Christian Duguay's second sequel to David Cronenberg's austere psychic action flick, "Scanners", kicks off with a pre-credit sequence in which a Christmas party in the Canadian city of Montreal ends rather ignominiously when a light-hearted demonstration of telekinetic scanner prowess -- initiated to convince two sceptical party guests of the reality of the phenomenon -- results in young scanner protégé Alex (Steve Parrish) accidentally blowing his best pal out of the fifth floor window of an apartment block and onto the sidewalk below! As the Christmassy Jingle Bells imitating title music strikes up, the viewer has by now become aware that any negligible attempt by the first sequel ("Scanners 2: The New Order") to do justice to the spirit and mythos of the Cronenberg original has most certainly been abandoned for what soon turns into rather an unashamedly silly second effort.
"Scanners 3: The Takeover" is utterly unrepentant in its schlocky exploitation intent: the darkly forbidding atmospherics that surrounded the show-stopping gore set-pieces of the Cronenberg film are replaced here with a ridiculously campy tone and a bland TV look; and while the looked for bloody head explosion special effect -- when it makes its inevitable appearance, since it is by now standard for a film with the word "Scanner" in its title -- is just as spectacular and gory as the one featured in the first film, the horror content is otherwise diminished in favour of a potpourri of stunt scenes, explosions, martial arts sequences, and over-the-top comic performances from an unknown cast who've found themselves saddled with a frivolous, tongue-in-cheek script aimed at a completely different audience to the first film . Allow yourself to get past the unavoidable fact that Duguay is happily stomping all over the credibility of the franchise's source, though, and this ludicrous ‘straight-to-video-and-proud-of-it’ flick is, actually, curiously entertaining in that increasingly familiar (for this franchise) ‘guilty pleasure’ sort of way!
After the unfortunate incident at the party, Alex goes off to live in a Buddhist monastery in Thailand (as you do!) in order to ‘find himself’ and, presumably, learn to control those pesky scanner powers a little better in order to avoid accidently killing all of his friends. This development also gives Duguay and the crew a chance to decamp abroad for a two week sojourn in Thailand, which looks very nice in the location footage included here. In fact, Duguay employs a curiously ‘arty’ style with this film which encompasses lots of extreme camera angles, the use of wide-angle lenses and quasi Argento-esque roving camera moves, in marked contrast to the rather pedestrian appearance of the previous sequel. It feels oddly out of place, though, given this flick's ‘exploitation’ content! A voice-over from Alex gives us the necessary background on the main characters: Alex and his sister, Helena (who was also at the fateful party) were born scanners -- inheriting their telepathic and telekinetic gifts from their mother, who was one of those expectant mothers experimented on with the pregnancy drug Ephemerol in the 1940s. As misunderstood teenagers, they found themselves confined to the Baumann Institute, where they were forced to take part in painful experiments carried out by the sadistic Dr Baumann (played by someone called Harry Hill, but not the large-collared British comedian of course). They were eventually rescued from this fate though, and adopted by that most unlikely breed: a kindly pharmaceuticals manufacturer, called Dr Elton Monet (Colin Fox).
The action fast-winds forward two years later. Alex is still missing in Thailand. But in the meantime his sister, Helena (Liliana Komorowska), has risen through the ranks of her stepfather's pharmaceuticals company, which is currently being lined-up for takeover by smarmy ‘Takeover King’ Mark Dragon (Peter Wright). Helena still suffers from the side-effects of her scanner affliction, though: intense migraines and a cacophony of internal voices in her head whenever she is in a large crowd are symptoms snow ending her to the edge of sanity. In the original film, Ephemerol could be used by scanners to mitigate these effects, but this idea seems to have been dropped in both sequels. Dr Baumann's exploitative experiments came to naught, but now Dr Elton has finally developed a drug called F3, which looks like it could actually work. He tells Helena of this untested prototype and conveniently leaves a suitcase full of the stuff in the house! In the throes of suffering a particularly bad migraine attack, Helena takes the drug out of sheer desperation (which is administered in controlled doses by a computerised tab attached to the back of the neck). The drug works, and Helena finds herself freed of all scanner side-effects; unfortunately, the drug also has a few side-effects of its own (of course!) and turns Helena from a sweet-natured young lady into a scheming psychopathic killer who will do anything for world domination! First of all, she takes her revenge on Dr Baumann; then she uses her stepfather's drug to turn his scanner patients at the Baumann Institute into an army of evil drones, devoted to making the "’normals’, who have persecuted and ostracised them throughout their lives, pay!
