Cyberjack (1995)

It’s “Die Hard” in the near future.

Still reading? Well, now we’ve got the review out of the way, we can relax a little. This movie manages the rare-ish feat of being known by two titles that don’t describe it at all – first is the title you see above, which is a reference to a sort of hacker in the movie’s universe that’s about to be made redundant thanks to new technology, and of whom we meet none. It’s also known as “Virtual Assassin”, subtitled “death on the internet”, and, of course, there are no virtual assassins and no-one dies on the internet.

The first few seconds of the movie might have you believing it’s a little similar to “Ghost In The Shell”, with its monstrously large advertising hoardings general dystopian air to things – but it’s important to remember that after this brief scene, the era the movie is taking place in is never referenced again. But, you know, perhaps someone involved had some interesting ideas.

It’s a welcome return to the ISCFC for Michael Dudikoff, from “American Ninja”. In the intervening years, he’s apparently learned to act quite a bit, and here he’s Nick James, a cop with a cheeky grin and a hot partner. While discussing baseball, the two of them are called to a disturbance which ends up being ISCFC Hall Of Famer Brion James! He’s called Nassim, and has an amazing shock of bright white hair and a pencil-thin white beard; his motivation at this moment seems cloudy – he’s just interested in cackling maniacally and murdering.

Thanks to being unable to take a shot at Nassim, his partner is killed, and we cut to several years later, where Nick is now the janitor for a large office building, where some scientists have created…come on Mark, you can do this…a sentient computer virus that apparently bonds with human DNA! Really?

Guess which villain shows up, along with a large multi-ethnic gang of thugs, to steal the virus? Although after the ludicrous opening, I was ready to accept pretty much anything. So, we’ve got a gang holding a bunch of scientists hostage, and one man who wasn’t supposed to be there (he’d decided to not bother going home after the end of his shift, but stay at work and watch holographic pornography). They establish a little flirting relationship with Nick and Dr Alex Royce (Suki Kaiser) right away – she also has a firm opinion on the outfield of the “Neptunes” baseball team – so he’s got a reason to stay and help and not just try and escape.

If you were thinking “it’s just the idea of the movie they ripped off”, then I have four scenes / lines, all of which happen within five minutes of each other, to convince you otherwise.

  • The first good cop on the scene to help Nick says “hell of a week to quit drinking” (AIRPLANE)

  • Nassim says “I used to fuck a guy called Nick in prison” (ROADHOUSE)

  • Lift falls to bottom of lift shaft and explodes (DIE HARD)

  • Bullet is stopped by metal flask in breast pocket (A MILLION MOVIES)

This is by no means an exhaustive list. But I feel like I’ve given you a rather negative view of this fine piece of 90s action. Brion James is superb as the super-OTT villain, and his crew of baddies are all trying their hardest too, especially Garvin Cross as “Numb” and Topaz Hasfal-Schou as Megan, sporting amazing be-nippled steel armour. Although it’s very very standard (the first sentence of this review will have accurately placed about 80% of the movie in your mind) it’s pretty good fun, because it’s an entertaining template and it’s pretty hard to mess it up.

There’s clever touches, too. This is the first time in movie history anyone has hidden inside a hologram of someone else (I think); and the sheer volume of odd ideas at the end (including the “hovering” robot and wild computer stuff) is to be commended. But don’t worry about the quote from Stephen Hawking used at the beginning of the movie, as it has zero to tell us about what will happen, and is never so much as referenced again. Perhaps this is due to it being director Robert Lee’s first movie, or perhaps, judging from his future output, it’s just the sort of director he is.

And then there’s Dudikoff himself, who’s come on in leaps and bounds from his “American Ninja” days. He’s relaxed, able to do comedy, and doesn’t feel the need to be the most bad-ass fighter on the planet – in fact, he’s sort of a sucky fighter in this and gets his ass almost kicked on several occasions. His burning desire to know the score of the ongoing baseball game between the unnamed Chicago team and the “Neptunes” is a fine running gag; as is how much of a baseball nerd Alex is too.

It’s cheesy trash, without a doubt. But entertaining cheesy trash, and it’s free too.

Rating: thumbs up

Youtube Film Club: Chameleon (1998)

“Pilots that crashed” is our wildly unpopular regular feature here at the ISCFC where we review a “TV movie” which is nothing more than the pilot for a TV show that failed for whatever reason; the reason we get to see it, is they spent enough money on it they feel obliged to try and recoup some of their losses by bunging it on TV, or selling it abroad. Our favourite of the ones we’ve covered so far is “Virtuality”, the Ronald D Moore effort from 2009 where inhabitants of a corporate-sponsored trip to deep space have their own virtual reality machines to stave off the boredom, but will this knock it off its perch?

