Monday, October 01, 2012

Making Monsters #1: Scanners

Mention the movie Scanners to most people, even those who haven’t seen it, and this will almost certainly be the first scene that comes to mind. David Cronenberg’s 1981 thriller about war between people with telekinetic abilities isn’t one of his best films, but the early scene in which leader of the Scanner rebellion Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside) turns the tables in grisly fashion on a fellow Scanner (Louis Del Grande) during a demonstration is an iconic classic in its own right. The scene is almost unbearably tense as Revok’s target realizes something has gone very wrong and starts to panic, building to an unforgettably gooey payoff as the poor guy’s head detonates in a flash of blood and tissue.
                Cronenberg’s films will feature in this series more than those of any other director, and for good reason – he’s universally acknowledged as the master of bodily horror thanks to a body of work that finds fear not in the supernatural but in sickness, mutation and destruction, and this scene is one of the most blunt expressions of bodily horror in his filmography. It was brought to life by legendary makeup artist Dick Smith, whose credits include The Exorcist, Taxi Driver, Altered States and his Oscar-winning work on Amadeus; Smith was also a teacher and mentor to many of the makeup effects artists whose work will be included in the next few weeks. For this scene, Smith created a prosthetic head, filled it with dog food and rabbit livers and blew it apart from behind with a shotgun. The result is an unforgettable image that helped usher in the splatter era of the 1980s. It’s worth noting that this was originally the opening scene of the movie, but Cronenberg decided it was too strong after a test screening and moved it to about ten minutes into the movie (where, clearly, it’s much easier to take). Also Scanners was  a surprise hit that was number one at the box office the weekend it opened; I love that America experienced this moment together.

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