'Lost in the Multiplex's' very own Lord of the Flea-pit, Julian White writes on film and horror for various sites and magazines, as well as blogging about cult movies. He plans to publish a long horror novel called 'The Diviners' just as soon as the strange voice coming from the filing cabinet stops dictating revisions. He currently lives in the 1980s.
Website URL: http://diabolicalcinema.blogspot.com
1991 saw the release of two belated direct-to-video sequels to David Cronenberg's Scanners, both helmed by the little-known Canadian director Christian Duguay. The first of these, Scanners II: The New Order, takes place some twenty years after the events of the first film. Country boy David (David Hewlett) moves to the city to attend veterinary college, only for the noisy and vibrant surroundings to trigger a disturbing upwelling of power within him. He, it transpires, is that rare thing, a functioning scanner – rare because most of his kind are either crazy (driven mad by their condition) or “dying drug addicts”, hooked on a narcotic called EPH-2.
Scanners (1981) is the penultimate movie of Cronenberg's glorious first period, which saw him working from his own highly original scripts and delivering a chilly, futuristic vision which owed more to the novels of J.G. Ballard than to any other filmmaker. Its protagonist is Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack), a half-crazed down and out who is recruited by Dr Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan) after mind-zapping a woman in a shopping mall. Ruth, a “psycho-pharmacist,” reveals that Vale is a “scanner”, a person with telekinetic abilities. There are others like him – indeed, Ruth has been running a research project into that very topic. Unfortunately, his test subjects are being systematically murdered by Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside), the leader of the “scanner underground.” Ruth (after first treating his new protégé with Ephemerol, a drug that “controls the flow of telepathy”, and getting him to hone his psychic skills against a yoga master) wants Vale to infiltrate the underground and stop Revok's “insane crusade.”
Claude Chabrol's second feature is a kind of mirror image of his first. In Le Beau Serge, a city boy goes to the countryside and soon finds himself out of his depth among the long-brewing passions of village life. In Les Cousins (1959), country bumpkin Charles (Gerard Blain) comes to Paris to study for a law exam at the same time as his urbane cousin Paul (Jean-Claude Brialy). The pair stay together in a chic pied-a-terre belonging to their uncle, an international businessman with a shady reputation, and Paul – who has already landed himself in hot water, apparently getting a girl pregnant – takes it upon himself to introduce Charles to his citifed friends. As these include characters such as Clovis (Claude Cerval), an unsavoury older man who tries to make a bit of cash on the side by pimping out Paul's female acquaintances, Charles quickly becomes disillusioned.
Claude Chabrol is generally thought of as the French Hitchcock, a master manipulator of celluloid. But this feature, his first, dating from 1958, is more akin to early Fellini than to the slick thrillers for which he is famous.
Brian Trenchard-Smith is the David Lean of Ozploitation movies. His trademark: cheap, trashy, madcap tales presented with the deep polish and perfect sheen that you usually associate with high end heritage cinema. Dead End Drive-In (1986) is an excellent example. In the near future, society is on the brink of collapse and hoodlums prowl the streets. Clean-living minivan driver Jimmy (Ralph Macchio lookalike Ned Manning) borrows his brother's immaculate '56 Chevy in order to take his girlfriend Carmen (Natalie McCurry) to a drive-in movie theatre (which, by the way, happens to be showing another Trenchard-Smith classic, Turkey Shoot). Unfortunately, while they're canoodling on the backseat, two of the car's wheels are stolen... by the police. They thus find themselves having to stay there overnight – then indefinitely, as Thompson (Peter Whitford), the drive-in owner, reveals that there is no way of communicating with the outside world or of leaving on foot. “You're here until the government decides what to do with you” – them and the other 191 assorted teddy boys, punks and skinheads who have been caught out in the same way. Doling out blankets and meal tickets which can be redeemed at the on-site diner, he encourages them to settle in and make the best of it.