Friday, November 12, 2021

Scanner Cop/Scanner Cop 2


Scanner Cop/Scanner Cop 2
Pierre David/Steve Barnett

David Cronenberg’s Scanners (1981) is a masterclass in mixing body horror and paranoia. In its world, there are people who can exert their will on others, control them, or kill them with a thought. We get through layers of conspiracy involving big pharma and a class of people who find themselves a victim of these corporations. The Scanners fall into two camps, the ones who want to blend into society and the ones who want to exist as themselves and take full grasp of their powers. There are nuances in this scenario with victims of circumstance and those that look to take advantage of this situation. Behind it all is a faceless corporation the looks only to cover it tracks.

"Bro, I got pink eye."

So, what you do for a late couple of sequels is to throw all that out the window and make it about cops and bad guys, I guess. Samuel Staziak (Daniel Quinn) is young boy adopted by a cop. Turns out he’s a scanner too. He becomes a cop to honor his adoptive father. In both films he’s called upon to use his scanning powers to fight crime and chase down particularly nasty criminals.

Now, I’m not expecting a low-budget film from the 1990s to offer some kind of nuanced take on the power of police, but the concept of a cop with the power to read minds, control people, and hack computers with only the power of their mind is utterly terrifying and ripe for a horror film. The fact that the premise is wasted on a pretty standard supernatural cop adventure series is a missed opportunity. Scanner Cop at least makes nods to the fact that a marginalized identity like a scanner would have a difficult time fitting in to police culture. There are some other interesting elements sprinkled through out both films, like Ephemeral, the drug that not only makes in utero babies into scanners but also suppressing scanning powers in adults, being a controlled substance with places like methadone clinics and back-alley dealings offering meds that are necessary for these people to survive. Scanner Cop 2 tosses in a potential subplot with Staziak seeking the mother who gave him up for adoption only to have it all (literally) thrown away in the 3rd act. 

"Bro, I forgot my blood pressure pills."

To the credit of both films, they do understand that one of the core elements of a Scanner film is the body horror and here they do a decent job of bringing that to the screen. There is nothing approaching the first film’s legendary head explosion, but there plenty of pulsating veins, melting faces, and some even more phantasmagorical things. In the place of lengthy shoot-outs, we get to people staring at each as veins burst in their faces.

Perhaps I’m expecting too much from films called Scanner Cop, but there is some interesting world building, and a background built around the abuse the power. The Scanners series has the potential to be something truly transgressive but is mired in being another couple of cop movies.

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