After the disappointing Scanners III I've got to admit I wasn't holding out much hope for the rest of the series. I assumed it was going to be all downhill. However Scanner Cop is one of those few sequels that is actually a huge improvement on the previous entries. I might even go so far to say that it is a better (if admittedly trashier) film than Cronenberg's original. Certainly of all the Scanners films this one has the strongest plot and the best protagonist. I think it was a genius idea by Pierre David, the producer of the series who also wrote and directed this film, to make it a mash-up of cop thriller and sci-fi horror. Those are two film genres I absolutely love and to have them together in one film is awesome.
Scanner Cop stars Daniel Quinn as Sam Staziak, a young 20-something rookie police officer who has kept his scanning abilities secret all his life. In a brief prologue, we learn that his father was a scanner too who stopped taking the Ephemerol drug and slowly went crazy; eventually committing suicide. When a group of LA cops start getting killed in bizarre and mysterious circumstances Sam believes that the culprit may also be a scanner. He reveals his abilities to his colleagues and superiors and they begrudgingly assign him the case. However, in order to use his psychic powers he has to stop taking Empherol. Will he be able to catch the criminal mastermind in time? Or will he go insane like his father?
Like I said, what I love about this film is the way it bolts all the usual Scanner elements (exploding heads, mind reading etc) on to a detective story. Obviously this isn't the first time this has been done. There was a brief subplot in Scanners II where David Hewlett's character aids the police in capturing a serial poisoner that covered similar ground. However Scanner Cop really expands on the idea and finds fresh ground to cover. I love how the cliche of there being a time limit for the cop to catch the killer is flipped on its head. Here the time limit is that Sam has to catch the killer before he, himself, goes crazy. They also try some interesting new ideas that have been seen before. For instance, there's a really weird sequence in which Sam scans a person's mind as they are dying which transports him into some nightmarish subconscious world that reminded me a lot of Tarsem's The Cell.
The acting isn't anything to write home about but it's all pretty solid. I quite liked Daniel Quinn as Sam. He isn't your traditionally handsome leading man but he's got a certain geeky charisma and his character really grows on you. There's also some good recognisable character actors in the supporting roles like Mark Rolston (Drake from Aliens) and Richard Grove (Henry the Red from Army of Darkness). The best performance is easily comes from Richard Lynch who is absolutely fantastic as the villain Karl Glock. The combination of his scarred face (which I never realised until recently was the result of him setting himself on fire while on drugs as a young man!) and scratchy voice makes him one of the most perfect movie bad guys.
The special effects used in the film (though occasionally cheap looking) are consistently innovative. They were done by John Carl Buechler who did a lot of effects work for 80s horror and sci-fi films. He also directed Friday the 13th VIII: The New Blood. The best sequence is definitely the opening scene in which Sam's father is going crazy and thinks that tiny little heads are popping out of his face. It's really well realised practical effect. The final battle is also quite well done and the filmmakers come up with a clever twist as why Sam can't just make Glock's head explode.
Overall, Scanner Cop is a great little b-movie. It's got an engaging plot, decent performances and crazy violence. What more could a b-movie fan possibly want?
Weirdly, this film is titled Scanners IV: The Showdown in some countries. I don't know why they did that because actually - for the first time in the series - this is a direct sequel to the previous entry. I've got to say I'm glad they went this route because there was definitely some more mileage to be had in watching Daniel Quinn solve more cases (and pull increasingly silly looking faces). The film has a slightly different feel from the previous one and I think that's because Pierre David went back to just producing and let Mark Sevi and Steve Barnett write and direct it.
The film picks up the story of Sam Staziak a few years later, having now been made a detective - he's also sporting some seriously non-police regulation long hair, but whatever. Sam is now fully in control of his psychic powers and regularly uses them to help solve cases. Life is good until evil scanner Karl Volkin (Patrick Kilpatrick) manages to break out of prison and sets out to kill Staziak for putting him away in the first place. In an interesting twist Volkin has learnt a new scanner trick whereby he can "suck" the life force out of weaker scanners, like a vampire, in order to get more powerful. Will Sam find him and take him down in time? Or will Volkin be too powerful?
Scanner Cop II is a decent sequel that I'd say is only a notch below the previous entry. It's a very fast-paced script. Instead of the villain being a mystery, like the previous film, we see Volkin from the very beginning which creates a different dynamic. My only criticism is that a lot of interesting elements from previous entries have been dropped. For instance, Sam no longer has to worry about whether or not to take Emphemerol anymore. He's now on a new prototype drug that means he can whip out his powers anytime with no drawbacks. The filmmakers also take him out of uniform and turn him into a generic 90s leather jacket-wearing maverick cop. Although it's the same actor and the same character name, Sam doesn't feel like the same guy we met in the last film.
The whole idea of Volkin sucking the life force out of scanners is cool concept though. It kind of reminded me a little of the Highlander movies where immortals get more powerful after killing other immortals. The film also has a very cool sequence early on in which Sam makes to single-handedly solves a hostage situation by scanning all the terrorists minds and making them think he isn't in the room with them. It made me think that if the Scanner Cop movies weren't so gory they would make a pretty cool TV show. The effects are still very good though maybe a little less gory than previous films. They go a bit more down the telekinesis angle in this film with Volkin, at one point, controlling a forklift truck with his mind, using it to try and kill Staziak.
Like previous entries the best performance comes from the main bad guy Patrick Kilpatrick (what a great name!) whose hulking figure and creepy looking face do most of the heavy lifting. Quinn is decent again. Like I said they changed up his character to make him hipper which was a shame. Most of the supporting cast is pretty weak. Robert Forster plays the police captain this time. This was a few years before his Jackie Brown comeback. He mostly sleepwalks through his lines. There's an hilariously bad bit where he explains Sam's new powers to a random police officer. It was a poorly written bit of exposition to start with but Forster makes it twice as bad with his delivery. I mean just look at this screenshot!
All in all, Scanner Cop II is a pleasing little b-movie. If you liked the first Scanner Cop there's no reason you shouldn't track this down.
For some alternative (but no less positive) reviews check out:
Mitch at Video Vacuum's review of Scanner Cop
Ty and Brett at Comeuppance Reviews review of Scanner Cop II