Triskaidekafiles

Triskaidekafiles is a love letter to cheesy cinema from the 80s and 90s, with the occasional dip into other eras.  if you're a fan of MST3K, Elvira, Joe Bob Briggs, or just bad horror movies in general, Trisk is the place for you.

Scanners (1981)

SCANNERS

WRITER: David Cronenberg

DIRECTOR: David Cronenberg

STARRING:  Jennifer O'Neill as Kim Obrist

    Stephen Lack as Cameron Vale

    Patrick McGoohan as Dr. Paul Ruth

    Lawrence Dane as Braedon Keller

    Michael Ironside as Darryl Revok

    Robert Silverman as Benjamin Pierce

QUICK CUT: The next evolution of humanity has been hiding in plain sight, but a war amongst them is growing.  What secrets do they hold, and how many heads will explode along the way?

THE MORGUE

    Cameron - Our lead, a Sacnner, a man with mysterious mental abilities that have driven him to live separately from society, until a doctor drags him back into it, and into a war with a group of Scanners.  He's a bit of an outcast, not as socially awkward as one might suspect, and persistant.

Revok - Cam's rival, and the leader of the Scanner underground.  Things have remained mostly quiet as Revok was satisfied just getting his people into hiding, but recent events force his hand, making things violent.  A move that Revok seems far too comfortable with.  Driven, determined, and a true revolutionary that will do whatever necessary to stop people from using Scanners for their own purposes.

Dr. Ruth - As opposed to being a sex counselor, THIS Dr. Ruth seems like a kindly older man with deep connections to the Scanners, and trying to protect them and his own kind from coming to blows.  But there's more behind the facade, and he has his own agendas and a determined darkness of his own.

Kim - Someone else involved in the Scanner underground, and at odds with Revok's goals.  She's more about the love and kindness and coexistance, and all other kinds of kumbayah crap.  It's never made clear just how her group and Revok's group interact, and it actually gets too confusing.

Keller - If you could compare Ruth and Cam's personalities and dispositions as similar, then Keller would be the human counterpart of Revok.  They're both determined, violent, and willing to go that extra explosive mile to protect their own kind, coexistance be damned.

 Scanning... Target movie acquired!

Scanning... Target movie acquired!

THE GUTS: First off, just as I was sitting down to finish up editing this, just before it's ready to post, I heard the sad news that makeup effects master Dick Smith passed away.  If you're wondering why this is important, well, he did the effects for this very movie.  Now, I've delayed a review before because of an untimely death, but this is just too soon, and considering in this instance, the effects in this movie are amazing, and I hale them as such, I'm gonna plough ahead.  So, thanks Dick Smith for putting in some great, innovative work that changed the face of visual effects.  Any incoming teasing is all in good fun and bad taste!

We now return you to your regularly scheduled Triskaidekafile

Trisk seems to be on a major scifi kick this summer, and quite honestly, I have no problem with that.  Well, aside from Repligator being garbage, and the Metamorphosisisssessees not being much better.  But hey, they've had some cool stuff, and some horror elements, so they've been good fits and good fun!

We're keeping the trend going though, with the scifi horror classic from David Cronenberg, Scanners.  Would it surprise you to know that I'd never seen the movie before?

Aaanyways, we get the happy fun ball rolling with a guy just looking for a bite to eat.  He's maybe a bit too starey at some of the ladies in the food court, but other than that...no wait, spoke too soon, he's making their hearts explode with mind bullets.

The downside being, he's drawn the attention of two other guys that give chase, and shoot him with a tranq dart.  He still manages to hop onto a passing escalator, but the drugs take him down despite that, and the goon squad is waiting at the top for their sleepy package.

 Beige coat squad...AWAAY!!

Beige coat squad...AWAAY!!

Cameron wakes up, tied down to a bed, and Number Six appears to explain the plot a little to his prisoner.  See, Cam's a scanner, and this is why he's had a tough life, and makes people's hearts explode, and why the Mets are a terrible baseball team.

Dr. Ruth...seriously?  Man, I can't even stoop low enough to make those jokes.  Anyways, he fills the room with a bunch of people, each one talking but NOT talking, each new voice adding to the growing cacophany within Vale's head.  It is SUCH a well done moment, and really sells what it must be like for a person who can read minds and not control that power, as voice after voice fills the soundspace until it's just this garbled mess of blargh in your ears.

While Dr. Prisoner calms his patient down, we jump to another plot entirely, with another Scanner giving a demonstration to a lecture hall, and calling up a volunteer.

