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.