Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Monday, June 18, 2018

RECENT WATCHES: Scanners II: The New Order (1991)

David Cronenberg's movies very rarely lend themselves to franchises well. There was never going to be a “Naked Lunch 2: Return to Interzone” or “A More Dangerous Method.” However, one of the director's films did inspire a long running series. Following the success of the original “Scanners,” producer Pierre David retained the rights to the title. Ten years after the first film exploded heads all over the world, he would produce a series of direct-to-video “Scanners” sequels. The first of which, “Scanners II: The New Order,” would project itself onto video store shelves in 1991. Obviously, the follow-up was successful enough to warrant further adventures. But the question has to be asked: Is it a worthy successor to Cronenberg's original?

Many years after the events of the first film, rumors of scanners continues to persist around the world. Police Commander John Forrester has been collecting scanners, getting them addicted to a drug called Eph2 to control them, in hopes of using them to take over the local government. Enter, David Kellum. A veterinarian student, he displays powerful scanner abilities when he protects his girlfriend from thugs during an armed robbery. Recruited by Forrester, Kellum soon discovers the plot to use his kind to instill a new order. He also discovers that he's the son of Cameron Vale, the original film's protagonist.

Cronenberg's “Scanners” was a very different take on the idea of telepaths. Scanners couldn't just read people's thoughts or control someone's minds. They could directly influence a person's nervous system, causing things like the infamous exploding head. “The New Order” seems to misunderstand these ability in a really boring way. The scanners in the first movie pointedly could not move things with their minds. That is immediately thrown out the window for the sequel. Within minutes, the evil scanner, Peter Drak, is manipulating games in a video arcade and tossing people through the air. Telekinetically throwing people across rooms, usually while the camera is attached to the victim's screaming face, is the movie's favorite trick. It repeats it incessantly. This odd habit peaks during a ludicrous scene where David makes a security guard spin around like a tornado.

While “Scanners II” does not engage much with the psychic potential of the scanners, it does feature some exploding heads. The attempted robbery ends when David makes a fountain of blood gush from the bad guy's skull. Later, after taking over an unimportant character's mind, Drak and David get into a scanners duel. This concludes with the proxy's head pulsating and then exploding in a rather spectacular manner. The movie tries out other types of body horror. The addicted scanners develop weeping sores all over their skins. When a normal person is injected with the same drug, their eyes weep amber fluid. David uses his powers to brutally deform the film's human villain, his face sagging and mutating. Drak gets sucked dry, reduced to a meaty skeleton, by a crowd of scanners. This stuff is the highlight of the film, as the make-up effects are decent

Sadly, “Scanners II” is a pretty dull thriller otherwise. The villain's master plan seems very small in scope. Commander Forrester keeps talking about wanting to create a new order, to rebuild society. This entails getting himself promoted to police commissioner, a pretty moderate goal, which he achieves in a very public and silly manner. Soon, the film devolves to underwhelming scenes of David being chased by Forrester's goons. There's enough running and half-hearted chase scenes in this movie for several lackluster sequels. Aside from those silly flourishes during the scanning scenes, Christian Duguay's direction is very flat.

The cast in the film is not very inspiring either. The film was an early starring role for David Hewlett, who went on to a solid career including appearances in nerd favorites like “Stargate: Atlantis” and “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” Hewlett's performance is serviceable but uninspiring. When attempting to play up the awe factor of his scanning powers, he too often stares ahead blankly.  Yvan Ponton never attempts to disguise Commander Forrester's villainy, making the character's evil nature easy to guess. Mostly, I want to talk about Raoul Trujillo as Drak, the head evil scanner. Where the hell did they dig up this guy? Trujillo mugs wildly in the part, alternating between melodramatic whispers and overplayed screams. It's a deeply silly and cartoonish performance, a miscalculated attempt to emulate Michael Ironside's villainous performance in the first “Scanners.”

“Scanners II's” setting also leads to some unintentional chuckles. The first movie was set in the near future. Since David is the adult child of Cameron Vale, the sequel is obviously set over twenty years later. However, there's no attempt to depict a futuristic setting. There's even a very silly scene where people are standing around and rocking out to cheesy synth music! Maybe retro was really big Canada during the last few years, which is when I'd wager the movie probably should be taking place. Anyway, “Scanners II: The New Order” is a pretty cheesy sequel, misunderstanding the original and attempting to emulate only its most obvious surface elements. Those exploding heads are cool though. [5/10]

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