Scanners III: The Takeover (1991)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2013-09-04 21:19

Written by: Julie Richard & David Preston and B.J. Nelson, David Cronenberg (characters)
Directed by: Christian Duguay
Starring: Liliana Komorowska, Valérie Valois, and Steve Parrish

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

“Let's make it with the naked nasty."

Unless I’m underestimating its appeal, I doubt that anyone would ever argue that Scanners III: The Takeover is the superior sequel to David Cronenberg’s original film (a dubious distinction if there ever was one, really). I’m not even going to make that argument myself, but I will say that it’s the more entertaining of the two, if only because it’s pretty far out there and doesn’t just repeat the same old plot beats from the previous films. Considering the sequels seem to have been shot back-to-back, it might have been easier to do that and resign fans to suffering through diminishing returns, but they really went nuts with this one. Sure, the returns were still pretty diminishing, but at least they diminished in a blaze of cock-eyed glory.

Cheer is hanging in the air on Christmas Eve, at least until the holiday festivities are unwittingly interrupted by shenanigans involving a scanner named Alex (Steve Parrish). It seems like some of the other partygoers don’t believe in scanners, so Alex’s buddy goads him to put on a display that accidentally sends the dumb bastard flying from the high-rise complex. Shamed and regretful, Alex hightails it to Thailand and leaves sister Helena (Liliana Komorowska) behind to live with their father (Colin Fox). A few years later, the old man’s scanner research has led him to develop Eph-3, a new, experimental drug that’s supposed to inhibit all of the negative side-effects of a scanners’ existence (the migraines are a bitch, man). Despite her father’s protests, she uses the untested drug on herself and immediately transforms into a real jezebel with eyes on upward mobility in the corporate world.

The film’s subtitle is a double entendre, you see. Not only does it refer to Helena’s obvious plan to have the scanners take over the world, but it also refers to the method to her madness, as she seeks to buy out various corporate entities along the way in order to gain a sufficient amount of power and an audience (it's the most hostile, skull-popping takeover imaginable). Her conquest intersects with the rise of a cable television network and introduces a cool wrinkle into the Scanners mythology when Helena discovers that she can actually embed her scanner commands over the airwaves, so you’ve got a double dose of off-brand Cronenberg with this unsubtle Videodrome riff. Unsurprisingly, it’s not as heady as it would be if Cronenberg were actually at the helm, as The Takeover is easily the goofiest movie this trilogy has to offer; at its core, it’s really just a “good girl gone bad” by way of a slasher movie since Helena has to splatter her competition to get to the top, starting with her poor old dad (she also takes time to exact revenge on the doctor who once abused her as a child, thus leaving no stone unturned).

When people say “they don’t make ‘em like they used to,” it’s usually a nostalgic refrain that speaks to the quality of something, but, in the case of Scanners III, it’s pretty literal. Somehow, the film gets even nuttier when it reintroduces Alex into the proceedings; it turns out that he’s spent the past three years as a Buddhist monk in order to hone his abilities, so Scanners III belongs to that rare (and nigh-extinct) subset of martial-arts movies that saw shamed Americans travelling to the orient to learn the ways of the East to ultimately triumph (my favorite variation on this theme is No Retreat, No Surrender 5, which features a boneheaded American invoking the Shaolin after being pantsed in a martial arts tournament).

But in this case, the disgraced westerner can make people’s heads explode and feels guilty because he tossed his buddy out of a window during a Christmas party (when the poor guy was dressed as Santa Claus, much to the horror of the child who witnessed it). And he’s returning from the Orient to do battle with his sorta-but-not-really-evil sister, who deploys all sorts of nefarious mechanizations to get in his way, such as a sexy receptionist that sets him up for a rape accusation (!). When that doesn’t work, she resorts to dispatching good old fashioned bumbling henchman to chase him down and blow him off of his flaming motorcycle during a chase scene.

Obviously, Scanners III is a blast; sure, it’s far removed from Cronenberg’s original and shares even less of its DNA than the first sequel (which is wholly ignored here), but it’s gloriously scatterbrained contraption that even has the pretense of some social commentary since it pits the holistic, spiritual East against the corporate, drug-addicted West. Never has this conflict been so goddamn goofy, though—again, the music here is just off (though that sexy sax motif from Scanners II isn’t as prevalent), the accents are all over the place, and the proceedings often teeter on the edge of being downright slapstick (one highlight includes a hilariously abrupt transition that finds Alex being kicked in the face after mediating). Other assorted B-movie silliness seeps from every corner, such as over-the-top, scenery-chewing goons with loud eyesores for outfits and the most awkward scanner showdown yet since both Komorowska and Parrish seem more constipated than intently focused.

Despite their silly appearances, they’re still forces to be reckoned with, of course, as the brain-exploding endgame is all the same (and just as grotesque as ever thanks to the solid effects work). Again, it’s like director Christian Duguay and company remembered how cool it was to see a guy’s head explode in the first movie and decided to run with it. In this case, they at least surrounded it with a bunch of tone-deaf junk that makes the film undeniably entertaining in a “what the hell is this and what did it do to Scanners?” sense. Having finally made their way to DVD and Blu-ray thanks to Shout Factory’s double feature release, the two sequels have a new lease on life that will hopefully open the debate on which is really the superior of the two. All I know is I’m taking the one where a dude’s melon splatters while he's underwater. Rent it!

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