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Scanners (1981)

aka Scanners

"10 Seconds: The Pain Begins. 15 Seconds: You Can't Breathe. 20 Seconds: You Explode."

Directed By: 
Written By: 
Details: 103 mins · English · R (USA)


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Small Kim Obrist
No_movie_poster Cameron Vale
Small Dr. Paul Ruth
No_movie_poster Braedon Keller


No_movie_poster Howard Shore Music
Small David Cronenberg Scenario Writer
No_movie_poster Ronald Sanders Editor
No_movie_poster Mark Irwin Camera Operator
No_movie_poster Claude Héroux Production Manager
Small David Cronenberg Director
No_movie_poster Victor Solnicki Production
No_movie_poster Pierre David Production
No_movie_poster Ronald Sanders Editing


"10 Seconds: The Pain Begins. 15 Seconds: You Can't Breathe. 20 Seconds: You Explode."

"Their thoughts can kill!"


Scanners are people with the ability to read ("scan") other people's thoughts (telepathy), and the power to move physical things with their minds (telekinesis). ConSec, a purveyor of weaponry and security systems, searches out and captures scanners, ostensibly to protect the public from them, but actually to use them for its own nefarious purposes.

Most scanners are unhappy people, condemned to "hearing" an unstoppable flood of strangers' thoughts. Cameron Vale (Lack) has uncommonly powerful scanning abilities but cannot handle the pressure and has withdrawn completely from society. A homeless derelict, he lives in a shopping mall. When he psychically overhears two women denigrating him he inadvertently induces violent convulsions in one, which in turn attracts the attention of ConSec agents who tranquilize and abduct him.

Meanwhile ConSec is holding a press conference, attempting to convince the public that their roundup of scanners is a good thing for everyone involved; the public is protected and the scanners become useful members of society. Dr. Paul Ruth (McGoohan), head of ConSec's Scanner Section, introduces the company's senior scanner (Louis Del Grande), who offers to "scan" a volunteer to demonstrate the banality of the process. Unfortunately his volunteer, Darryl Revok (Ironside) is a renegade with formidable telepathic powers who has declared war on ConSec and all scanners who voluntarily work for it. The demonstration does not go well; the ConSec scanner's head explodes. Consec security agents try to detain Revok but he escapes, killing several of them in the process.

Ruth meets with ConSec's newly-hired head of security, Braedon Keller (Lawrence Dane), to mull Ruth's two biggest challenges: hunting down Revok and infiltrating the secretive scanner community. Ruth thinks both problems can be solved simultaneously using Vale, who might be the only scanner with sufficient psychic power to challenge Revok. Vale is reluctant; Revok's whereabouts are unknown, and the only lead is Benjamin Pierce (Robert A. Silverman), an artist and unstable scanner who tried to kill his family as a child. And even if he can find Revok, how will he subdue him? Ruth tells Vale about a secret drug, ephemerol, which ConSec uses to suppress scanners' telepathic powers, thereby maintaining control over them.

Vale tracks down Pierce after locating a gallery exhibiting his morbid sculptures. Pierce is in hiding from Revok; he has rejected Revok's offer to join his renegade faction, which makes him a liability. Four of Revok's men gun down Pierce. Vale flings the four assassins into unconsciousness, then scans the dying man's mind to learn what he knows about the scanner underground.

Pierce's dying thoughts lead Vale to Kim Obrist (O'Neill) who has formed a telepathic alliance with a group of other scanners. Vale is invited to a meeting, but the gathering is ambushed by more of Revok's assassins, who kill Obrist's scanner friends before Vale and Obrist can kill them.

Vale learns that a large quantity of "bootleg" ephemerol is about to be delivered to Revok's clandestine organization. Vale and Obrist travel to ConSec headquarters to inform Ruth of this development; but Keller, who is actually a traitor working for Revok, kills Ruth, then attempts to capture Vale and Obrist, who escape by scanning the ConSec guards. Vale infiltrates Revok's computer network through a payphone. When Keller discovers this, he orders ConSec computer scientists to rig the computer to self-destruct while Vale is plugged into it. The plan backfires and the laboratory explodes, killing Keller.

Vale and Obrist pursue their only remaining lead: the illegal ephemerol shipment. Their investigation takes them to the office of Dr. Frane, an obstetrician, where Obrist becomes aware that someone is scanning her. She realizes that she is being scanned by the unborn baby of a pregnant woman in Frane's waiting room. Before the two can question Frane they are ambushed by Revok's men, tranquilized, and abducted.

Vale regains consciousness in Revok's office, where Revok tells him that they are brothers and that Ruth is their father. According to Revok, Ruth had experimented with ephemerol on their pregnant mother, and all scanners are the children of unwitting women who had taken ephemerol during pregnancy as a morning sickness sedative. Revok's plan is to conquer the world with an army of scanners - born decades ago and now mature. He invites Vale to join him, but Vale refuses, and a psychic battle ensues. Vale's body ignites, and Revok screams.

Obrist awakens to find Vale's incinerated corpse on the floor; but she senses Vale's thoughts and calls out to him. In a corner, hidden under Vale's jacket, is Revok—but with Vale's blue eyes, and without Revok's forehead scar. He smiles at Obrist. "We've won," he says, in Vale's voice.

Release Dates:

Theatrical : 1981-01-14 : United States of America

DVD : 2001-08-28