The scanner is tranquilized and delivered to the supervision of Dr. Paul Ruth (Dutch accented fantastically by Patrick McGoohan), a member of the fictitious ConSec who seeks a means to quell insurgency from one Daryl Revok (Michael Ironside). Once Vale is provided a means of stabilizing his powers, he's sent out on a mission to find and thwart Revok despite the mental powers at work against ConSec and the fellow scanners he encounters (specifically Jennifer O'Neill's Kim Obrist).
The stunts and effects that accompany the action moments are thrilling thanks to the mood buildup in subsequent dialogue and non-verbal exchange, especially from Ironside. The big pyrotechnic shots are visually loud thanks to the race against time element, and capped perfectly by the phone booth. Though THAT scene is justifiably memorable through the slow motion splatter and sound effects of the important shot, the continuity issue is too glaring (plus a hint at the pressure Cronenberg was working under), yet the following escort scenes have long been under looked as a gauge of what Revok is capable of. The climactic showdown proves to be the real achievement once you explore how it was pieced together on the "The 'Scanners' Way" documentary short on the Criterion set.
The gore effects exist beyond these two scenes, yet the degree of their implementation through prop and makeup doesn't even half-match the shock value of the pair. Cronenberg's best move (intended or not) is making many of the filming locations around Montreal take on a wide open space that represents the far-reaching expanse of the human mind, especially the ConSec auditorium and Benjamin Pierce's (Robert A. Silverman) farmhouse art studio.
Going back to the character roles, the main pairing of Lack and O'Neill churn out a perfect 50s sci-fi couple caricature: O'Neill helping to repurpose the "just scream" approach into a fiery plot transition, and Lack giving off a somewhat mocking persona reminiscent of countless bland male leads in such fare. As alluded to earlier, Lack does seem stilted in his dialogue, though that becomes understood given Cameron's initial low understanding of the world he's caught up in and Lack's actual acting background explained in additional Criterion extra "The Ephemerol Diaries."
Also reminiscent of classic Sci-Fi/Horror features is the stylizing of tension as an abnormal animal on the loose. The upgrade? Revok isn't a giant rat nor cuckolded twenty-something who rushes into a facility and gets rich (with radiation). He's an adult who had a full lifetime to master an inward mutation to his advantage and the opposite to everyone within range. Scanners is centered on an invisible threat that influenced lore as old as recorded history (be it demonic possession, deity manipulation, and so forth): abnormality of the mind.
The real world parallels are there, especially the risk of dangerous substance outbreaks from chemical leakage to drug usage and trafficking rates. Then there's the (today realistic) notion of computer and organic minds connected. Being a film about rogue infliltration, not noticing Cold War themes is too tall a task, yet Cronenberg makes political trends secondhand to the dual human conflict between power (Revok) and survival (Vale). And it's nice to think that the brains behind MTV each had a fist clench and lip bite of "Eureka!' at the sight of a van crashing through a record store.
Scanners is an interest-elevating thriller thanks to the impressiveness of additional effects, the variety in line delivery among the characters, the instilled fascination with the lingering mystery behind such scanners, and a resolution that can leave you pondering more than one scenario.