Starring as cloned genetically engineered badass Kam is Bobbie Philips, who’s fast becoming a favourite here. We’ve covered her early career, where she had the great misfortune of co-starring with Billy Blanks twice (“TC 2000” and “Back In Action”); she went on to be great in “Murder One”, then bummed around in all sorts of trash for a few years before abruptly quitting acting in 2004 to go into the hotel business with her husband. Respect to people who don’t hang around when they aren’t enjoying it any more; but she decided to get back into acting a couple of years ago and is picking some really interesting-sounding projects.

We’re in a fairly standard dystopian future, where the IBI is the last line of crime-fighting defence. I guess most of the people who work there are standard humans, but one or two of them are grown in labs (I think, the movie is a little vague on the details) and have super-senses as well as being pretty strong. Kam calls herself a “sub”, although just what that means, aside from being prepared to have sex with anyone to progress a case, is never mentioned. Kam’s special ability that no-one else seems to have is the title of the movie – she can turn sort-of invisible by blending perfectly into the background, “Predator” style.

A kid is the driving force of the plot. Oh, how I loathe child actors! Even if you’re a parent with a kid of your own, surely you wouldn’t enjoy seeing someone else’s stupid kid on screen? Yet because writers can’t be bothered to figure out how to create tension properly, we get a kid who everyone knows won’t die.

Sorry, the kid. His parents are rebels against the corporate system, and create a computer chip which will destroy the world’s economy in a matter of days. The IBI wants it, so they send Kam and a team of armed police to sort them out – but the parents kill themselves rather than be caught, and the kid escapes with the last chip secreted on his person somewhere. Kam goes after him but immediately changes from being a cold-blooded killer to a warm mothering type, protecting the kid, getting kicked out of the IBI, getting chased herself, etc.

You may have noticed that only a few paragraphs in, I’ve complained several times about things not being explained, or being too vague. Well, part of it probably comes from being a pilot, because you’ll need some secrets to explore later in the season; but an equal amount could come from it just not being very good (perhaps the reason it was never picked up). The worst of all is Kam’s sudden conversion to the side of the good guys, with zero explanation, to the stage where I stopped the video and rewound to see if there was something I’d missed. When you’re supposed to be won over by her mothering instinct, you’re probably more likely to be going “she’s in her late 20s and he’s in his early teens, he doesn’t need that much looking after”.

Kam and the stupid kid are chased by a rogue former IBI agent (who was kicked out for being too violent) who chases them with a couple of rottweilers and a redheaded IBI lady, who was clearly being set up to be the workplace antagonist. They’re trying to get to Newton, the leader of the resistance (I think), who ends up being nothing more than a boring philosopher who talks in the thir person. But never mind him!

There are a couple of cool-ish fight scenes, as well as a scene in a huge empty warehouse that felt more like a stunt showcase than it did a logical piece of filmmaking. Phillips is great and looks like she can handle herself (the promotional blurb lists her as a martial arts expert, but she doesn’t really do much of that). And some of the visuals of the wasteland outside the cities are done well too, even if they’re sort of standard.

Ultimately, it’s very standard stuff. Super-powered hero, kid in peril, dystopian future. I like Phillips a lot but she’s not got a lot to work with here, and if you were thinking of watching it for purposes of titilation, the sex scenes are shot from some pretty bizarre angles, to make sure you see as little skin as possible. It appears there are two more “Chameleon” movies to go, as well – amazingly, they’re all pilots with the same star as the same character, and all three failed! If you do choose to watch this, though, you can ponder just how many shows that look and feel roughly the same were made around the time, and why some of them succeeded (“The Lost World”, “Relic Hunter”, etc.) and this failed.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Cyber-Tracker 2 (1995)

This may come as a shock to some of you, but the producers of this movie appear to have thought about their intellectual property for more than ten seconds and decided they’d probably ought to have a half-decent reason for making a sequel. Rather than just replace all the actors, keep the robot “trackers” and tell largely the same story again, they kept the characters, built on their stories and made a sequel which extends things in an interesting way.

I know, right? Now, none of this is to say it’s very good, but they deserve credit where it’s due. Returning are Don “The Dragon” Wilson as undercover Secret Service agent Eric Phillips, Stacie Foster as investigative journalist / former terrorist / Eric’s wife Connie, Steve Burton as good guy Jared, and Jim Maniaci as the Cyber-Tracker. Only by this point, Trackers are used as good guys, helping the cops out – Eric tries to get “No. 9” to refer to him by his first name, but No.9 is programmed for formality.

