[Joy Division joke not provided]
Let it be known that I am a critic who can find a reason to review SCANNERS II: THE NEW ORDER twice. I didn’t know this about myself until I was doing this Summer of ’91 retrospective and realizing how important part 2s were to the season. This came out direct-to-video on June 28, 1991. So here we are.
Of the sequels we’ve looked at so far I suppose the sequelization approach of SCANNERS II is closest to HOWLING VI: THE FREAKS – a story about a new set of characters set in the same world, where people are secretly telepathic rather than lycanthropic. But it’s different in that two of the characters are eventually revealed to be the children of part I’s protagonist. (Unlike MANNEQUIN: ON THE MOVE we have no returning actors.)
SCANNERS II also has a specific type of crassness different from the others: it’s a sequel to a one-of-a-kind movie by a visionary director and it assumes we’re okay with just pretending that was a normal sci-fi/horror/action/exploitation thing that can have a normal sequel with normal tropes and themes. They sorta did that to Cronenberg already with THE FLY II, but this is no THE FLY II. It’s like producer Pierre David (VISITING HOURS, THE VINDICATOR, MARTIAL LAW) said Look, I hired the guy to make a movie, not an unrepeatable artistic experience. I got rights, you know. Plus it’s been ten years, nobody’ll remember.
I know I’m supposed to look down on that sort of mercenary commercialism, and maybe I did at one time, but now it’s a thing about the ‘80s and ‘90s I kinda miss. I wish we had shit like THE VVITCH II: PHILIP’S NEW HERD, POSSESSORS, UNDER THE SKIN: REQUIEM, ETERNAL SUNSHINE: THE BERLIN DECISION, HEREDITARY: AGENT OF P.A.E.M.O.N. and etc. There’s room in this world for more fun.
But I shouldn’t imply that SCANNERS II is entirely lacking in substance. I always like when a movie doesn’t say it’s the future but has little weird touches to show that it is: high pollution warnings, a ‘50s style diner in a subway station (?) where everybody puts on headphones to listen to a guy in a leather jacket rock out on a keyboard, milk recalled everywhere because of a strychnine poisoning. (That last one turns out to be an important plot point, but I like how it shows basic societal order collapsing under chaos. Society is going mad and now how are our heroes going to make pesto?) And although the sequel’s filmmaking cannot match Cronenberg’s and its plot is much more cliched, I think its basic themes could be argued to be more anti-authoritarian than the original. There we had scanners, a minority group, acting as a scary terrorist group like Magneto’s mutants. Here the threat is a corrupt police chief/mayoral candidate who recruits scanners (including troubled homeless ones), hooks them on drugs and uses them for conspiratorial purposes. For example our hero is tricked into making the mayor (Dorothee Berryman, THE DECLINE OF THE AMERICAN EMPIRE) name the white villain as acting police chief instead of the Black officer she had chosen. It fuckin figures.
The hero is David Kellum (David Hewlett, PIN), a dork from the country studying veterinary medicine in the city (filmed in Quebec, but maybe not supposed to be a specific city, I’m not sure), where he complains there’s too much noise and too many people. Little does he know he’s sensitive to that because he’s a scanner, and he just starts discovering his powers – which include telekinetically healing a sick puppy in the lab. And then for some reason he’s allowed to just give it to a girl he likes, Alice Leonardo (“like the artist”) (Isabelle Mejias, MEATBALLS III: SUMMER JOB).
One way you know this is a normal b-movie and not a David Cronenberg one is that David and Alice happen to be in a mini-mart when some guys try to stick it up, and he uses his powers to explode one of the robber’s head. His version of the Seagal wrist break. As always, I feel I should point out that if four guys rob a mini-mart (especially one with no milk) and split the money it’s really not going to be worth the trouble. Math is important! Unless maybe it’s different with Canadian currency.
(I wrote down some movie posters visible in the mini-mart: SKINHEADS, MARTIAL GLORY, BLIND FEAR, SOMETHING ABOUT LOVE.)
Police Commander John Forrester (Yvan Ponton, SLAP SHOT) sees the security tape and recruits David for a “special unit” where he kinda does a DEAD ZONE thing and uses his powers to find the strychnine poisoner. It turns out to be a guy at the dairy (Michael McGill, later the medical examiner in HIGHLANDER: THE FINAL DIMENSION) who got passed over for a promotion after 13 years so he decided to become a poisoner. This is a pretty drastic response compared to scheming with David Duchovny like the secretary in DON’T TELL MOM THE BABYSITTER’S DEAD or having an affair like Wesley Snipes in JUNGLE FEVER or using a stolen space commando suit to fight rapists like Christopher Lloyd in SUBURBAN COMMANDO.
The police control their scanners by giving them drugs, which eventually turns them into decrepit zombies. They got one guy named Peter Drak (debut role of Raoul Trujillo, later in APOCALYPTO, RIDDICK, SICARIO, BLOOD FATHER and COLD PURSUIT) who they recruited when he was a homeless weirdo who wandered into an arcade and caused a big scene while playing a video game with his mind. (Note that DON’T TELL MOM, SUBURBAN COMMANDO and this all have arcade scenes.) They gave him a haircut and a new wardrobe and the drugs haven’t made him look bad yet, but he lives an openly maniacal lifestyle, so he makes it pretty easy for David to figure out he’s working for the bad guys.