The volunteer is told to picture something specific, while the Scanner does his thing, and we sit uncomfortably as they both look to be experiencing great pain.  Aaaand then the Scanner's head explodes.  I guess General Katana tried explaining the whole 'immortals are from the Planet Zeist" thing from Highlander 2...

 This is your brain on Triskaidekafiles.

This is your brain on Triskaidekafiles.

Oh you knew I was gonna use a cap of that, admit it.

Not surprisingly, some guys try and grab Revok and inject him with the Scanner-calming drug ephemerol.  But gasp, surprise, the guy with freaky brain powers makes the dude with the needle inject himself instead.

Which leads to him escaping with ease, and a pile of dead bodies, when he causes a fiery car crash of the convoy transporting him.  And then adds a few more gun related deaths to take out everyone else.  Mostly all caused with his brain.

The following day, the fallout at ConSec hits, with talk of dropping Ruth's Scanner program, but he points out the value of such a program was proven last night by the assassin, and they lay the plot seeds of a Scanner underground network that is protecting their own.  Led by Charles Xavier, no doubt.

Ruth plans to send an unaffiliated Scanner as a mole into the group to destroy them from within, but thanks to Revok's attack, they have no Scanners on the payroll anymore...oh, hello there Cameron!

The doctor shows Cameron a reel from Revok's time in the hospital after some fun attempts at trepination, and the guy pretty much sounds like he has a full bag of crazy.  But then again, he's been hearing voices that cram his thoughts so full he has no room for himself, so who can blame him for trying to relieve the pressure, right?

 Be seeing you.

Be seeing you.

Keller, the guy who tried to get ConSec to shut down Ruth's program, goes off to the subway and gasp!  Tells Revok about Cameron.  Well, so much for the surprise plan.  And that explains why security was so terrible that Revok got inside in the first place.  Oh wait, they keep Revok hidden to not reveal that Keller's a traitor to WHO, but c'mon.  It's Michael Ironside.  We all know that voice.  I wonder if it was more secretive back in 1981?  If he hadn't spoken yet, maybe, I guess, but they had him ranting in the footage.

Either way, the doc doesn't know about the treason plot, so he proceeds to try and get Cameron up to speed with his abilities to actually be of some use.  Cue the training montage!

After nearly exploding his trainer's heart, Cam is sent on the trail of an artist, Benjamin Pierce, another known Scanner that has ties to Revok.  Oh, he also killed his whole family.  So this should go well!  And the training went wicked fast, eh?

With a little poking and prodding around people's mind palaces, Cam finds what he's looking for and turns up to Ben's barn workshop in the middle of nowhere.  And the guys with shotguns don't take kindly to strangers in these parts, so they show up too.

 Excuse me, do you know where I might find a giant sculpture of a head? OH thanks!

Excuse me, do you know where I might find a giant sculpture of a head? OH thanks!

I really love the two climbing inside the giant head to have a chat about secret things, like Revok and his group.  That is some great symbolism for telepathy and voices in their own heads.

But anyways, back to the people with shotguns.  When Ben says he's not gonna talk and leaves the headroom, they shoot him up pretty dead.

Vale decides to deal with things his own way, and takes out the hit squad with his brain.  And since shotguns are no match for mind bullets, they go down pretty quick, giving Cam and Ben a chance to have one last mental chat.

 Gregory House, the early years.

Gregory House, the early years.

So Vale meets up with the underground's own Harriet Tubman, Kim Obrist.  That's the name he plucked from Pierce's dying thoughts, and they're shocked to hear about the guy being attacked.

While Revok watches from outside and morphs into other people?  I don't even know.  It's Cronenberg, man.  You gotta expect a little WTFery.  Anyways, while he's watching and trying on new skin, Kim, Cam, and the rest are having a psychic love in and getting to know each other.

Oh, Revok was controlling more people with shotguns to take out the psychic circle jerk.  Okay, there we go.  ANYways, they blast three of the hippie headreaders at least, with another body in the hall, and then Kim sets the attackers on fire.

 The roof! The roof! The roof is on fire! ...And so is everything else! RUN!

The roof! The roof! The roof is on fire! ...And so is everything else! RUN!

The gang goes on the run in their psychic bus o' fun, but more shotgun weilding assassins show up and shoot the thing up, killing even more Scanners that don't star in the movie.

Yet another shotgun toting mindslave follows our heroes as they escape the burning bus, but Cameron gets the upper hand and makes him show a vial for another company, Biocarbonate Amalgamate.

Instantly they've infiltrated the place, seen Revok, and gathered information from the computers.  In the olden days, that would've been an entire movie on its own.