So, the plot. A lot of the plot is based around (I presume) the producer owning both a second-hand car lot and an explosives factory; because so many cars get blown up or wrecked, and so many gigantic explosions happen, that I began to wonder if this wasn’t a very specialised fetish video. A group of villains, led by Paris Morgan (the great Anthony DeLonghis, “Highlander: The Series”), is getting hold of government-issue cybernetic technology, lots of weapons, and is…well, it’s one of your generic world domination things, I think. They’re well aware that no-one came for the plot, so that’s dispensed with as quickly as possible.

A large portion of the movie is based on Morgan making perfect cyber-copies of Eric and Connie, and setting them loose to cause destruction, kill off their enemies in the police department, and so on. Herein lies a problem, one of the sorts of problems that movies like this come across from time to time. If the plan was to take over local government, start building a power base and spread from there, why bother antagonising the guy who whupped a load of Tracker ass in the last movie? Why not just try and not mess with him or his wife, who has the ear of the world’s media, at all? But, even though their plan is dumb and hinges on normal Eric and cyber-Eric never being seen at the same time by anyone who cyber-Eric doesn’t immediately kill, the plan works for the entire second act of the movie.

Stop thinking about it. “But, he’s a huge hero. Why would he wipe out a whole police station?” Sshhhh. Leave it.

I like how they try to give us a little taste of the future, still, which indicates someone thought about the world they were inhabiting. Eric appears to have upgraded his sexy home security system to one with a hologram of the top half of a beautiful woman – she still flirts with him, and gives them an “I know what you’re doing” look when they ask for privacy mode to be enabled so they can have sex. I’m not sure I’d be thrilled with my own home becoming jealous of me, but so be it! And the police chief’s daughter pops over to train in martial arts, which involves her plugging in a VR headset and fighting the cheesiest computer simulation. I wonder if it’d have looked impressive in 1995? Maybe not.

But the plot and the world building, much like in the last movie, takes second place to fights, car chases and explosions. So many explosions! There are a couple of gun-battles which go on for what feels like forever, and they follow the path of the first one – indestructible robot stands in the middle of a bunch of people who can’t shoot or find cover, several hundred bullets fly about, eventually the non-robots fall over. Then there’s a ton of car chases as well, one in the huge LA storm “drains”, the other in “that” motorway tunnel; both locations have been in hundreds of movies.

There’s a character called Kessel, played by Athena Massey, and she’s great. The villain’s main assistant, I was really looking forward to her chewing some scenery and having a cool death scene, but she’s relegated to feuding with the heroes’ third banana Jared, who I honestly didn’t even remember was also in the first movie (and I watched them two days apart). Way too much time is given to the robotic Eric and Connie.

And, while we’re being honest, there’s way too much borrowing of scenes from other, better movies – for instance, there’s the police station scene which is a direct lift from “The Terminator” (but in this, no-one wonders how one apparently normal man can slaughter an entire police station, get shot dozens of times but be completely fine). The whole experience leaves you, honestly, feeling slightly numb. There’s so much gunplay, and so many explosions, fights, and car chases, that no one bit stands out. I never thought I’d say this, but I kept wishing for a quiet conversation or something, just to break it up.

I do want to mention one last thing, perhaps the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen in a reasonably budgeted b-movie. At around 1:21:00 (it’s on Youtube, you can watch it yourself if you like), there’s a shot of a guy standing in a corridor, only they forgot to put anything on the blue screen behind him! So, he’s stood in front of an effect which isn’t there, and then he gets shot and the crashmats he lands on are clearly visible, and not just for a tiny instant either. It’s one of the most egregious errors I can think of in a movie of this stature, and I love it a little bit more because of it.

I’ve spent a long time criticising this, and it’s definitely not perfect, but it’s so energetic that you can forgive it a lot. Apparently, PM Entertainment are a company that specialised in wild OTT movies like this, so expect more reviews of their stuff in the weeks to come.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

CyberTracker (1994)

Much like the “observer effect” in quantum physics, where the mere observation of an experiment causes a change to its state, so too it is with 1990s straight-to-video action movies. Just when you think you’ve reviewed all the half-decent ones, yet more emerge from the woodwork (okay, that’s nothing like the observer effect). But even though the ISCFC has featured over a thousand reviews, with mine personally coming in at a little over 900, I’d never even heard of this one until a few days ago.

