Arriving a good ten years after Cronenberg’s original, Scanners II is probably a film that no one expected or even wanted. None of the original cast return, and the single connection to that first film (revealed about halfway in) feels almost like an afterthought.
It starts very much like Scanners did, but with a twist. A troubled outcast, Peter Drak trashes an amusement arcade before being recruited by ambitious Police Commander Forrester. The commander wishes to use Drak’s particular set of talents to further his own ends. But Drak’s psychotic tendencies prove difficult to control. Forrester discovers what he needs in the rather more together David Kellum, a young veterinarian student, who comes to his attention after foiling a violent robbery.
Kellum is initially keen to do his bit to uphold law and order, but soon realises that Forrester has other plans not befitting such an upstanding member of the community. A political assassination sees Kellum framed and on the run. And it’s here that we discover the connection to the first film.
Scanners II has not aged well at all; in fact it is hard to believe that this sequel was not made around the same time as the original film. Even newly released blu-ray Scanners II can’t escape that murky straight-to-video look that seemed so de rigueur in the late eighties. The cheesy electronic soundtrack doesn’t help much, nor does director Christian Duguay’s (perhaps best known, if known at all, for the Philip K Dick adaptation Screamers) reliance on MTV-style visuals – which must have looked so ‘now’ about five years before the film was made.
Taken on its own terms it’s not a total disaster. The cast are more than adequate for the material. David Hewlett (previously seen in the creepy, but now largely forgotten Pin) as Kellum is fine in the role of the Stephen Lack surrogate. The more seasoned members of the cast just do what is required – it’s one of those films where you’re sure you’ve seen that same actor play that same role many times before. Raoul Trujillo gives it his all as the sociopathic Drak. His performance may be a little one note, but then the script doesn’t really give him the opportunity to invest his character with real depth.
The plotting remains largely moribund until the final third, where things do liven up considerably. The sequence where Kellum takes over the consciousness of another in order gain access to a high security laboratory is a highlight (recalling the twist at the end of the first film), as is the scene where a character impales himself on a tray full of drug laden hypodermics – did no one ever think that storing them pointy end up might have health and safety implications? The result is worthy of Cronenberg himself.
Even with the ten year hiatus, the film cannot escape the original’s long shadow. Put simply, Cronenberg did it so much better. Even the makeup effects (one area where you’d think the intervening years might have played to their advantage) appear less impressive. If Cronenberg had chosen to accompany the end credits to his film with a soft rock power ballad, then that song would have been better too. Probably.
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