Thursday, April 23, 2015

Scanner Cop (Pierre David, 1994)

Just as I was about to start questioning the logic behind casting Brion James as "Dr. Hampton," a doctor who works at a poorly run mental institution, he goes ahead and describes Zena, the character played by one of my favourite actresses, Hilary Shepard, as an "odd yet attractive brunette." I must say, I haven't agreed with something said in a movie this much in a long time. Oh, the reason I was about to question the logic of casting Brion James is because his role is so small. But that doesn't matter now, for I have seen Scanner Cop, the movie that boasts Hilary Shepard's finest performance. I know, a lot of you will say that Hilary's role as Divatox in Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie is her finest performance, but since I haven't seen that movie... (You call Hilary Shepard one of your favourite actresses, yet you haven't seen Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie? What's wrong with you?) The reason I haven't seen  Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie is complicated and sad. In other words, I don't feel like getting into it at this juncture. Speaking of sad, a quick show of hands: Anyone think it's kinda sad that I've seen Scanner Cop but I haven't seen Scanners? Wow, that's a lot of hands (don't worry, though, I'm working on fixing that).

Loosely based on the David Cronenberg film–which, according to some, is considered a classic (I'm sure it's nowhere near as awesome as Rabid, but I've heard nothing but good things)–about a small segment of the population (called "scanners") who can blow up people's heads with their minds, Scanner Cop is about a cop, who is also happens to be a scanner... You could call him a "scanner cop," but let's not state the obvi... You know what, since I'm feeling a tad impish today, let's call him that. After all, the film's called "Scanner Cop," not "Policeman Psychic," or... well, you get the idea.

Anyway, for a film that looks pretty stupid on paper, Scanner Cop is actually quite good. What am I saying? It's more than quite good, it's phenomenal.

Sure, a lot of this has to do with Hilary Shepard's manic performance as a goth-tinged psychic psycho-hosebeast who wantonly wields a spray bottle filled with what I'm assuming is chloroform, but the rest of the film is just as compelling.

A quick side note: After watching the film a second time, I have since learned that the stuff Hilary Shepard sprays is a "harmless neuro-blocker."

The explanation as to why the rest of the film is so darned compelling can be summed up with these six simple words... (Wait, let me guess: Darlanne Fluegel in a pleated skirt.) Hmmm, I was going to going to say: Help! Deformed baby heads are protruding from my Dad's forehead. But since that's not even close to being six words, I'm going to have to say, yes, the reason this film is so darned compelling is because To Live and Die in L.A.'s Darlanne Fluegel wears a pleated skirt in one scene.

Just kidding. Oh, don't get me wrong, I love pleated skirts (especially when paired with a matching blazer). That being said, the opening scene that features three miniature baby heads protruding from a scanner's forehead is pretty fucking compelling. In fact, it's so compelling, in some markets, the protruding baby head forehead guy is on the poster (and by "poster" I mean the VHS box).

In reality, however, the protruding baby head forehead guy doesn't really have baby heads protruding from his forehead. You see, this is what happens when scanners fail to take their meds. Designed to dampen their power, scanners who wish to lead normal lives take a special pill that will keep the noise that sounds like the music of Zoviet France at bay (the decision to not go see Zoviet France at The Rivoli back in the early '90s still haunts me to this day).

I think I should explain myself a little bit. Um, how should I put this? Okay, whenever a scanner goes into scanning mode, this monotonous droning noise erupts on the soundtrack. Designed to replicate the atmospheric conditions that are taking place inside a scanner's brain while scanning, the so-called "scanner noise" can be added to the list of things that I loved about this movie.

After the protruding baby head forehead guy is shot and killed by a slumlord during an altercation with police, the protruding baby head forehead guy's son, Samuel Staziak (Daniel Quinn), is adopted by Officer Peter Harrigan (Richard Grove), one of the very cops at the scene. Realizing that Samuel will probably spend the rest of his life being experimented by mad scientists, the cop decides the raise the kid, who, like his father, is a scanner, as his own.

Flash-forward fifteen years, and Officer Peter Harrigan, who is now Commander Peter Harrigan, is congratulating his son for graduating from the  police academy.

Meanwhile, a war on cops has just gotten underway, as average L.A. residents are murdering police officers all across the city.

Okay, it's not a "war" and it's not exactly happening "all across the city," but the fact that two police officers were murdered by seemingly random people on a single night is somewhat troubling to authorities. Putting Lieutenant Harry Brown (Mark Rolston) in charge of the case, Commander Harrigan hopes to catch the person responsible for these crimes because... well, it's his job. But don't forget, his son just graduated from the police academy and is about to hit the streets as a patrolman.

While the authorities are at a loss, we, the audience, are clued in as to who is responsible for these murders when we see Hilary Shepard's Zena appear onscreen for the very first time. Now, I'm not saying just because Zena is dressed like a Goth, with fortune teller overtones (think Sioxsie Sioux crossed with Stevie Nicks), that she's the one responsible. But let's get real people. Prejudice towards Goths and  fortune tellers runs deep in Hollywood.

Take the scene where Zena sneaks up on Cyndi Pass (who's wearing a leotard, yet she's carrying a tennis racket*). For a minute there I thought I was watching a public service ad about the dangers of Goths, especially Goths who do the bidding of mentally unstable individuals who look like Richard Lynch; by the way, if your horror or action movie doesn't star Richard Lynch, then you're doing something seriously wrong.

Nevertheless, I dig Gothic fashion and think fortune tellers are rad.

Giving the film a much needed splash of campiness, Hilary Shepard injects (literally at times) Scanner Cop with an off-kilter playfulness that Daniel Quinn, Richard Grove, Mark Rolstone, et al were unable to bring to the table.

Despite the fact I haven't seen the original, even I know it's not a scanner movie unless someone's head explodes. I won't spoil it for you by identifying the person whose head goes all kablooey, but everything that leads up to the head ruining scenes is... What was the word I used earlier? Oh yeah, phenomenal. I was particularly impressed with the Clive Barker-esque sequence that takes place in Hell, as some of the imagery is quite disturbing.          

* It's called multitasking, look into it.

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