So Vale brings in Kim, and she gets interrogated by Shady McTraitor, while Ruth talks with his favourite pupil.  They've been injected with fake shots to make everyone think they're ephemoralised, but Ruth doesn't trust anyone, and wants to make sure Kim can still protect herself.

 I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered. My mind is my own.

I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered. My mind is my own.

Cameron gives us the infodump on Biocarb, and they're shipping large quantities of ephemerol everywhere, under the direction of Revok.  The only question is why, and when did this movie end up becoming about corporate espionage?

While the answers may lie in the ConSec computers, Ruth doesn't have access to the systems for reasons of plot convenience, and so Vale can use his abilities to scan the machine...um...  Y'know, I can just about buy that, but it feels like such a stretch at this point.

Meanwhile, across the hall, the other interrogation is going about as well as you'd expect from Keller being a traitor.  He gets the appropriate surprise when he finds out Kim's not descanned, though.

She doesn't kill him, so as Kim runs off, Keller slaps the giant button marked alarm, calling in Rover the giant beach ball to capture the Scanners..  Cam goes off to check things out, leaving Number Six to wander around the Villiage talking to himself about the program Cam wants to find out about.

 Hear no shooter.

Hear no shooter.

After escaping security, Kim and Vale leave the building, which kinda makes this whole trip a waste and only served to kill off Ruth.  And uh...Vale picks up a pay phone to try and mentally hack the computer mainframe back at ConSec to try and get the information he wants.

That...that is a tough pill for even me to swallow.  And I have seen some crazy levels of science bullshit this past month or so.

Keller figures out Vale is in the system, and orders the lab nerds to stop him, since they're both linked, and they come up with a plan to blow all the circuits to destroy their computers.  Which will hopefully also harm Vale as he mentally downloads the program.

Nnngh.

 Point that gun in my face all you want, sir. Computers just don't work that way.

Point that gun in my face all you want, sir. Computers just don't work that way.

The resulting fried circuits try and melt Vale's brain, but he survives by the skin of his brain.  Instead, the feedback explodes Keller and a pair of scientists just as they're saying they're perfectly safe.  Famous last words, boys.

Vale and Kim head to a doctor's office where Cameron has a talk with the doctor, and Kim gets scanned by a foetus.  They grow up so fast these days...

Which leads us to conclude that this RIPE program is all about giving ephemerol to pregnant women, and creating new Scanners in the womb.  But isn't the drug supposed to turn *off* Scanners?  How does this work?  Scanners!  The movie that piles on question after question, without giving any answers!

 Moss only grows on the Ironside of a tree.

Moss only grows on the Ironside of a tree.

Outside, they run into Ham Tyler, and he takes them back to Biocarb, and introduces them to the resistance, fighting against the Visitors.  I guess creating psychic warriors to stop the invading lizard aliens is a good plan.  ...Wait.

The two guys sit down and chat, and Revok shares a crazy story about how Vale is Ruth's kid, and they kept him on ice until he was needed, but then set loose in the world to be a hobo until he was REALLY needed.  I'm not sure we need this twist at this point in the story.  So much of it feels unnecessary.  They could've just had him wandering lost but under watch, or something.

Oh, AND Revok and the telepathic Captain America are brothers.  Of course they are.

 Would this face lie to you?

Would this face lie to you?

We get a large infodump of Ephemerol being an old drug that was test marketed in the 60s, but shelved due to the side effect of that whole Scanners thing.  So, the cause being unknown was a lie.

Also, it turns out the same drug that affected the kids, was also the only thing that would calm them down, since its a tranquilizer for pregnant women, so that actually makes enough sense at this point.

Holy poop, they drop a ton of secrets being revealed here.  It's very talky, but with decent acting at least, and just so SO many twists, after twists.  It's almost too much for a single scene, and they coulda spaced this out a bit more throughout the movie, yes?

But the tests do explain how Ruth would have had a comprehensive list of who the Scanners were, even while selling it as a 'mysterious mutation'.  It's a lot of info to take in, but I'm kinda digging the explanations of little things that didn't really make sense until now.  It may be stupidly complex, but it does line up enough to close a *few* plot holes.

So we get the whole, "Join me and we can rule together" speech, and Cameron clocks Revok in the head with a paperweight, kicking off the requisite psychic battle to wrap things up.  But man, can you imagine if we had this knowledge earlier in the film, and knew it was brother versus brother before the last ten minutes?  Ah well.

The brothers stare at each other intently, making special effects break out all over, and it is GREAT.  Blood spurting, veins popping, and Michael Ironside chewing scenery without a single word.  There is some great turbo Dark Phoenix type stuff here.

