David Cronenberg's thriller Scanners, out on Criterion DVD and Blu-ray this week, arrived in theaters in early 1981 following in the wake of mind-control movies like Carrie and The Fury, both directed by Brian De Palma. All three movies focused on the darker possibilities of mind control in the modern age, which fit the tenor of the times. In contrast, the first installments of the Star Wars series argued for a more complex view, but those films were categorized as science fiction, and we can't imagine anyone defending the idea of using the Force to fly a modern jet fighter nowadays.
How have things played out in mind-control movies since Scanners was released -- for good or for "the dark side"? Consider a few examples.
Her parents took part in an experimental drug study, and now young Drew Barrymore can start fires just by thinking about them. Unless you forgot your matches and need to start a campfire, we'll have to classify this one as a "dark side" mind-control movie.
The Puppet Masters (1994)
Even more terrifying than the idea of mind-controlling humans is the thought that slimy little alien creatures might seize command of our brains, as illustrated in this tight and twisty thriller.
Disturbing Behavior (1998)
A collision of high tech and mind control alters the behavior of unruly high school students, but it affects them more profoundly -- and for the worse -- than anticipated.
The remake gave Carrie a little more opportunity to show the destructive power of her mind. It also demonstrated more explicitly her reluctance to use her abilities and that she felt remorse for what she'd done. Except for getting revenge on the mean kids who'd bulled her -- that was sweet.
Patrick: Evil Awakens (2014)
Patrick is described to a new nurse as "brain dead," but it soon becomes apparent to her that the comatose young man is capable of communicating with her -- and controlling her, as well, in a most unpleasant manner.