and learn to control his powers. Meanwhile, Monet’s daughter, Helena (Liliana Komorowska), steps forward to try and help her father in finding a cure by being a guinea pig, in spite of her severe headaches. The result is a drug that while cures her headaches, makes her into a homicidal sex machine. Helena initially decides to use the drug to raise a scanner army to take over the world, but then finds out that she can use the media and television to accomplish her goals, instead. Alex senses something is wrong, and returns to put a stop to Helena’s plans.
Whereas Scanners II was cheesy fun, Scanners III is a mess. The plot is all over the place, with some interesting elements involving the use of television to control and deliver the drug to other scanners, as well as the use of the drug to control scanners, but really it feels ham-fisted and just plain silly. Acting-wise, Parrish tries to make us like him as our hero, but his butter face along with his lame attempts at acting as a scanner aren’t winning anyone over. The real winner is Komorowska, who plays her role so over-the-top it’s hilarious. Who knew watching her make guys burn themselves with cigars or causing them to piss themselves would be fun? It also helps that she strips down and shows some skin (is it just me, or does she look like Valentina Vargas?). But other than that, the film is pretty rotten. With a story that mashes ideas from other films together in an attempt to create something ambitious, cheap effects and lame ending with an even lamer twist, Scanners III is hilariously bad. Avoid this one if you’re sober.
Scanners II and Scanners III are given AVC-encoded 1.78.1 1080p transfers. Since both films were essentially shot back-to-back and released within a year of each other, both transfer look very much the same. Detail and colour are great for both, albeit they both exhibit heavy grain with some of the darker shots. Textures are also quite good, and skin looks natural. Blacks get into the murky side of things, but overall, these look quite good for low-budget early 90s action/horror films.
As for the sound, both films are given DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo tracks. As with the transfers, the mixes are very good, but not the reference-quality some would want. Both tracks are kind of flat and don’t have the oomph for explosions, gunshots, etc. That said, dialogue is clear and free of distortion, and there’s no hissing or any other anomalies. Again, both of these tracks are suitable for the films themselves.
Aside from the set being a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack, there aren’t any extras to speak of. The discs start up with a menu selection between the two films, and from there the films just play. Neither film has any trailer included.
As for Scream Factory’s traditional reversible covers, there’s no real alternate cover on the back side, just the hooks for both films with images sprinkled in between.
Overall, this is another fine job by Scream Factory, and the lack of extras is understandable, but I question why at the very least the trailers for both films weren’t included. Oh well.