David feels bad and goes to the mayor. I like that he gets past her skepticism about mind control by getting her to smoke a cigarette against her will. She ends up getting killed with a really impressive headshot (I guess when you’re already blowing up heads you know how to make a hole in a skull – good job, makeup head Mike Smithson, TEEN WOLF TOO, KICKBOXER 2). He goes to hide out at his parents’ place and there’s some real STAR WARS shit: they tell him he was adopted, his parents were scanners (stars of part I) who had to hide him because of his powers. And as his father dies he pulls a Yoda and tells him he has a sister!
Her name is Julie Vale (Deborah Raffin, GOD TOLD ME TO, THE SENTINEL, DEATH WISH 3) and when he finds her remote cabin he learns that it was fuckin Chief Forrester who killed their real parents. So that’s a specific sequelization tactic there: the characters from the first movie are not in this one, but one of the new characters killed them off screen. They should’ve done that with the aforementioned TEEN WOLF TOO. Would’ve added more stakes.
Forrester is not a fun villain really, but I like how he takes the metaphor of wanting to “cure” crime way too far, talking about “medicine” and how “the city will get sicker, probly die.” He pretends to be a nice mentor to David and he tells him his powers are coming out now “because you’ve never lived in a city before. In the country, everything’s quieter, simpler. And the moral code is stronger. The society is more stable. We lose our sense of values here.” Yeah, speak for yourself, asshole.
And I think he’s supposed to be holding a mouse or a toy mouse sometimes? I didn’t follow what that was about. Maybe if I have to review it a third time I’ll crack the case on that one.
The idea of turning SCANNERS into a little more of an action-y thing is not inherently bad. I like that people are constantly being made to fly across rooms and slam against things. There are two head explosions. There’s a cool new scanning technique Julie teaches him where they can see out of someone else’s eyes, and their pupils look like gears when they do it.
Then it follows more of a corruption thriller template because the good guys confront the chief in public and expose him in front of a bunch of TV news cameras. He tries to blame David and other scanners so they use their powers to stretch out his head as if it’s gonna explode and then just leave it unexploded but in a malformed mess. I like that. Good one, scanners. They tell the cameras that scanners mean no harm, and it made me think of X-MEN 2 when Professor Xavier demonstrated his mind powers to the world leaders to tell them he didn’t mean them harm.
The soundtrack actually has a “Men Without Hats” song on it. That’s, like, a real song. I got a kick out of the end credits song, “Mind to Mind” by Alan Jordan, because it’s a rock ballad that seems to have actually been written specifically for SCANNERS II: THE NEW ORDER. “In the darkness of the city /I’m a man that’s all alone…”
When I reviewed this in 2010 I made fun of it for using an image I have since come to think of as a trademark of pioneering video-director-turned-movie-director (who has nothing to do with this) Russell Mulcahy:
“Director Christian Duguay was considered a cool, stylish, MTV type director at the time. I don’t know this from any research, but from the fact that there’s a scene that takes place in a room only lit by a light behind a big rotating fan, creating a strobing effect. And there are a bunch of mannequins in the room. But it’s the fan that’s the dead give away. For some reason they were all into that trick, they really thought it looked amazing. Cronenberg’s scene taking place inside a giant sculpture of a head still looks cool. The fan trick I don’t think holds up quite as well.”
Maybe it’s the remastered Scream Factory blu-ray speaking, but this time I actually thought that part did look really cool – the strobing light reflecting off the rows of mannequins. So I take it back. Give him credit for that one. (The cinematographer is Rodney Gibbons, who gets some serious Canadian horror cred for having shot MY BLOODY VALENTINE.)
According to Wikipedia, Duguay had worked in music videos (and documentaries and commercials), but I haven’t found any specifics on that. He had directed episodes and shot second unit action for a TV show called Crossbow (about William Tell) and been a steadicam operator on ENEMIES, A LOVE STORY. His followup SCANNERS III: THE TAKEOVER came out later the same year, and subsequent actiony films include LIVE WIRE starring Pierce Brosnan (1992), MODEL BY DAY starring Famke Janssen (1994), SCREAMERS (1995), the JOAN OF ARC mini-series starring Leelee Sobieski (1999), THE ART OF WAR starring Wesley Snipes (2000) and EXTREME OPS (2002), which I’ve always meant to see. After that he started to do more serious stuff for TV like Hitler: The Rise of Evil (2005), Human Trafficking (2005), Coco Chanel (2008) and Medici (2016). Also in 2008 he did one called BOOT CAMP which I watched because it had a premise I always thought would be cool (prison escape from one of those abusive labor camps that desperate, misled or bad parents sometimes send their troubled or misunderstood teens to).
Screenwriter B.J. Nelson had previously done LONE WOLF McQUADE, one of the better Chuck Norris movies. He stayed on for part III, wrote an episode of Renegade, and a thing called ORION’S KEY a.k.a. ALIEN CHASER starring Frank Zagarino.
Hewlett (David) has had a prolific career on TV shows from Kung Fu: The Legend Continues and Stargate SG-1 to Clarice. He was also in RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES and played the nerdy head of security at the lab in best picture winner THE SHAPE OF WATER (CONFESSIONS OF A FILTHY FISH FUCKER).