Artisan sets ‘Scanners’

Thriller redo to offer more paranoia, special effects

In its first substantial fright foray since “The Blair Witch Project,” Artisan Pictures will remake “Scanners,” the 1981 David Cronenberg thriller best remembered for its exploding head finale.

Artisan Pictures president of development and production Richard Saperstein made the deal with rights holders Pierre David and Rene Malo, who’ll produce with Clark Peterson.

Original film revolved around the attempt by a scientist to infiltrate an underground movement of “scanners,” people with extraordinary telepathic abilities who are using them to take over the world. The Cronenberg-scripted film touched on paranoia and terrorism conspiracies, themes that will be amped up in the contemporized version. Also improved will be the special effects used for the signature gray-matter grenade finale.

David ran a large indie production company in Canada that exploited tax shelter benefits to make that film along with the Cronenberg-directed “The Brood” and “Videodrome.” Since Malo financed them, he held the rights, which explains why the writer-director wasn’t involved in the transaction.

“We were approached by Artisan just as we were about to hire a showrunner to do a TV series based on ‘Scanners,’ ” said David. “But they persuaded us the film could reach new audiences unfamiliar with the original,” he explained.

“The original was more sophisticated than the slasher films coming out at that time, and it is considered something of a classic to the generation of filmmakers we will be trying to involve in the remake,” said Saperstein, who was brought in by Amir Malin and Robert Cooper to ramp up a slate of mid-budget fare. “This kind of film is exactly what we want to do — an elevated and stylish genre film which can be made for a reasonable budget.”

Artisan will look increasingly to horror, a genre that put the film company on the map with the wildly profitable “Blair Witch,” then stunted its growth when the sequel flopped. Undaunted, Artisan Pictures is stirring the “Witch” cauldron with a possible third film that would be done with the original filmmakers, who didn’t take part in the sequel.

“Scanners” will be shepherded by Artisan creative execs Patrick Gunn, Erik Baiers and Rachel Murray.

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