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10 Mind-Blowing Facts About Scanners

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It’s been 35 years since David Cronenberg’s Scanners (literally) blew your brains for the first time. Since then, the Michael Ironside/Stephen Lack-starrer has developed into an undeniable cult hit that’s become a midnight movie staple at independent theaters everywhere. A sci-fi action flick known for its groundbreaking special effects, Scanners tells the story of a group of renegade scanners, a.k.a. humans with extraordinary psychic powers, on a mission to band together to rule the world—but not if one special uncorrupted scanner can help it. If it sounds bizarre, that's because everything about it is; it wouldn’t be a signature Cronenberg film if it wasn’t strange. Learn more about this 1981 gem with these 10 mind-blowing facts.

1. THE FAMOUS HEAD EXPLODING SCENE WAS ACCOMPLISHED WITH PET FOOD AND A SHOTGUN.

In the Criterion Collection edition of the film, the special effects team revealed how they pulled off the memorable scene. “Latex scraps, some wax, and just bits and bobs and a lot of stringy stuff that we figured would fly through the air a little bit better,” they noted. According to makeup artist Stephan Dupuis, they even used “leftover burgers.”

2. DAVID CRONENBERG MOVED THE HEAD EXPLOSION SCENE FROM THE BEGINNING OF THE FILM FOR LATE MOVIEGOERS.

Cronenberg cares about his audience, which is why he decided to move the head explosion scene from the beginning of the film—albeit reluctantly at first. “People tend to come late at films, they walk in after the first three minutes,” Cronenberg told Starburst. “For me, films are really made for an audience, like the way poets read their poetry for reactions and make changes based on that. I used to sneer at test previews but now I realize that it makes perfect sense. You get so close to something that you can’t objectively gauge on how an audience is going to react to something and you need that kind of resonance. I really agonized over that change for quite some time. It was suggested by somebody else, though I wasn’t forced into it at all.”

3. STEPHEN LACK STILL HAS HIS FAKE HEAD THAT EXPLODED.

Apparently, it’s a hit with fanboys. Stephen Lack, who starred as Cameron Vale, told Film Comment, “I went to a horror convention with my head, twice. The entire convention space was filled with booths of people that had expanded on Dick Smith’s original discoveries. It was fantastic! People like to pose with [the head]. If it were the seventies, people would be exposing their genitals to it. But those days are long gone—people don’t think that way anymore.”

4. CRONENBERG SHOT TWO ENDINGS TO SCANNERS.

According to Michael Ironside, who played Darryl Revok, he and Stephen Lack filmed a less exciting version of the ending. “With one ending, we had this psycho-battle between my brother and I and it didn’t work, we shot it right up until Christmas and sent the script to [special effects wizard] Dick Smith in New York and asked him what he could come up with in terms of cutting edge makeup,” Ironside explained. “You know, something that would give us a more memorable battle and a different ending. Dick then came up with the idea of the exploding heads and that was a very collaborative thing.”

5. ACCORDING TO LACK, THE SCANNERS SCRIPT WASN’T EVEN WRITTEN WHILE FILMING.

It’s no surprise that Cronenberg allegedly called Scanners his most frustrating film to make. In addition to delays in filming, the script wasn’t even completed when production commenced. “Not only was Scanners not rehearsed, but it wasn’t written,” Lack told Film Comment. “David was coming in with pink, blue, and yellow pages for the day for the version of the script that we were doing, and he was working on it right there. As a result I had to deal with the dialogue in such a way that I was not reacting to things, because the information hadn’t been given to my character in the linear progression of the story. If you chop it up and look at it, 50 percent of my dialogue is not an assertion of anything but rather a question: ‘You called me a Scanner, what does that mean?’ ‘You’re part of an organization, who are you?’ Everything is a freaking question!”

