I'd been curious about 1983's Scalps for years. Literally years! Some day, scientists will find the chromosome within our genetic code that causes us to unconsciously postpone a film's viewing for no real reason. It's a bitch, isn't it? I cracked my genetic code to finally sit down with Scalps, a Fred Olen Ray joint. Fred is seriously good at devising b-movies with no money. To date, he has produced and/or directed 245 shares of skeeze. That's an inflated number, as many of those credits overlap, but still...that's a lot of flicks! This one follows a group of student archaeologists as they roam to the deserts of California. They are specifically told by the university (and by the moonstruck locals) NOT to dig up Native American relics.
They dig up Native American relics. As you can guess, this galls Indian spirits, and it isn't long before someone with a tomahawk does a spot-on impression of Old Chief Wood'nhead. Actually, it's an undead warrior named Black Claw. Dude looks gnarly. He should have been the main villain, but due to editing blunders, a main villain isn't clearly defined until the hour mark. Scalps is sternly impaired by scissors, changes imposed by the distributor (according to IMDb). Fred wasn't happy with the bizarre cuts, and I don't blame him. They're dumb. I would normally employ literate language, but the cuts are just fucking dumb. "Hey, here is what happens later in the movie!" My God, the prologue is an excerpt from the ending.
My other gripe has to do with pacing. For 60 minutes, I was begging Scalps to make a move. Aside from said prologue (a fun scene that is unbelievably frustrating in retrospect), none of the characters are deprived of their blood until the third act. I realize that I'm only talking about gore, but that's the selling point here. The cast is whatever, their problems are whatever, the nudity is...well, chalk it up as a missed opportunity. We do see bare boobs (or bald commuters, as I never call them), but it's during a simulation of rape. I probably didn't have to say "simulation." I mean, it's implied, right? No, the cameras caught Forrest J. Ackerman raping the script supervisor. Oh, Forry cameos as a professor. He doesn't rape anyone.
Believe it or not, I didn't hate Scalps. I've caterwauled a considerable amount, but once the liver hits the palm leaf, this is a respectable slasher. The final 30 minutes act like they know what they're doing. Not to belabor the point, but the climax would be more effective if we didn't see chunks of it dispersed throughout the rest of the picture. I dug the gore. There is a sweet decapitation and a slit throat that deserves a handful of standing ovations. Again, Black Claw is a cool fucker. At the end of the exploitative day, Scalps isn't quite what it could be, but it's fine as a time-passer. I always say this, but when it comes to Native American horror, your best bet is Johnny Firecloud. And it's not even a true horror film. Robert Z'Dar says, "My scalp itches."
Posted by Dom Coccaro at 2:48 PM