The whole “never heard of it” thing is even more surprising when you factor in the two stars – Don “The Dragon” Wilson and Richard Norton. We covered the entirety of Wilson’s “Bloodfist” series a little while ago, and we’ve been fans of Norton’s ever since we saw him in a few Cynthia Rothrock movies. And here, we even get to hear Norton’s real accent!

Right from the beginning, we’re given a world which is something of a conundrum. Outside a club is a hologram person, imploring people to come in as they’ve got it all – “beer, whisky, heroin, cocaine”. So, this is a world where everything is legal, or where the forces of law & order have broken down completely, right? Well, not quite. In this heady far-off future of 2015, the US Government has merged with a corporation (I think? They’re sort of unclear on that point, the flags are different though) and we’ve now got the Computerised Judicial System. How crimes are investigated is a matter we’re never informed about, but people aren’t so much arrested as brutally murdered by a huge bald cyborg. Perhaps the cyborgs only go after the big crimes? Again, information we’re not given, although there is a sequel which may fill in all these holes, much like “Prometheus”.

Wilson is Eric Philips, low-level security guard for Senator Dilly (John Aprea, last seen by us in “Savage Beach” and “Dead Man On Campus”); Norton is Dilly’s right-hand man, Ross. Eric and Ross help to thwart an attempt on Dilly’s life by the UHR – “Union For Human Rights” – and because Eric is so awesome, he’s let into the inner circle. Although, the inner circle is basically Dilly going “watch me murder this unarmed protestor”, so Eric runs away, horrified at the person he’s working for.

Director Richard Pepin is no slouch – we’ve already covered his stuff in “T-Force” and “Hologram Man” – and he makes as much effort as his budget will allow to build a world. This is stuff like the bizarrely flirtatious relationship Eric has with the AI running his house; the scene where he turns her “perception” down so she won’t question his crap opens a whole can of philosophical worms. Then there’s the work of TV newsreader Connie (Stacie Foster), whose piece about the UHR is the most friendly-to-terrorism piece of news reporting perhaps ever. She’s as fine and obvious a love interest as b-movies have ever given us, even if I was worrying that she’d still not met Eric by the halfway point.

So, a fairly solid man-on-the-run plot; just one with cyborgs in it. When you’ve got Richard Norton and Don “The Dragon” Wilson as your stars, you can also expect plenty of fighting, and they’re both of course brilliant. One of the many plus points about low-budget cinema is you’ll get the main guys doing their own fighting, so you can keep the camera in close (no need to cut around faces or obviously incorrect haircuts). But the gun-play leaves a little to be desired. As the Cyber Trackers are made of some weird magic super-hard skin stuff, they don’t need to worry about dodging bullets or finding cover; and they’re also terrible shots, meaning there are a few more scenes than strictly necessary of a Tracker stood in the middle of a room, shots bouncing harmlessly off him, missing large numbers of people who aren’t making any attempt to cover themselves either.

I mentioned the low budget, but if you were counting the number of cars that blow up, you might be forgiven for thinking it’s got a much larger amount of money spent on it. Explosion after explosion after explosion…they even blow up a fire-truck at one point, which can’t have been cheap. Stock footage or the fact the director is also the boss of the production company? Seriously though, if you miss the explosions, wait two minutes and another one will be along.

A couple of splendid tropes of low budget cinema pop up here too. One is the “Access File” screen. You’ll have seen it yourself dozens of times, the good guy trying to log on to the villain’s computer, and rather than using Windows or Linux, it’s just a screen where you type in “Access File X” and it pops straight up. Perhaps Hollywood has its own OS that it’s holding out on us about? And the second, my personal favourite, is the Overconfident Villain. You know the deal – villain has guns, hero is trapped, villain goes “I don’t need guns to beat you!”, puts the guns down and immediately gets his ass kicked by the hero. The ur-example of this is the great Vernon Wells in “Commando”, but this is a fine entry in that particular tradition.

If you like people always doing the dumbest thing in every circumstance, then “CyberTracker” could be the movie for you. Some silly sci-fi, lots of terrible wooden acting, the occasional whisper of a sense of humour, terrible gunfights and excellent hand-to-hand fights. The usual. Let’s see if part 2 is any better!

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Scanner Cop 2 (1995)

So, we come to the end of the “Scanners” series, which has been…alright? I didn’t love Cronenberg’s original (although it’s clearly the class act in this field), part 2 was terrible, part 3 was great, and the first “Scanner Cop” was dull. So what of the final entry?

