Monday, September 16, 2013

Blu-ray Review: SCANNERS II: THE NEW ORDER (1990) / SCANNERS III: THE TAKEOVER (1991)


SCANNERS II: THE NEW ORDER (1990) / SCANNERS III: THE TAKEOVER (1991)
Double Feature Blu-ray+DVD Combo Pack 

Label: Shout! Factory/Scream Factory
Region Code: A/1
Rating: R
Duration: 100 Minutes / 95 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo, English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.78:1)
Director: Christian Duguay
Cast: David Hewlett, Raoul Trujillo, Yvan Ponton, Tom Butler, Liliana Komorowska, Steve Parish

Ten years after David Cronenberg's Scanners (1980) blew audiences minds in theaters Canadian producer Pierre David expanded upon that film and masterminded 2 direct-to-video sequels - which blows my mind, until Scream Factory announced these titles last year and hadn't realized they even existed at all. By 1990 I had dedicated myself to the theatrical experience having been drawn to repertoire cinema in search of arthouse and foreign films like Cinema Paradiso (1988), Delicatessen (1991), Toto Le Hero (1991) and American indies like Soderberg's Kafka (1991) and Richard Linklater's Slacker (1991). I wasn't scouring the VHS shelves for Italian gore and splatter films the way I once did, yup, I had abandoned horror for arthouse and indies, it wouldn't be until 2000 with the glorious rise of the DVD format that I would return to my horror roots in search of the profane and grotesque. Those were some great times, scouring the stores, I would lap up every classic MGM horror, Blue Underground, Anchor Bay (when they seemed to give a shit) and Synapse Films title I could find, relishing in the new widescreen presentations... anyway, what I mean to say is that when these direct-to-video Scanners sequels came about I was being a pretentious film snob and didn't even notice. 

Onto the films, what have we here, should I have ventured away from the darkened repertoire theater in the early 90's and sought out these sequels, have I been denying myself some sci-fi horror cult classics for the past twenty years?

Going into Scanners 2 I was excited, our naive "scanner" David moves from the country to the big city to pursue his education, one night he enters a convenience store and a gunmen goes apeshit, David uses his scanner ability to incapacitate the robber, his head bursts in a glorious spew of chunky brain discharge, yup, I was a happy camper. David's actions garner the attention of a corrupt police commander John Forrester (Yvan Ponton) who recruits the young scanner to help fight crime alongside another scanner named, a disturbed vagrant named Peter Drak (Raoul Trujillo) who is much less altruistic than David, you just know these two are gonna face-off Scanners-style before the end of the film.

Forrester, who has political aspirations, is in league with a scientist named Dr. Morse (Tom Butler) who attempts to control the scanners with the drug Ephemerol but it turns most of the scanners into addicts, which plays into a larger picture. For a direct-to-video sequel this has a lot of great ideas and the makings of a damn decent story, but some of the performances aren't quite were they need to be to drive the story home, neither is the budget, with a few more bucks, a more ambitious director and a few capable actors I feel this could have been something quite a bit more. As it is it's a pretty entertaining watch with some decent gore, but it's a bit overlong, enjoyed the finale quite a bit, there's a decently resolution and a that effects-laden scanners show down you just knew would come, Trujillo is pretty great as a demented evil scanner, fun stuff.

First time feature-film director Christian Duguay does a decent job, I don't envy him following up in the footsteps of Cronenberg but he does a fair job, it's a competent production even if it doesn't have much style, there's some great gore, and some not-too-shabby action sequences, a decent watch but not a lot of re-watch factor for me.

Also directed by Christian Duguay and filmed back-2-back with Scanners II: The New Order (1990) we have Scanners III: The Takeover (1991) just a year later. We have a new set of characters and a new story arc, this time we have scanner siblings Helena (Liliana Komorowska) and her brother Alex (Steve Parish) who both approach their scanner gifts a bit differently. We with a Alex performing a scanner party-trick gone for friends,it goes awry sending his best-friend plummeting to his death, wracked with guilt Alex flees the country and explores transcendental meditation as a form of control. His sister resorts to the use of of an untested form of the Ephemerol drug called Eph3 which her father's drug company is producing. The unfortunate side effect of the drug is a severe diminished moral conscious, she turns into a homicidal maniac which leads to a series of deaths, including the murder of her own father to acquire his vast pharmaceutical empire. Her thirst for power not yet sated she continues her murder spree and bumps of a TV mogul adding is multi-media platform to her portfolio, but her estranged brother returns and throws a wrench into the works. 


Even more so than the first sequel this one has some truly ambitious ideas, some neat stuff involving the typical scanner mind-fuckery and the corporate world, but it's hampered by a dwindling budget and an inexperienced cast, some of the acting is just awful - there's only so much quality acting you can buy with a Canadian dollar and I don't think the Loonie was trading high on the currency exchange in '91 if this is any indication. The action-sequences are clumsy, check out the poorly executed motorcycle/short bus chase scene and a laughable rooftop confrontation, it's just a goofy sequel and if there were a bit more decent gore I might be more forgiving but maybe not, this one was a bit of a snoozer. 


Blu-ray: The Scanners sequels comes to MPEG-4 AVC encoded Blu-ray for the first time in North America from Shout! Factory imprint Scream Factory, a label that's been releasing a slew of awesome cult and horror titles with fantastic transfers and a sweet array of extras. This time out we have a 2-disc Bu-ray/DVD combo, each containing both films in a standard Blu-ray case. 

The transfers are pretty decent if unremarkable in 1080p hi-def, there's a nice layer of film grain, fine details are lackluster, colors are generally strong but the image is a bit soft, it's just not the most appealing Blu-ray we've seen from Scream Factory, but it's acceptable. 


The English DTS-HD Master Audio stereo track won't do much to impress either, it's perfectly clear with dialogue, effects and score comes through cleanly but it's not dynamic, worse is the generic score for both films from composer Marty Simon, it definitely sounds like your watching a direct-to-video sequel.


Now onto the extras we get... nothing. I found this surprising for a few reasons, first, it's the only bare bones double feature I've seen from Shout/Scream who loaded up the Terror Vision/The Video Dead with cool extras and secondly because producer Pierre David loves to talk about his films, Second Sight's region-b Blu-rays of Cronenberg's The Brood and Scanners (1980) features interviews with David, on the Brood disc he mentions wanting to produce a sequel to The Brood, let's hope that doesn't happen if this is any indication of the quality of we can expect.

Verdict: I didn't love these films, though I did find Scanners II: New World Order at least partially entertaining, when judged on it's own merit as an early 90's direct-to-video production and not up against Cronenberg's Scanners (1980) it's decent, but not great. Scanners III: The Takeover, eh. On the positive side we have some decent gore and lofty science fiction ideas, on the negative we have stale acting, poor scripting and some rather uninspired direction. Always appreciative of Scream Factory's output even if I'm not a rabid fan of a particular title, and I am certainly not in love with either of these but kudos to Shout! for making them available to fans, now if you want to make me a happy boy let's see a Cronenberg Rabid (1977) / Shivers (1975) double feature Blu-ray! 2 Outta 5 


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