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Scanners II: The New Order

1991, Starring David Hewlett, Deborah Raffin, Yvan Ponton. Directed By Christian Duguay (Malofilm).

A decade after David Cronenberg's Scanners first splattered Louis Del Grande's gray matter across the big screen, French-Canadian director Christian Duguay helmed a pair of straight-to-video sequels. The first, Scanners II: The New Order, has another dangerous psychic creating his own army of Ephemerol-using scanners in a virtual rehash of the original, only with a simplistic anti-drug message replacing the thoughtful Cronenberg touches that made the original so unique.

This time, the story revolves around the adopted son of Cameron Vale, the powerful scanner from the first film. Veterinary student David Kellum (David Hewlett) discovers he has the same bestowed destructive mental powers as his dad when he stops a convenience store robbery to save his girlfriend (Isabelle Mejias). David's heroics attract the attention of shadowy Police Commander Forrester (Yvan Ponton), who recruits David as part of a special police force of scanners that use their telekinesis to track down evildoers. But David soon discovers that Forrester has more sinister plans. He’s working with neuro-scientist Dr. Morse (Tom Butler), who has formulated a highly addictive Ephemerol-2 that eases painful headaches experienced by scanners but also slowly drives them insane. Using this dangerous new drug formulation, Forrester recruits his own scanner army led by psychotic Peter Drak (Raoul Trujillo). Framed for a political assassination, David must escape to find his sister Julie Vale (Deborah Raffin) and release the scanners imprisoned by Morse.

Despite the presence of original Scanners producer Pierre David, who reportedly picked up sequel rights back when the first film was in production, Scanners II: The New Order feels like a flimsy attempt to cash-in on the popularity of Cronenberg's original, even though it's largely on par with other early-1990s Canadian genre efforts in terms of overall quality. But these kinds of films were a popular choice for local film companies looking for safer bets after the end of the tax shelters in 1988. Many established franchises were resurrected with unnecessary and sometimes only tangentially related sequels, including Prom Night 3 and 4, Xtro 2, The Gate II, and Witchboard III among others. Released on the heels of The Fly II--the only other follow-up to a Cronenberg original--Scanners II has many of the same issues as those other quasi-sequels, including a low budget, straight-to-cable feel and an awkward incorporation of existing storyline--in this case, David meets with a long-lost sister, Julie Vale (Deborah Raffin), who reveals his clouded past and ultimate destiny.

Even still, Scanners II diverges from Scanners in several important ways, and usually for the worse. Surely, one of the most disappointing aspects of the film is its relative lack of exploding craniums, one of the most distinctive aspects of Cronenberg's original. Unable to match that effect in the film's one or two sad attempts, Duguay instead opts for some new ways for David to kill and maim the bad guys—by using his powers to disfigure faces, shoot foes across the room and, in one case, send another baddie chest-first into a tray of hypodermic needles.

Scanners II also seems to take place in a slightly different era than the original. Although the film takes care to include some futuristic-looking buildings that Cronenberg would no doubt have approved of, there's a Blade Runner-lite production design throughout meant to indicate a not-to-far-off dystopia. This includes a hilariously ill-conceived faux-future underground bar where David observes patrons outfitted with headphones who dance silently to warbling synth rock only they can hear.

But perhaps the most important difference is the sequel's lurid comic book approach which is less interested in a thoughtful approach to the established world than it is in keeping things moving from scene to scene. Duguay, a former cinematographer and camera operator who worked with George Mihalka, seems more invested in the action potential for the material than the FX-laden horror, and connects the film with a series of fistfights, most notably the showdown between David and the Ephemerol2-addicted Drak in the film's climax. It's little surprise that Duguay's most well-known work remains the Wesley Snipes action-thriller The Art of War (2000), and this debut effort will reward viewers who are happy to revel in this kind of basic B-movie silliness.

And it's this carefree, mindless revision of the original that seems to have resonated with video store renters. Under Pierre David's watchful eye, the series ballooned to a total of five films throughout the 1990s, if you count the two films in the spin-off series, Scanner Cop. It's enough of a run to make Scanners the most prolific Canadian genre franchise so far--and it that's not enough to make your head explode, I don't know what will.

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