Eventually, the older brother proves to be more powerful, and burns down Vale's body to a finely red crisp of a Scanner.  Mmm, fresh baked telepath.

 Come on you apes! You want to live forever?

Come on you apes! You want to live forever?

And so the movie ends with Kim waking up and finding Cam's charred body, but when she finds Revok curled up in the corner, he says HE is Cameron now, pulling a total Phoenix and surviving death and burning as a good telepath should, and that they've won.  Funny definition of victory here...

See, that's the problem with sucking someone's brain dry like Revok wanted to do.  He's not stuck in there with you, you're stuck in there with him!!

I *guess* she can drive off into the sunset with Cam, in the body of the guy who's tried to kill them violently all movie long and have a happily ever after.  Except for all those shotgunners who died

AUTOPSY REPORT

Video: Oh come on, this is a Criterion release, and they do their work.  It looks *great*.  I'm surprised that the effects don't even lok super obvious, and that's a testament to the creators more than anything else.  I picked up the Blu-Ray version too, and am looking forward to watch that at some point.

Audio: Also great, unsurprisingly.

Sound Bite: "No one's ever switched off a scanner before!" Keller in the computer lab where the science gets dodgy.  And I'm sure plenty switched off after the headsplosion!

Body Count: Woo, Cronenberg brings the bodies with this movie, and most of them are laid out by Daryl Revok himself.  I'm also not sure if Cam's kills count, or if he just made people pass out.  Since we never see them get up, or mentioned again, I say dead.  Also, with the bodies piling up rapdily, I'm sure my count broke at some point.

1 - A couple minutes in, and a woman has heart issues thanks to Cameron's uncontrollable powers.
2 - Headsplosion!
3 through 7 - During Revok's escape, he causes quite the scene of carnage.
8 - Benjamin Pierce gets pierced by about a half dozen shotgun blasts.
9 through 12 - I think Pierce's attackers got their brains melted by Vale.
13 - One of Kim's Scanner underground gets tossed down the stairs.
14, 15, and 16 - Three of the underground get shot by Revok's mindslaves.
17 and 18 - Kim sets the attackers on fire.
19, 20, and 21 - Three more Scanners get taken out while trying to escape.
22 - Dr. Ruth is taken to that big Village in the sky thanks to Keller.
23 - Keller's use of dodgy science bites him in the ass.
24 and 25 - A pair of scientists get caught in the crossfire of exploding computers.
26 - Cameron kiiinda dies when his body gets fried?

Best Corpse: How do I not vote for the scanner who's head goes boom?  That scene is freakin' iconic.  EVERYONE knows it.  And it's great, and gory, and everything you want it to be.

Blood Type - A+: I don't know what else to say.  The effects are great, they look great, they STILL hold up today, and this movie paved the way for so many techniques that are commonplace now.  I was gonna gush all over these effects even before learning about Dick Smith's passing, and it is all the more appropriate now.  The Criterion release has a good look at how they did what they did, and it is worth a look just for that.

Sex Appeal: Surprisingly little!

Drink Up! Jebus, every time someone dies.  There is no shortage of that.  Get drunk chugging away as Revok tries to escape the convoy!

Movie Review: So, this movie is a classic.  Is it deserved?  Does the movie work?  Is it THAT good?  For the larger part of things, yeah.  To all of that.  However, the movie is not without its share of problems.  The plot is...kinda not good?  There are some GREAT innovative ideas there in the plot, but it totally feels at times like they were making things up as they went along, and there's a level of truth to that.  Kim's plot never really solidifies, the twists are too much, too condensed, and too late in the game.  Cronenberg may well be too smart for us, and he was so ahead of his time, that we are racing to catch up, and the movie suffers because of that.  It mostly comes together in those final minutes, but again, too much!  But even with those problems, the movie is a fun action adventure espionage story with horror and scifi tropes deeply at the core.  The bad stuff really hurts my enjoyment, but the good stuff is SO good, I just barely give it four out of five exploding heads.

Entertainment Value: This is definitely not a movie you can shut your brain off for.  There is a LOT going on, and even paying close attention it is easy to get lost.  But there is so much tasty goodness here.  So much overacting.  Michael Ironside alone is in rare form, and somehow he *earns* that scenery chewing by the end of the flick.  The movie is crazy, trippy, and fights to be really crazy entertaining, and just plain crazy complex.  Those two sides never quite mesh, but coming in for either one still gives you plenty to enjoy, and more besides.  Four out of five shots of Ephemerol.