BADass SINema Unearthed - Blu-ray Review
- Published Date
- by Loron Hays
Six college students. A station wagon. An archaeological dig. And a tent. Those are the elements at play in 1983's uber-bloody Scalps. Written and directed by Fred Olen Ray (Deep Space), this effective horror flick is as minimalistic as it gets. It was filmed in mere days, features a cast that went on to do nothing, and cost $15000 to make so anyone expecting this release to look pristine is going be pissed. Yet this 16 mm film continues to be one of the FEW films that absolutely keeps me up at night. To this day, whenever I hear about vengeful spirits I can't help BUT think about those at the center of Scalps.
Okay, so let's get the awful stuff out of the way. Scalps is nowhere near up to snuff when compared alongside other b-movies. There's no polish whatsoever. In fact, for this limited edition transfer, we even roll out some VHS inserts from surviving material. The film was heavily censored and, unfortunately, the surviving footage can only be sourced from VHS. Now, I must confess, the restored inserts look perfectly at home alongside the other material.
The editing is choppy and the camera (at times) moves solely to improve the audio pickups it seems. There are some nice shots, though. One in the back of a pickup truck is especially appealing. Of course, this is a poor man's horror film but that doesn't negate what it successfully does with its dime. Sure, the possession at the meaty center of the picture gives way to Slasher-like aspects but the film is still good for a twisted haunt or two. And it kicks everything off with an engaging kill at the onset of the picture, thanks to the mighty anger of Black Claw.
While there are several interesting shots of a floating native head inserted throughout, much of the supernatural comes across as very random. This builds a somewhat surreal experience. The whole 16mm look of the film – especially for those audiences not yet introduced to the original The Hills Have Eyes – will sour a lot of people. For myself, I think if this puppy looked clean and smelled sweet it would kind of muck it up. I like my horror dark and twisted and that's exactly what Scalps is.
What the horror film does tremendously well is to create an unsettling atmosphere that is very moody. With native drums off out in the hills and a hypnotic electronic score that never breaks its spell, Scalps delivers a method of madness that resonates as well as its shocker of an ending. It can be viewed – through modern eyes – as an unflinching look at white ignorance and stupidity. Yes, they desecrate graves and, yes, they act a fool. The six victims of this vengeful spirit never stood a chance – even if the kindly folks at the car repair shop tried to warn them.
These young adults – inspired by their anthropology professor – go to a remote area of the American southwest on an archeological dig. Their presence; however, upsets a ghostly shaman who haunts the land and, as they continue to talk ill of the natives who once lived there, they become his targets.
The weird ghost Indian head moments give way to more strange occurrences and, as the kids enter the haunted area, we see a weird lion-headed native spirit who curls his upper lip at their approach. All of these strange edits and inserts work to build an unshakable, otherworldly film experience, culminating on a dark night of campfire talking and weird rhythmic drumming in the distance. Oh, yes, there WILL BE BLOOD. A possession or two incurs and throats are slit. Of course, there is also the obligatory scalp handling suggested by the film's title. All of this is practical and appreciated. Some effects are far too realistic and will make you squirm.
Scalps arrives on Blu-ray from director Fred Olen Ray's Retromedia label in a limited edition of 2000 units. All the censored bits have been restored to the film. Scoop yours up NOW.
MPAA Rating: R.
Runtime: 82 mins
Director: Fred Olen Ray
Writer: David Lynch
Cast: Jo-Ann Robinson, Richard Hench, Roger Maycock
Tagline: Beware what you dream for...
Memorable Movie Quote: "They came out of the grave... to get REVENGE!"
Theatrical Distributor: 21st Century Film Corporation
Release Date: December 1983
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: January 23, 2016
Synopsis: A group of archeological students venture on Indian land for a dig. Unfortunately, they release an evil spirit who possesses one of them and starts killing the others.
Amazon Exclusive – Limited Edition of 2,000 copies
Home Video Distributor: Retromedia
Available on Blu-ray - January 23, 2016
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Audio: English: Dolby Digital 2.0
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Region Encoding: A
Retromedia’s 1080p presentation of Fred Olen Ray’s Scalps is a limited affair. There are only 2000 copies and, as it is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and scanned in at 2K, is a definite must-own for any fan of horror. The film is rough around the edges and there’s probably no amount of restoration that will help tune out the grain in the 16mm source. Colors are sharp, not strong. Black levels are thick. While this looks to be a naturally-lit film, the location is problematic in picking up some of the audio. The dubbing is poor. Some of the heavily censored bits are VHS quality, so prepare for muddy depth-derived glimpses of human torsos and blood. But, to have it any other way (with the censored parts separate from the movie) would be a disservice. The sound – presented here in a standard Dolby Digital 2.0 track – is adequate.
- Recorded by Fred Olen Ray, the commentary – for a lot of people who might not appreciate the movie – will be beneficial. Why? Because Ray gives us the inside scoop to guerilla filmmaking. It is a fascinating listen and a pure treat for fans of Scalps. He's honest and direct. He talks at great lengths about the censorship of the film, and about how he was monetarily screwed by the film distributor.
Interviews with Fred Olen Ray, Richard Hench, Frank McDonald, and Chris Olen Ray help guide us through the making of the film in one of the supplemental items included with this release. Also included are fan-made attempts to continue the story promised by the end credits, a clip from an unauthorized remake of the movie, and the film’s original trailer.
- Remembering Scalps (21 min)
- Scalps 2: The Return of DJ (20 min)
- Blood Desert Clip (2 min)
- Theatrical Trailer