About a decade after the original Scanners was produced, producer Pierre David took advantage of his rights to this languishing potential franchise and cranked out a couple of sequels back to back.  Scanners II lead the pack, offering an attempt to make a film that could stand on its own feet while also continuing some story elements from the first film for fans.  The result is second division stuff, particularly when compared to the original film,  yet it has an odd, potboiler-type charm for the horror crowd.

This time the hero is David (David Hewlett), a young veterinary student suffering from serious headaches.  After a violent confrontation with some robbers in a grocery store, he discovers he is a “scanner”: in other words, he can control the nervous systems of others with his mind.  His abilities are noticed by Forrester (Yves Ponton), a cop with political ambitions who is working with Morse (Tom Butler), a doctor who is working on a drug to control scanners.

Forrester and Morse want to create a scanner army to do their bidding – and David looks like an ideal candidate.  However, he runs off after being forced to use his powers to further Forrester’s ambitions  and Forrester sends his men to hunt him down, including a powerful, insane scanner named Drak (Raoul Trujillo).  David’s only hope lies in finding his long-lost sister Julie (Deborah Raffin), who can help him understand his past and how to use his powers to fight Forrester.

The opening sequence of Scanners II sets the tone for what follows: a freaked-out Drak wanders into a video arcade and lets his scanning abilities go wild, resulting in a panic as the games overload and erupt in showers of sparks.  It doesn’t make a lot of sense but it’s flashy and exciting in a kneejerk, visceral way.

The same could be said for Scanners II itself.  B.J. Nelson’s script isn’t that interested in character depth or narrative logic – and often shamelessly recycles scenes and concepts from the first film – but it offers up a string of oft-bloody setpieces and the occasional high-concept wrinkle, including a new scanning trick where a scanner can “inhabit” the body of a subject while still using their powers.

The performances enhance the film’s second division vibe: Hewlett is pleasant but bland as the hero, Ponton gives a one-note performance for a one-note villain characterization and Trujillo overacts absurdly as the “bad scanner” of the piece.  Raffin does the best acting in the film (it’s also the subtlest acting in the film).  That said, these performances actually fit the film well – this is a cheap, gleefully garish thrill machine where Trujillo and Ponton’s hammy work looks like part of the design rather than a flaw.

The film’s best element is the energetic, visually stylish direction by Christian Duguay, who would carve out a prolific career doing b-movie action and sci-fi fare during the ’90s and ’00s.  He goes all-out with the mobile camerawork, music-video editing and plenty of dazzling colors.  His approach really pumps up the frequent action and shock setpieces, which deliver plenty of blood and the expected exploding heads.  He can’t cover over the plot holes but his adrenalized pacing helps the viewer rush right by them.

In short, Scanners II might not stack up to the original Scanners – but it was never really designed to.  This is your classic cash-in sequel and it simply aims to deliver a fast-moving, garish double helping of the most exploitable elements from the first film.  On that level, it succeeds nicely – and if you’re in the right potboiler-craving sort of mood, all those scenes of actors contorting their faces and exploding heads just might raise a smile.

Blu-Ray Notes: Scanners II just made its debut on blu-ray in the U.S. via a new blu-ray/DVD combo pack from Scream Factory that pairs it with Scanners III.  The blu-ray was viewed for this review and the results are pretty impressive, offering a clean, detail image with plenty of vivid colors.  The film’s original stereo mix is presented in lossless form on the blu-ray and sounds pretty robust.  There are no special features to speak of but two films in two formats for one modest price is a pretty decent deal in and of itself.