Thursday, March 12, 2009


Wayne's World fans might remember this:

The Scanners referred to (at the 0:40 mark) is a 1981 movie by twisteed Canadian genius David Cronenberg. Although he's become a little more mainstream lately (Eastern Promises and A History of Violence), his early filmography might be the strangest collection of above-ground films. Seriously, name a director who did stranger things than:

-Videodrome: My personal favorite from Cronenberg -- this is about a local-access TV producer (James Woods) who gets his hands on a videotape with mind-control powers. In it, Woods' character sexually stimulates a TV. It looks as weird as it sounds.

-The Fly: Haven't seen it, but Jeff Goldblum becomes half-man, half-fly after a teleportation mishap.

-Crash: No, not the Best Picture winner (ugh) from a couple of years ago. This deals with people who are aroused by car crashes. Like, literally aroused.

-eXistenZ: Is it a video game? Real life? A mix of the two? And why is there a gun made out of animal bones?

-Spider: It's like Oedipus Rex, only set in London, with the main character (Ralph Fiennes) also happening to be pretty much insane.

-Naked Lunch: Based on a book; about a guy (Peter Weller) who gets hooked on insecticide and sees giant cockroaches.


-Scanners: Which is most famous for that scene mentioned in Wayne's World. And it's not hard to see why. Seriously, a guy's head explodes. If you want, click here to see it (it's not as graphic as, say, Hostel, but it's still not even remotely safe for work).

Honestly, there's a reason that's scene is about all the movie is remembered for. It features mostly low-level acting (although bad guy Michael Ironside went on to have quite the TV/film career playing odd and/or tough characters -- he was even the bad guy in Free Willy). The story, about people with telepathic powers trying to take over the world (and yes, they can make people's heads explode with their minds), is slightly nonsensical and pushed forward through long bits of expository dialogue that would be boring to read, let alone hear from (mostly) human characters. The ending isn't really as surprising/satisfying as it wants to be (unlike the aforementioned Videodrome, which came out just two years after Scanners but was vastly superior).

Still, this one remains memorable, for a couple of reasons. One -- yes, that head-explosion scene. If you're squeamish, you don't want to see it. But if you can take it, it's really remarkable and almost unparalleled, still. Incredibly well-done, especially for the early 1980s.

Then there's a duel much later, between Ironside's bad guy and the main character (Stephen Lack -- and there's a really easy acting joke to be made about his last name). That showdown, quite simply, is gross -- and awesome (watch it here, if you dare). Film after film pits the good guy against the bad guy in a final EPIC BATTLE FOR ALL THE WORLD. Usually it involves some lame hand-to-hand combat or a gun battle. Not this one. It doesn't get much better, or more original, than in Scanners.

Another note: The score. It's mostly electronic, like much 1980s movie music. But in a film like this -- futuristic, scientific, telepathic -- it works perfectly (unlike in, say, The Killing Fields). Even more interesting -- it's one of the first compositions by Howard Shore, the guy who went on to win three Oscars with the Lord of the Rings franchise.

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