Thursday, 10 June 2010

We Didn't Start The Fire! [Reviews: Firestarter and Scanners]

If you have supernatural powers then watch your back: there’s a good chance that a shady government agency is on your tail. This agency will be headed by an MD or research doctor, probably the one who created you and your fellow superhumans during a trial of some experimental drug or other. Give them the chance and they will take you back to an Institute built from 1960s concrete blocks, where they will watch you demonstrate your powers from behind a large glass screen.

Back in the 80s they knew how to make supernatural powers films: Firestarter (1984) and Scanners (1981). Firestarter is an adaptation of a Stephen King novel featuring the Shop agency. Pyrokinetic heroine Charlie, played by Drew Barrymore shortly after E.T., is the offspring of two experimental subjects. Charlie spends most of her time on the run but as she gains control of her powers – she is insanely powerful – she stands her ground and takes on the Shop.

Scanners is David Cronenberg’s film about the most hard-core telepaths ever. Telepathy in Scanners does not involve asking you to think of a number. It’s a hostile takeover of your nervous system – as well as controlling the actions of their target, a Scanner can stop their heartbeat or breathing, trigger epileptic seizures, or in a classic scene ramp up their blood pressure until their head explodes. Experimental drug? Check. 60s architecture Institute with glass screen? Check. Sinister MD? Check – Dr. Ruth played by Patrick McGoohan.

Few recent films in this genre have been quite as intense as either Firestarter or Scanners, although there are echoes of them in Unbreakable and Jumper. Although they might share the same subject matter they don’t feel like superhero films.

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