“Scanner Cop 2” has, perhaps, the most Aggressive Staring (TM) of any of the franchise. There’s one scene where the villain is doing his thing (which involves sucking the life force out of another scanner, a hitherto unknown power) and it goes on for what feels like three or four minutes – just him staring at another guy, and that guy gradually turning into a skeleton. I think I’ve officially reached my limit of watching movies where people just stare at each other, and you know who’s winning via whose musical sting is loudest.

It’s an unwelcome return for Samuel (Daniel Quinn), the only person to appear in more than one “Scanners” movie, now an LAPD detective (whether he’s still got the same ludicrous mansion he had when he was just a trainee is never mentioned). He’s getting called on by his superior officer, Captain Jack Bitters (Robert Forster, just before Quentin Tarantino briefly saved him from obscurity), to do all sorts of scanner-based crime-solving, and for those of you who remembered him taking Ephemerol at the end of part 1 to control his powers, it’s handwaved away rather magnificently by Bitters saying to an underling “he’s got a special new sort of Ephemerol which allows him to use his powers with no side-effects”. Never mentioned again, never paid off.

There’s a subplot about him searching for his birth mother, which involves the Trans Neural Research Center, and their lovely employee Carrie Goodart (Khrystyne Haje). She distributes Ephemerol to people who can’t afford a prescription for it, and although it’s never mentioned at this point, she’s a scanner too. “Hey, sexy doctor lady, I have this special new Ephemerol that allows you to still use your powers, if you’d like to try it” – NO. This doesn’t happen. Anyway, despite his mother not giving him up, so there being no issues of privacy, and him being a damn cop, he needs help to find her.

The sole bright spark is the villain, one Karl Volkin (Patrick Kilpatrick). His motivation is terribly boring (revenge after Samuel tried to arrest them, and scannered Karl into shooting his own brother), but he realises how silly all this is and goes with it. His scenes from when he’s in the mental hospital are hilarious, and he appears to be doing an impression of the Tasmanian Devil (animated version) – despite them saying he’s getting crazier the longer he goes without Ephemerol, he never reaches those wild heights of overacting again.

Pretty much everything about “Scanner Cop 2” is just sort of okay. There’s dumb logic holes everywhere you look, and the plot is completely standard, but there’s an occasional spark of comedy, or a decent performance from a b-movie regular (such as Ellen Dubin or Eugene Robert Glazer), to elevate things ever-so-slightly. And some of the effects are really quite gross, but I got a bit bored of the camera focusing on them twice as long as was necessary.

I do have one more weird thing to mention, though, and that’s the fact his mother is in a retirement home. How old do you think Daniel Quinn is? (serious question, he doesn’t have it listed on IMDB). Let’s say, at the outside, 35. His mother appears pretty sprightly, she runs down a corridor, doesn’t look frail at all…so why the hell is she in a retirement home? I’d expect her to still be working, looking like she does! Why didn’t they just have her in a mental hospital, trying to deal with her scanning powers?

Ultimately, though, it’s so bland I can’t even be bothered to write a full-length review of it. Cut every EXTREME STARING scene down to 20 seconds (which is about as long as they ever lasted in the original), remove the scenes they just re-used from the first “Scanner Cop” (cars pulling into hospital – the scene is a straight lift) and you’ve got a reasonably punchy hour-long movie. As it is, thumbs down for the last of the series. See you when the remake comes out!

Rating: thumbs down

Scanner Cop (1994)

After a part 3 that was chock full of comedy, head explosions and OTT acting performances, it’s sort of sad that we’re back down in the dreck for part 4 (for that is what “Scanner Cop” is in the “Scanners” franchise). I guess all you really needed to make a tidy profit in the era of VHS rental was a name and a few snappy images for the back of the box.

This is the directorial debut for Pierre David, who was the producer who very cleverly secured himself sequel rights to “Scanners”, way back in 1981. Clearly. Paying an actual director would have cut into his profits, so he took the knowledge and experience of being around movie sets for so many years, and…well, it looks exactly like a movie, I guess? And he must have called in some b-movie favours, as the late great Brion James shows up for 2 minutes near the end, Richard Lynch is the bad guy, and “that guy / gal” actors such as Gary Hudson, Hilary Shepard and Darlanne Fluegel play large roles.

