David Cronenberg's original 1981 movie, "Scanners" was a sizeable commercial hit for the visionary and highly idiosyncratic Canadian director. The home video boom of the early-eighties gave the film an even bigger boost, especially in Europe, and soon, producer Pierre David found himself assailed with requests from distributors to provide a sequel. Since Cronenberg's contract gave him no say in how his characters and original story ideas could be subsequently exploited, David was able to cash in -- a full ten years after the original movie -- with one of the most unlikely franchises in the horror genre: after all, the first film hardly concluded on a note that made a sequel seem likely! Cronenberg was, not surprisingly, totally uninterested in returning to direct any of the sequels, so French Canadian director Christian Duguay took over the reins for two films (both made back-to-back) while Pierre David himself later made his directorial debut with a fourth outing called "Scanner Cop". Duguay had previously perfected his craft in Canadian TV; "Scanners ll" marked his feature debut and is a slick, if rather bland, affair that tells a similar story to the original but with a much lighter, comic book tone to it. Cronenberg purists will baulk, but the film is an entertaining enough diversion and is canny (if unoriginal) enough to throw in all the exploding heads, splattered brains and bursting veins any self-respecting genre fan could wish for!
The action seems to have transferred to the US (the original was set in Canada) in an unspecified time frame. A shifty-looking William De Foe look-a-like (Raoul Trujillo) enters a games arcade and unleashes uncontrollable psychic forces which take control of all the games machines, eventually blowing them all up! Meanwhile, police commander Wayne Forrester (Yvan Ponton) is using the city's law enforcement resources to track down Scanners: people born with remarkable psychic powers due to the administration, in the 1940s, of a drug called Ephemerol. With the help of Dr. Morse of the Morse Institute, Forrester is trying to create a special unit of Scanners to help rid the city of "corrupt" elements; Morse has created a drug called F2 to control their powers but it has the unfortunate side-effect of turning them all into drug-dependent vegetables! The Morse institute has a secret area where all the drug-addled scanners that have been, so far unsuccessfully, experimented on are kept. The incident in the arcade alerts Forrester to the existence of another scanner in the area and he has the man responsible for it kidnapped and brought to the Institute for assessment. The man is Peter Drak; after a brief examination, Forrester realises that Drak is an uncontrollable madman!
Meanwhile, clean-cut young Veterinary student David Kellum arrives in the big city to find he cannot control the invasion of other peoples' thoughts into his head. David also has scanning powers but never realised it because he had always previously lived in the countryside where there were not many people. Kellum takes up with a fellow student called Alice Leonardo (Isabella Mejias) and the two begin a relationship... David even buys her a puppy! He's a nice guy!
But one day, the two are caught in a raid on a convenience store; a masked raider threatens Alice and hits her! David's scanning powers run out of control and, in anger, he causes the top of the thief's head to blow off, splattering his brains all over the store front! The CCTV footage of this incident comes to the attention of Forrester and he pays David an unofficial visit -- offering to forget about the fact that David has murdered someone if he will join his police scanners unit! David agrees, and actually begins to enjoy the work when he is involved in bringing someone who has been poisoning cartons of children's milk to justice. He feels at peace for finally understanding the powers he has been born with and happy that he is putting them to good use. But Commander Forrester has big plans: he gets the psychotic Drak to murder the Chief of Police and then persuades David to influence the mind of the Mayor and to get her to replace him with a more right wing candidate who will approve Forrester's plans for a draconian police state. Once he realises what he has become involved in, David tries to escape back to his parents in the country where he learns that he was adopted at an early age and has a sister he never knew about! His real parents were Cameron Vale and Kim Obrist (the protagonists of Cronenberg's original film) who died after Forrester tested an early version of Morse's mind control drug on them. Forrester sends Drak to track David down and his foster parents are murdered! David joins up with his sister, Julie Vale (Deborah Raffin) and the two vow to bring down Forrester and his nefarious New Order!
With its unremarkable score and slick but dated visual style, this sequel is a world away from the dark, forbidding ambience of Cronenberg's original. The acting is also much more comic book and exaggerated. The actor playing Drak is fitted with a pair of ridiculous false teeth that make it quite hard to take him seriously as a villain, while David Hewlett, the actor playing the protagonist, is easy to accept as the child of Cameron Vale since he is almost as charisma-free as Stephen Lack from the first film! The film plays more like a remake of the original, and the structure of the plot is also the same; but despite its predictability and pulpy style one cannot say that it is bad or un-entertaining. The special effects are also rather good -- they tend to be based on the original film but push things to comic book extremes so that, not only do we get exploding heads and the like, but also quite outrageous scenes of psychically induced mutilation: one character has his head and face twisted and morphed into a bizarre version of the elephant man by the protagonist's scanning powers! The film is basically lightweight fluff but enjoyable lightweight fluff all the same that features many well-handled action sequences and plenty of gory excess.
Anchor Bay UK present the film in a stunning widescreen anamorphic transfer with stereo 2.0 and 5.1 surround with optional DTS audio tracks. Extras consist of trailers for all three scanner films in AB UK's set, film notes, cast and crew biographies and a seven minute featurette -- the second in Nucleus films' "Inside Scan" series presented by genre critic Alan Jones, who gives a run-down on the film's production history.
This disc is available individually or as part of a three disc box set that also features the original David Cronenberg movie and Christian Duguay's second sequel "Scanners lll: The Takeover".