Scalps is a supernatural themed slasher film from 1983, directed by Fred Olen Ray. Now, 1983 was a bloody good year for slasher films, but does Scalps match up to its peers? Read on, Fiends, to find out…
6 college students head out into the California desert, on a field trip to illegally dig up native American artifacts. As you would expect, they receive a grim warning from a “crazy” local, which they choose to ignore. Upon reaching their isolated dig site, they begin to experience bizarre happenings, which ultimately lead to death.
So, the plot is about as simple and basic as many of its contemporaries. Unlike many other slashers, however, Scalps amps up the supernatural aspects of the film. Indeed, for the most part very little happens beyond a few visions and characters acting oddly. Most of the films expected gore only happens in the last 30 minutes or so of the films somewhat slight 82 minute run time. And even then, the gore is incredibly restrained by the standards of both the time & genre.
Most of the acing is perfunctory, pitched at a level somewhat below “mainstream” quality. This only adds to the films strange charm though. Indeed, most of the young cast appear to have never made another film after this one, which should tell you a lot about their abilities. These young actors are supplemented in the films opening and closing scenes by some Old Hollywood veterans, in the shape of Kirk Alyn (the original Superman) and Caroll Borland (best remembered for Mark Of The Vampire). Good old Forrest J. Ackerman also pops up for a 2 line cameo. This use of veteran talent would become a bit of a Fred Olen Ray trademark as his directorial career progressed.
Sound & Vision:
88 Films have managed to create a 2k quality restoration of an original negative, which looks reasonable. The film originally cost just $15k to film, and was shot on a variety of 16mm cameras. Most of the gore, however had to be sourced from a video source due to the original being badly re-edited by a VHS distributor down to 75 minutes. And, sadly, this video footage is of an incredibly poor standard. Despite this, it does mean we get the film as mostly intended by the distributor. (Note: Fred Olen Ray never got to edit the film himself, as the distributors did this themselves). Audio is perfunctory, being a very basic mono track and clearly redubbed after the filming.
88 Films have put together a reasonable package here, as part of their Slasher Classics Collection. We get the following:
An original theatrical trailer.
A 22 minute retrospective on the film featuring Fred Olen Ray amongst others.
A critical review by Justin Kerswell.
An audio commentary by Fred Olen Ray.
Also included is an 88 Films trailer reel and a reversible sleeve.
Overall, this film is well worth purchasing as an interesting detour from the standard slasher formula. The package is nice, and it is easily available for under £10 on Blu Ray.
Click to enlarge.