In a filthy apartment lives a father and son – any other movie, you’d assume he was a junkie, but he’s obviously a scanner trying to block out the incessant noise in his head with some Ephemerol (the sole through-line of these movies). Now, I’d probably throw away the empty pill-bottles, as it makes it a lot easier to find the one that still has some in it, but then I’m not a scanner who’s been driven half-mad, so what do I know? His son Samuel also has the scanner gene, and is having just as bad a time of it as Dad. Into this chaos walks cop Peter Harrigan (Stacy Keach-alike Richard Grove) and there’s a few of the “classics” – Dad wobbles his head at the cops, they struggle as if they’re about to turn their guns on each other…Dad almost kills one of the cops, he gets shot, and Samuel is about to do some head-exploding when Peter manages to talk him down.

Because Samuel saved his life (eh, okay I guess?), Peter adopts him. Is this something that cops do as a matter of course? Anyway, the Harrigans are just childless with lots of love to offer, so they bring up Samuel right, and…15 years later! He’s just graduated from police academy – but presumably the boring, normal sort of police academy, with no roommates who can make any sound at all with their mouths.

The villain, one Karl Glock (Lynch) and his assistant Zena (Shepard) are kidnapping people and brainwashing them into attacking cops – like, whenever they see anyone in uniform, the cop transforms in their heads into a weird monster. Herein lies the first problem – if you saw a giant zombie wandering towards you, would you attack it with whatever you had at hand, or run like hell? Perhaps some offscreen brainwashing got rid of the “flight” part of “fight or flight”. So, random people start butchering police officers, and it’s up to Harrigan to stop them – he’s the only person who knows Samuel is a scanner, keeping him supplied with Ephemerol, but he asks him to stop taking the drug and use his psychic powers to help him get to the bottom of things. Oh, and fans of “Aliens” will appreciate seeing the great Mark Rolston as Harrigan’s underling Harry Brown (not that Harry Brown), aka “the world’s dumbest skeptic”.

Leaving aside the head-wobbling, it’s a very standard mid-90s straight-to-video thriller with a few grotesque touches. At the beginning, we see a brief glimpse of a mental hospital and it’s straight out of a Victorian nightmare – a corridor full of people tearing their hair out and gibbering and rocking back-and-forth. Surely, not even the worst 90s-era hospital has stuff like that?

I’m not sure what to make of some stuff, like Samuel’s home (he moved out of his adopted parents’ home some time ago). It’s a gigantic place, with an incredible view, high up in the hills of LA, and must have cost – even in the mid 90s – a solid $500,000. Where does an orphan who’s not even started his first job yet afford a place like that? And there’s also the thing of how Samuel’s a super-fast reader, able to get through every page of a massive series of crime reports in the time it takes Brown to get him a cup of coffee. When did that become a scanner power?

Because it’s filmed in a blandly competent style, credit due to the professional Nu Image behind-the-camera team, it leaves us much more time to talk about the bizarre script choices. We see inside Zena’s head at one point, and it’s like a cliché of what the dark parts of someone’s psyche are like – an even grimmer mental hospital than the one in “reality”. Zena appears to fund the brainwashing operation with her tarot card reading storefront, but the curious thing is, she seems to genuinely be psychic, and not in a scanner-y way either. They perhaps ought to have elaborated on that a little, as it’s just confusing.

The first resistance of any sort our villains face doesn’t come til about 1:10 in, and honestly I was getting a bit bored by then. There’s only so long you can spend watching a series of plans be executed smoothly while the people you’re supposed to be cheering for stand around with puzzled looks on their faces! You might also expect to see a relationship develop, but Samuel and Doctor Joan Alden (Fluegel) just aren’t a good visual match at all. In the grand tradition of Scanners stars, Samuel (Daniel Quinn) has a sort-of-unappealing face, while Joan just seems a lot more mature than the apparently-in-his-early-20s leading man. Luckily, the movie realises this, and while there’s an odd scene that implies things are going to happen between the two, nothing does…but that leaves an empty space where the emotional connection ought to be.

Factor in a steel plate in someone’s head apparently being able to block psychic powers, and a main actor who’s scanning face is identical to his constipated face, and you’ve got yourself a movie. While it’s not horrible (lots of b-movie professionals, technically fine) it’s just a bit boring. The only movie that’s really been able to forge a path between the seriousness of the subject matter and the inherent silliness of staring at someone until their head explodes is part 3; this is probably the dullest of the series so far.

Rating: thumbs down

Scanners 3: The Takeover (1992)

These people aren’t in the movie

After a part 2 which starred a man who we know from his TV appearances is a strong comic actor, but was almost entirely serious, we come to a part 3, with a guy who isn’t a strong anything actor, that fully steers into the ludcrousness of the whole enterprise and is almost entirely comedic!

