How The Scanners TV Version Ruined The Iconic Exploding Head Scene

Scanners’ exploding head moment is one of David Cronenberg’s most impactful scenes, but here’s how the TV version spoiled this sequence.

The exploding head scene is an unforgettable moment from David Cronenberg’s Scanners, but here’s how the TV version spoiled the moment. David Cronenberg got his start as a director making low-budget horror movies in Canada, and what made his work stand out was that in addition to being disturbing and gory, they also tackled interesting psychological themes. Movies like Shivers and The Brood were crafted with real intelligence, which made their horror setpieces all the more biting.

Probably one of the most defining images David Cronenberg ever crafted was with 1981’s Scanners. The movie is more of a sci-fi thriller than a straight-ahead horror movie and depicts a battle between a group of psychics. Genre great Michael Ironside plays the villain Revok, and viewers are left in no doubt about his powers during an early scene during a psychic demonstration, where he causes the head of another “scanner” to explode in gory detail in front of a packed audience.

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Scanners’ exploding head moment has been gif-ed and memed to death now, but it was a truly shocking and startling effect when the movie debuted in 1981. Making Scanners was a stressful experience for David Cronenberg, as a bizarre financing arrangement saw him essentially writing and scouting locations for the movie while he was making it. It may not be one of his favorite projects as a result, but its success put him on the map for American viewers. Of course, the exploding head moment is a big reason why, but such a moment was a little too much for TV versions, where it was swapped out with an alternate take.

scanners 1981 tv version

Instead of Michael Ironside’s Revok causing the other Scanner – played by Louis Del Grande – to erupt in viscera, TV edits showed an alternate take where the character suffers an intense heart attack instead. This alternate take is obviously way less effective, but oddly enough, David Cronenberg himself found it more disturbing. To his mind, this version focuses on the pain and suffering of the other Scanner as he dies, and lacks the almost comical payoff of the head erupting.

While Scanners would spawn sequels and even a spinoff subseries with the Scanner Cop movies, Cronenberg himself wasn’t involved with any of them. Spiral: From The Book Of Saw director Darren Lynn Bousman was once set to direct a remake of Scanners, but backed out of the project when Cronenberg himself refused to give it his blessing. Even if a remake does ever go ahead, it’s unlikely to ever top the impact of the original exploding head sequence.

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