6. MICHAEL IRONSIDE WORE DUSTIN HOFFMAN’S EYES FROM LITTLE BIG MAN IN A CRUCIAL SCENE.

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Scanners was all about making its special effects work at all costs, which is why Ironside’s story about his peculiar eyes at the end of the film fits in perfectly. “There’s a scene … where I’m set on fire and my head comes up and those scleras they put on your eyes, they had scratched all my corneas,” Ironside recalled. “So the contact lenses they had made for me to change my eye color didn't fit properly because my eyes had been scratched. Dick Smith happened to have with him Dustin Hoffman’s eyes from Little Big Man and they were actually oversized, and you wouldn't normally do this because they have to be fitted, but when you see me come out from under that coat at the end of Scanners, those blue eyes of mine are Dustin Hoffman’s from Little Big Man.”

7. STEPHEN LACK FEARED FOR HIS LIFE DURING THE FIRST DAY OF FILMING THE MOVIE.

In an interview with Film Comment, Lack recalled feeling under-the-gun during one of his first scenes on set. “There we were, the first day of Scanners and they had me get into this 18-wheel truck with four gearshift levers and have me drive into the shot. It was horrifying. I never drove such a thing and I was pretty disoriented,” he explained. “We were set up on a feeder road to the highway, and all the camera crew and staff were there, and some car on the highway slowed down to gawk—and a truck on the highway rammed them from behind. There was a death and sirens, and the whole crew jumped over the storm fence to help out. I was given a slight reprieve of an hour to figure out the gears.”

8. JENNIFER O’NEILL’S CHARACTER KIM OBRIST WAS NAMED AFTER A REAL PERSON.

It turns out the badass lead female/kickass scanner in the film actually took her name from a real-life badass female, Scanners producer Claude Héroux’s assistant, Kim Obrist. Her only other credit is Alvin Rakoff’s Dirty Tricks, which was released the same year as Scanners.

9. ROBERT A. SILVERMAN, A.K.A. SCANNER BENJAMIN PIERCE, IS A REGULAR CRONENBERG COLLABORATOR.

A testament to his friendship with Cronenberg, not only did Robert Silverman appear in the director’s films Rabid, The Brood, Naked Lunch, and eXistenZ, but Cronenberg also made a cameo in another film Silverman starred in, Jason X.

10. A 2008 REMAKE ESSENTIALLY DISAPPEARED FROM THOUGHT.

In 2007, the trades—including Variety—began reporting on a Scanners remake that was to be directed by Saw II director Darren Lynn Bousman under Dimension Films and The Weinstein Company. To this day, it still hasn’t been put into production. However, two years ago, news of a TV version of the cult hit began circulating.

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Zach Hyman, HBO
10 Bizarre Sesame Street Fan Theories
Zach Hyman, HBO
Zach Hyman, HBO

Sesame Street has been on the air for almost 50 years, but there’s still so much we don’t know about this beloved children’s show. What kind of bird is Big Bird? What’s the deal with Mr. Noodle? And how do you actually get to Sesame Street? Fans have filled in these gaps with frequently amusing—and sometimes bizarre—theories about how the cheerful neighborhood ticks. Read them at your own risk, because they’ll probably ruin the Count for you.

1. THE THEME SONG CONTAINS SECRET INSTRUCTIONS.

According to a Reddit theory, the Sesame Street theme song isn’t just catchy—it’s code. The lyrics spell out how to get to Sesame Street quite literally, giving listeners clues on how to access this fantasy land. It must be a sunny day (as the repeated line goes), you must bring a broom (“sweeping the clouds away”), and you have to give Oscar the Grouch the password (“everything’s a-ok”) to gain entrance. Make sure to memorize all the steps before you attempt.

2. SESAME STREET IS A REHAB CENTER FOR MONSTERS.

Sesame Street is populated with the stuff of nightmares. There’s a gigantic bird, a mean green guy who hides in the trash, and an actual vampire. These things should be scary, and some fans contend that they used to be. But then the creatures moved to Sesame Street, a rehabilitation area for formerly frightening monsters. In this community, monsters can’t roam outside the perimeters (“neighborhood”) as they recover. They must learn to educate children instead of eating them—and find a more harmless snack to fuel their hunger. Hence Cookie Monster’s fixation with baked goods.