Despite having the same director and one of the same writers, this movie couldn’t be any more different. Perhaps a quick “Scanners” history lesson will be handy. While the first movie was being made, producer Pierre David bought the rights to make sequels, and then waited ten years (presumably for a time when exploding head special effects became cheaper). So, much like “XTRO” had two sequels in name only, because the director had the rights to the name but nothing else, “Scanners” has two sequels pretty much entirely because some guy had paid for it years previously.

In further timeline fun – you may remember the children of the guy from part 1 showing up in part 2, both in their 30s, despite the movies being ten years apart – it’s so long since the scanners from part 2 did their thing in front of a bunch of TV cameras, that they’re now creatures of myth, eliciting only vague amusement from a birthday party full of whatever the Canadian 90s equivalent of hipsters was. Alex (Steve Parrish) is asked to show off his scanner powers, and is happy to do this little parlor trick, pushing his friend backwards with just his mind, until he’s distracted and accidentally shoves him out of the window, killing him.

He’s found not guilty, pretty luckily, and decides to go to a Buddhist monastery in Thailand and find himself, learn to take control of his powers, whatever it is. Alex’s girlfriend Joyce (Valérie Valois) and stepsister Helena (Liliana Komorowska) remain friends, until a couple of years later, when a gang attacks them in an alley and Helena uses her scanning powers to mess them up. She’s struggling with the same problems Alex had, the incessant din of human thoughts being beamed into her head, but rather than going to meditate, she decides to hassle her stepdad, famed neuroscientist Elton Monet (Colin Fox). He’s invented EPH-3 (the only link between this and the previous two movies), but it’s super-experimental; she offers to be the guinea pig but he refuses.

I’m sure you can see where this is going. Helena just steals the supply and applies an EPH-3 patch (which is a large circle of plastic with a little blue light on it, stuck behind her ear) and immediately turns evil; she takes over a worldwide media company and her Dad’s company, by the “traditional” method of advancement (murdering everyone). Alex eventually turns back up and after a while, it’s on. There’s a whole weird subplot about a group of scanners that Helena liberates all dressing and acting like 1930s gangsters, but I’ve got no idea what that was about.

The first thing to notice about “Scanners 3” is that it has a similar structure to part 2, in that the alleged star of the movie drops out of it for a significant portion of the early running. This is very definitely a movie about the villain, rather than the hero, and it’s all the better for it. She has an interesting plan and she’s not afraid to go after it. There’s perhaps a good reason for this assignation of screen time though.

Liliana Komorowska is amazing, and Steve Parrish is terrible. She fully understands just how silly the plot and script are, and really runs with it. Every scene she’s in is full of scenery-chewing magic; whereas not only does he have a face that’s sort of annoying to look at, he’s just not a good enough actor to relax and have fun with a movie that’s clearly intended to be a comedy. I mean, there’s a scene where he has an underwater scanner fight (underwater! This is brilliant!) and he’s just there, playing it straight. It’s quite curious that in three “Scanners” movies, the lead actor has been a wooden non-presence in two of them, and it’s not like David Hewlett gave the best performance in part 2 either.

I feel like this movie really ought to have been rediscovered by the bad movie brigade by now, but quite a lot of reviews of it seem to treat it moderately seriously, like the comedy is unintentional? Well, watch the autopsy scene and tell me that’s not supposed to make you laugh – some fine comic timing from a character with only a few lines. Or the TV broadcast where Helena puts her plan into effect, which is so crazy there’s no possible way you coul take it seriously. On that note – the plot of the movie hinges on scanning powers being something you can record on videotape and broadcast via TV, which indicates someone involved with it would rather have been remaking “Videodrome”.

Any Buddhists reading this review will be pleased to note that, after spending years in a monastery, he’s progressed a great deal as an individual. Oh, sorry, I meant to write that as soon as he gets home, he starts murdering people with his mind – okay, they’re bad guys, but I’m pretty sure the Buddha never said “murder’s cool, as long as the victim is a dick”.

They throw in a completely wild, OTT ending, and a set of closing credits with no music behind them, as if they wanted to creep you out right at the last minute. It’s often hilarious, and while the plot is just as dumb as part 2, they at least acknowledge that (even the head-wobbling “fights” are done with tongue slightly in cheek).

This has been one of the most thoroughly entertaining b-movies we’ve covered on this site. Recommended with no problem whatsoever.

