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

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