Scanners III: The Takeover
1991, Starring Liliana Komorowska, Colin Fox, Daniel Pilon, Aimée Castle. Directed By Christian Duguay (Malofilm).
Another sequel, another new variant of Ephemerol, another chance to mould Cronenberg's heady ideas onto a rudimentary anti-drug parable. With a total of four sequels (including two spin-off Scanner Cop films), Scanners is the unlikely franchise champion in Canada, a result of the savvy of original Scanners producer Pierre David, who hoped the appearance of sequels on video shelves would help draw in fans of the original film who wanted to see more stories set in it's unique, brain-splattering universe. Unfortunately, while Scanners II featured a marked dip in quality from the original, that film is brilliant in comparison to the third entry. Discordant notes of camp really start to dominate this outing—the act of scanning has somehow devolved from a terrifying telekinetic weapon to mostly a parlour trick to make people dance and do stupid tricks in front of others.
Though supposedly shot back-to-back with Scanners II by director Christian Duguay, Scanners III: The Takeover barely resembles the previous film. This time, Duguay leaves the quasi-cyberpunk world of the last film for modern-day Montreal and (strangely enough) Thailand, for a scattershot story involving Buddhism, corporate power grabs and serial killer antics. Dr. Monet (Colin Fox) is working on minimizing those pesky scanner side effects with the highly experimental Ephemerol-3 (in convenient patch form!). He's hoping to help his adopted children, Helena (Liliana Komorowska) and especially Alex (Steve Parrish), who accidentally killed a friend with his powers and has now run away to a Tibetan temple. Seeking relief from persistent migraines, Helena sneaks in the lab and tries the drug before it's ready—it cures her headache, sure, but also amplifies her lust for money, power and sex to dangerous levels. Killing her father and taking over his pharmaceutical business, Helena plots to create (yet another) army of scanners to do her biding, necessitating Alex's return to head off his sister's psychotic path of destruction.
There's a whole lot going on in this entry which, like Scanners II, seems more indebted to traditional action film tropes than horror or sci-fi. From the boardroom drama of aggressive stock takeovers to the conceit that the army of scanners dress like 1930s gangsters, Duguay seems to have tossed Cronenberg's conceits out almost entirely. There's even an odd subplot in which Helena discovers that her scanning can be carried along television signals (a twist that suggests that all involved may have preferred to have been working on a Videodrome sequel instead). But at its heart, far away from its original roots, Scanners III is a tried-and-true "girl gone bad" outing in which Helena drops her virginal demeanour and turns into an Ephemerol-3-addicted sexual omnivore. It's all the more interesting since Komorowska was married to Duguay at the time of filming.
Other than that, Scanners III suffers from almost all of the problems of its earlier sequel. The straight-to-cable vibes, sometimes flippant comic book approach and awkward nods to the rest of the series are on full offer. However, this sequel is also notably cheaper, more on par with other post-tax shelter Canadian genre efforts that seem like drastically scaled down versions of more demanding scripts. There's one positive note though—after the previous film's half-hearted FX, the iconic exploding head finally returns in all its former gooey glory, in a scene where Helena confronts her abusive ex-doctor.
But in truth, there's no real comparison between Scanners III and Cronenberg's original. While they both appear to take place in the same fictional world, the stories they tell are galaxies apart. A few years later, Producer Pierre David dropped the campiness and brought the series a little closer back to its roots for the Scanner Cop series--the first instalment of which he even directed himself. But even this slight return to form couldn't undo the damage already done—what was left of the series’ brainy sci-fi core were splattered all over the walls a long time ago.