3. BIG BIRD IS AN EXTINCT MOA.

Big Bird is a rare breed. He’s eight feet tall and while he can’t really fly, he can rollerskate. So what kind of bird is he? Big Bird’s species has been a matter of contention since Sesame Street began: Big Bird insists he’s a lark, while Oscar thinks he’s more of a homing pigeon. But there’s convincing evidence that Big Bird is an extinct moa. The moa were 10 species of flightless birds who lived in New Zealand. They had long necks and stout torsos, and reached up to 12 feet in height. Scientists claim they died off hundreds of years ago, but could one be living on Sesame Street? It makes sense, especially considering his best friend looks a lot like a woolly mammoth.

4. OSCAR’S TRASH CAN IS A TARDIS.

Oscar’s home doesn’t seem very big. But as The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland revealed, his trash can holds much more than moldy banana peels. The Grouch has chandeliers and even an interdimensional portal down there! There’s only one logical explanation for this outrageously spacious trash can: It’s a Doctor Who-style TARDIS.

5. IT’S ALL A RIFF ON PLATO.

Dust off your copy of The Republic, because this is about to get philosophical. Plato has a famous allegory about a cave, one that explains enlightenment through actual sunlight. He describes a prisoner who steps out of the cave and into the sun, realizing his entire understanding of the world is wrong. When he returns to the cave to educate his fellow prisoners, they don’t believe him, because the information is too overwhelming and contradictory to what they know. The lesson is that education is a gradual learning process, one where pupils must move through the cave themselves, putting pieces together along the way. And what better guide is there than a merry kids’ show?

According to one Reddit theory, Sesame Street builds on Plato’s teachings by presenting a utopia where all kinds of creatures live together in harmony. There’s no racism or suffocating gender roles, just another sunny (see what they did there?) day in the neighborhood. Sesame Street shows the audience what an enlightened society looks like through simple songs and silly jokes, spoon-feeding Plato’s “cave dwellers” knowledge at an early age.

6. MR. NOODLE IS IN HELL.

Can a grown man really enjoy taking orders from a squeaky red puppet? And why does Mr. Noodle live outside a window in Elmo’s house anyway? According to this hilariously bleak theory, no, Mr. Noodle does not like dancing for Elmo, but he has to, because he’s in hell. Think about it: He’s seemingly trapped in a surreal place where he can’t talk, but he has to do whatever a fuzzy monster named Elmo says. Definitely sounds like hell.

7. ELMO IS ANIMAL’S SON.

Okay, so remember when Animal chases a shrieking woman out of the college auditorium in The Muppets Take Manhattan? (If you don't, see above.) One fan thinks Animal had a fling with this lady, which produced Elmo. While the two might have similar coloring, this theory completely ignores Elmo’s dad Louie, who appears in many Sesame Street episodes. But maybe Animal is a distant cousin.

8. COOKIE MONSTER HAS AN EATING DISORDER.

Cookie Monster loves to cram chocolate chip treats into his mouth. But as eagle-eyed viewers have observed, he doesn’t really eat the cookies so much as chew them into messy crumbs that fly in every direction. This could indicate Cookie Monster has a chewing and spitting eating disorder, meaning he doesn’t actually consume food—he just chews and spits it out. There’s a more detailed (and dark) diagnosis of Cookie Monster’s symptoms here.

9. THE COUNT EATS CHILDREN.

Can a vampire really get his kicks from counting to five? One of the craziest Sesame Street fan theories posits that the Count lures kids to their death with his number games. That’s why the cast of children on Sesame Street changes so frequently—the Count eats them all after teaching them to add. The adult cast, meanwhile, stays pretty much the same, implying the grown-ups are either under a vampiric spell or looking the other way as the Count does his thing.

10. THE COUNT IS ALSO A PIMP.

Alright, this is just a Dave Chappelle joke. But the Count does have a cape.

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17 Things to Know About René Descartes
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The French polymath René Descartes (1596-1650) lived after the Renaissance, but he personified that age's interest in mathematics, philosophy, art, and the nature of humanity. He made numerous discoveries and argued for ideas that people continue to grapple with. (His dualist distinction between mind and the brain, for example, continues to be debated by psychologists.) Get to know him better!

