Ever Wonder How They Made the Head Explode in 'Scanners'? Wonder No More!

ScannersScanners, David Cronenberg's 1981 film that defies explanation (you really have to see it, as any synopsis will sound kind of ridiculous; I'll give a really half-baked one shortly, though) is justly famous for not only its mind-bending narrative, but its torrent of effects, including one scene where, well, a guy's head explodes. Check out this video and see how they did it!

In Scanners, the people who lend the film its title possess a telepathic ability which, in the film's universe, manifests as ability to control another's body, as well as hear their thoughts. Or, you know, explode their heads. (NOTE: if you are reading this, you almost certainly know that.) In the most famous scene from the film, an executive (who is a scanner himself) from the evil ConSec has his cranium demolished by a renegade scanner who is totally not down with ConSec and all their nefarious plans to weaponize other scanners. But how did they do it? Well, prepare to find out how Special Effects Supervisor Gary Zeller and Special Makeup Artist Stephan Dupuis made that head (which belongs to Canadian actor Louis Del Grande, for the record) explode! 

Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=0O_KrHjcF_c

And, in case you wanted to see the event in its proper dramatic context, here's the original from the 1981 film:

Well, now you know the answer. So go forth and impress your friends with your new-found knowledge, and if they doubt you, then send them here and let them see for themselves!

[via io9 & FilmmakerIQ]

Your Comment


Love it. When in doubt -- blow it the f*ck up!

July 15, 2014 at 4:34PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

John K.

I lifted that effect a few years back for a short video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JUYFPw8G2JQ

July 15, 2014 at 6:10PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


The story is actually a bit more interesting than that. I worked briefly on Vigilante as an assistant to Gary Zeller and he told me the story of how the Scanners head explosion was accomplished. It was basically the story as told here with one further, rather crucial detail. The shotgun shells Zeller used were loaded with dried lentils. That way there would be no danger of buckshot ricochets. He figured after the did the desired damage to the dummy head, the lentils would just disintegrate on contact with the ceiling. :)

July 15, 2014 at 7:39PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

Andy D.

That scene blew my mind (no pun intended there) when I was a kid. I had to step through the shot frame-by-frame on the VHS machine. Still looks amazing after all these years.

July 18, 2014 at 9:30AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

Ron I

Organic FX, so much more interesting than soulless CGI

August 9, 2014 at 5:45AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM