David Cronenberg's original 1981 movie "Scanners" was a sizeable commercial hit for the visionary Canadian director, catapulting him into the media limelight long enough for his follow-up “Videodrome” to publicly disappoint by becoming a massive flop. The home video boom of the early-eighties gave “Scanners” an even bigger boost, especially in Europe, and soon, the executive producer of the original film, Pierre David, found himself assailed with requests from distributors to provide them with a suitable sequel. Since Cronenberg's contract gave him no say whatsoever in how the characters and the original story ideas he created for the first film could be subsequently exploited in potential follow-ups, Pierre David was able to cash in on his investment, 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 very likely! Cronenberg was, not surprisingly, totally uninterested in returning to direct any of these follow on 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 and "Scanners II: The New Order" marked his feature debut. It’s a slick, if rather bland affair that tells a similar story to the original but with a much lighter, comic book tone and a 1980s TV movie look. Cronenberg purists will baulk, but the film is an entertaining enough diversion and is canny (if unoriginal) enough to throw in a few exploding heads, splattered brains and bursting veins for the genre fans who had come to it after seeing the original on home video.
The action seems to have transferred to the US (the original was set in Canada) with an unspecified time frame, although the film was actually filmed in Montreal so it could just be the Americanised tone that makes it seem that way. A shifty-looking William De Foe look-a-like (Raoul Trujillo) enters a games arcade and unleashes uncontrollable psychic forces which make the video games machines go bonkers, eventually blowing them all up! He ends up shambling into a warehouse stocked with store mannequins and screaming at the dummies for looking at him funny. 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 (Tom Butler) 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 making all its users' hair fall out and turning them into limp, drug-dependent vegetables! The Morse institute has a secret research 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. That man is Peter Drak; after a brief examination, Forrester realises that Drak is an uncontrollable madman, but they decide to work with him anyway!
Meanwhile, clean-cut young Veterinary student David Kellum, also a scanner, arrives in the big city to find he cannot control the invasion of other peoples' thoughts crowding into his head. He’s a good guy though (in contrast to Drak), a fact that we're made well aware of when he cures a cute puppy of brain encephalitis just by scanning it. David had not realised the extent of his powers before, because he had always previously lived in the countryside where there were not that many people about and his mom and pop could protect him from scrutiny. Kellum takes up with a fellow student called Alice Leonardo (Isabella Mejias) and the two begin a relationship... David even gives her the cured puppy! He really is a terribly nice guy!
But one day, the two are caught in a raid on a convenience store and 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 brains all over the storefront! 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 just gorily murdered someone if he will join his police scanners unit down at the Morse Institute! 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 finally putting them to good use. But Commander Forrester has a darker side and much bigger 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 … i.e. Forrester himself! Once he realises the true nature of the plot he has become involved in, David tries to escape back to his parents home in the countryside, 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 get brutally murdered! Now on a revenge trip, David joins up with his sister, Julie Vale (Deborah Raffin), whose boyfriend was also a victim of the Morse Institute’s early experiments on scanners, and the two vow to bring down Forrester and his nefarious New Order!
With its unremarkable score and dated soft rock soundtrack, and the slick but dated music video visuals, this sequel is a world away from the dark, forbidding, downbeat arthouse ambience of the Cronenberg original and is clearly going for as mainstream a horror/action audience as possible. The acting is also much more comic book and exaggerated in style. 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 and he gets some rib-tickling dialogue that includes a few chucklesome double entendres (‘I’m gonna suck you dry, pretty boy’); while the young David Hewlett (“Stargate: Atlantis”), the actor playing the protagonist, is easy to accept as the child of Cameron Vale since he is almost as charisma-free here as Stephen Lack from the first film!
The movie 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 hugely bad or unentertaining. The special effects are also rather good -- they tend to be based on the original film but push things to rubbery extremes so that not only do we get exploding heads and the like, but also quite a few 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, featuring many well-handled action sequences and a few instances of gory excess, although you have to wait some time for them to emerge. The art direction attempts to mimic the stylised look of Michael Mann’s “Manhunter”, with the Morse Institute looking as though it was filmed at a similar location to the museum of modern art that was used for the prison exteriors and reception area in the latter film.
“Scanners II: The New Order” comes to Blu-ray in a bare bones edition featuring only the film and no extras. The transfer is good but doesn’t stand out as being a vast improvement on previous DVD editions, and the audio tracks featured include DTS HDMA 5.0 and a PCM 2.0 stereo options.