1. NOBODY CALLED HIM RENÉ.

Descartes went by a nickname and often introduced himself as “Poitevin” and signed letters as “du Perron.” Sometimes, he went so far to call himself the “Lord of Perron.” That’s because he had inherited a farm from his mother’s family in Poitou, in western France.

2. SCHOOL MADE HIM FEEL DUMBER.

From the age of 11 to 18, Descartes attended one of the best schools in Europe, the Jesuit College of Henry IV in La Flèche, France. In his later work Discourse on the Method, Descartes wrote that, upon leaving school, “I found myself involved in so many doubts and errors, that I was convinced I had advanced no farther in all my attempts at learning, than the discovery at every turn of my own ignorance."

3. HIS DAD WANTED HIM TO BE A LAWYER.

Descartes’s family was chock-full of lawyers, and the budding intellectual was expected to join them. He studied law at the University of Poitiers and even came home with a law degree in 1616. But he never entered the practice. In 1618, a 22-year-old Descartes enlisted as a mercenary in the Dutch States Army instead. There, he would study military engineering and become fascinated with math and physics.

4. HE CHANGED CAREER PATHS THANKS TO A SERIES OF DREAMS.

In 1618, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Ferdinand II, attempted to impose Catholicism on anybody living within his domain. The result of this policy would be the Thirty Years' War. It would also prompt Descartes, a Catholic, to switch allegiances to a Bavarian army fighting for the Catholic side. But on his travels, he stopped in the town of Ulm. There, on the night of November 10, he had three dreams that convinced him to change his life’s path. “Descartes took from them the message that he should set out to reform all knowledge,” philosopher Gary Hatfield writes in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

5. HE COULD BE EASILY DISTRACTED BY BRIGHT AND SHINY OBJECTS.

In 1628, Descartes moved to the Netherlands and spent nine months doggedly working on a theory of metaphysics. Then he got distracted. In 1629, a number of false suns—called parhelia, or “sun dogs”—were seen near Rome. Descartes put his beloved metaphysics treatise on the back burner and devoted his time to explaining the phenomenon. It was a lucky distraction: It led to his work The World, or Treatise on Light.

6. HE LAID THE GROUNDWORK FOR ANALYTIC GEOMETRY ...

In 1637, Descartes published his groundbreaking Discourse on the Method, where he took the revolutionary step of describing lines through mathematical equations. According to Hatfield, “[Descartes] considered his algebraic techniques to provide a powerful alternative to actual compass-and-ruler constructions when the latter became too intricate.” You might have encountered his system in high school algebra: They’re called Cartesian coordinates.

7. ... AND THE REST OF WESTERN PHILOSOPHY.

Everybody knows Descartes for his phrase Cogito, ergo sum (which originally appeared in French as "Je pense, donc je suis"), or "I think, therefore I am." The concept appeared in many of his texts. To understand what it means, some context is helpful: At the time, many philosophers claimed that truth was acquired through sense impressions. Descartes disagreed. He argued that our senses are unreliable. An ill person can hallucinate. An amputee can feel phantom limb pain. People are regularly deceived by their own eyes, dreams, and imaginations. Descartes, however, realized that his argument opened a door for "radical doubt": That is, what was stopping people from doubting the existence of, well, everything? The cogito argument is his remedy: Even if you doubt the existence of everything, you cannot doubt the existence of your own mind—because doubting indicates thinking, and thinking indicates existing. Descartes argued that self-evident truths like this—and not the senses—must be the foundation of philosophical investigations.

8. HE'S THE REASON YOUR MATH TEACHER MAKES YOU CHECK YOUR WORK.

Descartes was obsessed with certainty. In his book Rules for the Direction of the Mind, “he sought to generalize the methods of mathematics so as to provide a route to clear knowledge of everything that human beings can know,” Hatfield writes. His advice included this classic chestnut: To solve a big problem, break it up into small, easy-to-understand parts—and check each step often.