The film becomes a glossy, camped-up Jekyll & Hyde scenario with a dash of Shakespearian tragedy. Polish actress Liliana Komorowska does a good job at identifying the film's lack of seriousness and tailors her performance accordingly. Now dressed in a variety of outrageous fashions, she hams her way through the rest of the film like a deranged Alexis Carrington from Dynasty and throws herself wholeheartedly into portraying her character's twisted psyche. Helena sets about gaining control of her stepfather's company in order to use it to manufacture the test drug; this involves killing her stepfather (who gets drowned in a sexy Jacuzzi scene that requires the gorgeous Koworowska to display a fair amount of bare flesh) and also the ridiculous yuppy king Dragon (manipulating him into diving head first into an empty swimming pool). Next on the hit list is Helena’s own brother Alex, since he is second in line to inherit their father's Company. She dispatches a scanner henchman from the Baumann Institute to seek and destroy Alex, who is still bumming around in that Thailand monastery halfway into the film (even the stoic monks seem to be pretty fed-up with him and want him to leave by this point). This leads to an entertaining little section of the film, full of outrageous kickboxing/scanner antics and which is completely OTT in execution. Having survived this attempt on his life, a confused Alex returns to Canada to find out exactly what’s going on and to confront his twisted sister. Lots of crazy action sequences ensue leavened with a few comedy episodes and even a little sexiness as Alex takes time out from thwarting his sister’s evil plans to reacquaint himself with blonde bombshell company chemist Joyce (Valérie Valois). Helena's devoted Blues Brothers-like scanner goons, repeatedly try to finish Alex off once and for all, even sending a sexy nurse to the hospital where he’s recuperating after a heavy beating, to try and execute him with an lethal injection -- until a final confrontation between good and evil takes place in a television studio where Helena is broadcasting a scanner control signal out to Montreal in order to subjugate the entire population. (Apart from those who are watching a different channel, presumably!)
This big psychic slap down at the end of the film is one of those elements of the franchise -- like exploding heads and bursting veins -- that every scanner film has to include. In this instance Alex and Helena face-off in a duelling battle of telekinetic control that results in much hilariously extreme facial gurning as each tries to get the other’s head to pop. Another reoccurring trope appears to be the casting of an uncharismatic lead actor; the Scanners franchise could be viewed as a lifeline for dull male leads with no screen presence, since all three films feature boring and forgettable male actors in lead roles! Steve Parish somnambulates through the entire film and makes little impression with his vacant stare – which is his auto-response to just about every ludicrous situation he encounters. Things only come to life for the actor in that final confrontation with his screen sister, when both get to pull hilariously over-exaggerated facial expressions as they pound each-others' bodies with invisible psychic punches!
This ridiculous film does feature a fair number of memorable sequences as it trundles along in its predictable fashion, though: particular favourites include a seduction scene in which Helena ravishes a low-ranking executive at the pharmaceuticals company while broadcasting a scanner signal that makes a chat show host and his female guest (who can be seen on the TV in the background) repeat the same saucy actions being carried out by Helena and her lover, live on air! Another features a curious foreshadowing of the cursed videotape idea from "The Ring", where Helena leaves a scanner signal imprinted on a video cassette that causes the viewer to fall under its psychic influence and repeat the same encoded set of actions. We even get treated to an underwater head explosion, an exploding pigeon and a shattering blood-engorged middle finger. It has to be said, though, the special effects are generally not up to much, and the various exploding limbs look particularly fake.
“Scanners III: The Takeover” gets a rather unspectacular bare-bones treatment on Blu-ray. The print looks to be in slightly worse shape than either of the other two films also recently released in HD with this franchise, with heavy grain and quite a soft image that makes it hard to distinguish it or set it apart from previous DVD transfers. The audio options are a little better, giving us IPCM 2.0 stereo and DTS HDMA 5.0 options which both come across well. There are no extras whatsoever, though.
Read more from Black Gloves at his blog, Nothing but the Night!