Rating: thumbs up

Scanners 2: The New Order (1991)

While I’d have quite liked to see long, gory franchises based on “Rabid” or “Shivers”, if you held a gun to my head I’d have probably suggested “Scanners” had the most sequel potential of all David Cronenberg’s early movies. I’m not sure why you’d have done that, of course, but then I’m not sure why they chose to make sequels to Cronenberg movies and then make the director some guy who’d only ever made a few episodes of TV, either.

Starring in this is David Hewlett, best known for “Stargate Atlantis” but a genre TV regular these days. He’s David Kellum, and he’s a scanner, one of the very small number of people born with ESP / telekinetic powers. He seems able to control it, by and large, and is even able to start a relationship with fellow veterinary student Alice (ISCFC favourite Isabelle Mejias – “Meatballs 3”, “Heavy Metal Summer”). A fellow by the name of Drak is slightly less able to control himself, and eventually finds himself in the orbit of Dr Morse (“that guy” Tom Butler), who’s got a whole lab full of scanners, none of whom use their powers as they’re all numbed by / addicted to a drug called EPH-2 (the next stage of the first movie’s Ephemerol), originally developed to help dampen scanner powers but also a super-powerful narcotic.

There’s a few creepy images, early on – Morse employs a couple of scanners as drug dealers, to continue funding his experiments, and EPH-2 had a pretty horrific effect on both of them, leaving them looking like zombies. The movie doesn’t play it up, and it’s a nice effective bit of business. There’s also a head, not exploding as such, but a section at the back coming open and blood and brains gushing out, which is pretty well done (criminals, don’t try and hold up a convenience store when there’s a powerful psychic in there trying to do his shopping).

It’s sort of the same thing as part 1, though. Good scanner gets training; evil scanner tries to recruit, then kill him (although the evil scanner is just a goon for the Big Bad here). But it really struggles to make sense. The principle villain is cop Commander John Forrester, and he – for reasons which I’m still not sure about – persuades David to take over the Mayor’s mind and have him made Chief of Police, the day after he arranged the death of the old chief of police. He doesn’t threaten David (not at this point, anyway) so…no, I still got nothing. He immediately realises he did the wrong thing, but surely he ought to have twigged to it before? Like, at the beginning, Forrester kills a criminal as part of an operation and then loudly screams at the TV reporters that he’s delighted the criminal is dead and a “New Order” of concerned citizens should rise up and take over. What?

There’s a weird join, as he leaves Alice with a cute puppy and goes off to find the truth. But before we get to that, spoilers. If you’re the sort of person who’s worried about spoilers for a 25 year old straight-to-video horror movie, that is. Anyway, he goes off to meet his parents to get some answers about his birth, and discovers that he’s the son of Cameron Vale, aka the star of the first movie; oh, and he has a sister who also wants to take down the Forrester / Morse group. Now, bear in mind there’s 10 years between the two movies and his sister, Julie, was played by a woman who was 38 at the time of filming…I’d say “maybe it was set in the future” but there’s a newspaper prominently displayed in one scene with the date on it.

So, Alice sort of drops out for most of the movie and Julie takes her place. But when it occasionally cuts back to Alice looking sad for her boyfriend, check out her apartment, an insanely luxurious, gigantic place, which is apparently well within the reach of a first year veterinary student in whatever city this is set in.

There’s a couple of head explosions which aren’t quite as good as part 1’s, but the special effects seem focused on the ability of scanners to twist other peoples’ bodies, and make them end up looking like the Elephant Man. They’re pretty good, and it’s obvious some decent money was spent here, but it’s still a bit…silly.

If you think about it, this is “Aggressive Staring: The Movie”. Because it has to have a crescendo like the original, you get a good scanner and a bad scanner facing off against each other, and they just stare as the camera spins about and some special effects are shown. But it’s still just staring.

Moving on the conclusion, which is again spoilers. Do you think the authorities would just let two ridiculously powerful psychics stroll away at the end without questioning them? Their activities were filmed by the assembled media, and the Chief of Police turning into a hideously deformed man right in front of their eyes while David is off in the corner staring really hard must have raised a few eyebrows. He has a “we just want to be left alone” speech, but is he directing it at Forrester or the cameras? The angle makes it difficult to tell.

Given the difficult circumstances in which Cronenberg made part 1, this feels much more unfinished, with a script that cries out for a rewrite. I watched it pretty closely, and I’ve got no idea why certain scenes played out the way they did – they certainly don’t make any sense as they’re presented. Ah well.

It’s technically fine, the effects are okay, it’s not boring, it’s just pointless and a little empty. Barely worth thinking about, certainly not worth tracking down. Let’s see if the remake of part 1, due out this year (apparently) gives us a good modern version of the story.

Rating: thumbs down