9. HE LIKED TO HIDE.

Descartes had a motto, which he took from Ovid: “Who lives well hidden, lives well.” When he moved to the Netherlands, he regularly changed apartments and deliberately kept his address a secret. Some say it's because he simply desired privacy for his philosophical work, or that he was avoiding his disapproving family. In his book titled Descartes, philosopher A. C. Grayling makes another suggestion: "Descartes was a spy."

10. HE WASN'T AFRAID OF CRITICS. IN FACT, HE RE-PUBLISHED THEM.

When Descartes was revising his Meditations on First Philosophy [PDF], he planned to send the manuscript to “the 20 or 30 most learned theologians” for criticism—a sort of proto-peer review. He collected seven objections and published them in the work. (Descartes, of course, had the last word: He responded to each criticism.)

11. HE COULD THROW SHADE WITH THE BEST OF THEM.

In the 1640s, Descartes’s pupil and friend Henricus Regius published a broadsheet that distorted Descartes’s theory of the mind. (Which, put briefly, posits that the material body and immaterial mind are separate and distinct.) The two men had a falling out, and Descartes wrote a rebuttal with a barbed title that refused to even acknowledge Regius’s manifesto by name: It was simply called “Comments on a Certain Broadsheet.”

12. HE NEVER BELIEVED MONKEYS COULD TALK.

There’s a “fun fact” parading around that suggests Descartes believed monkeys and apes could talk. He believed no such thing. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Descartes denied that animals were even conscious, let alone capable of speech. The factoid comes from a misreading of a letter Descartes had written in 1646, in which he attributed the belief to “savages.”

13. HE TOTALLY HAD THE HOTS FOR CROSS-EYED WOMEN.

In a letter to Queen Christina of Sweden, Descartes explained that he had a cross-eyed playmate as a child. “I loved a girl of my own age ... who was slightly cross-eyed; by which means, the impression made in my brain when I looked at her wandering eyes was joined so much to that which also occurred when the passion of love moved me, that for a long time afterward, in seeing cross-eyed women, I felt more inclined to love them than others.”

14. WHEN HE MET BLAISE PASCAL, THEY GOT INTO AN ARGUMENT ... ABOUT VACUUMS.

In 1647, a 51-year-old Descartes visited the 24-year-old prodigy and physicist Blaise Pascal. Their meeting quickly devolved into a heated argument over the concept of a vacuum—that is, the idea that air pressure could ever be reduced to zero. (Descartes said it was impossible; Pascal disagreed.) Later, Descartes wrote a letter that, depending on your translation, said that Pascal had “too much vacuum in his head.”

15. HIS WORK WAS BANNED BY THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.

Back in the late 1630s, the theologian Gisbert Voetius had convinced the academic senate of the University of Utrecht to condemn the philosopher’s work. (Descartes was Catholic, but his suggestion that the universe began as a “chaotic soup of particles in motion,” in Hatfield's words, was contrary to orthodox theology.) In the 1660s, his works were placed on the church’s Index of Prohibited Books.

16. HE REGULARLY SLEPT UNTIL NOON (AND TRYING TO BREAK THE HABIT MIGHT HAVE KILLED HIM).

Descartes was not a morning person. He often snoozed 12 hours a night, from midnight until lunchtime. In fact, he worked in bed. (Sleep, he wisely wrote, was a time of “nourishment for the brain.”) But according to the Journal of Historical Neuroscience, he may have had a sleep disorder that helped end his life. A year before his death, Descartes had moved to Stockholm to take a job tutoring Queen Christina, a devoted early-riser who forced Descartes to change his sleep schedule. Some believe the resulting sleep deprivation weakened his immune system and eventually killed him.

17. HIS SKELETON HAS TRAVELED FAR AND WIDE.

Descartes died in Stockholm in 1650 and was buried outside the city. Sixteen years later, his corpse was exhumed and taken to Paris. During the French Revolution, his bones were moved to an Egyptian sarcophagus at the Museum of French Monuments. Decades later, when plans were made to rebury Descartes in an abbey, officials discovered that most of his bones—including his skull—were missing. Shortly after, a Swedish scientist discovered a newspaper advertisement attempting to sell the polymath’s noggin [PDF]. Today, his head is in a collection at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris.

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