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

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