Suburban Grindhouse Memories collects some SCALPS (1983)
SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES
You’ll Wish it Was Just Dandruff!
By Nick Cato
While most people saw it as part of a double feature VHS release, 1983’s SCALPS had a brief theatrical run in late December of that year. Directed by future schlock-kingpin Fred Olen Ray, this slasher/possession film is a mixed bag that doesn’t quite live up to its eye-catching poster ad.
Six archeology students head out to the desert to the site of an old Indian burial ground (thank you, POLTERGEIST, 1982, for helping this to become one of the most clichéd horror plots of all time) and despite hearing a word of warning (if they disturb the site, the spirit of an Indian warrior will seek revenge), our generic slasher-film throw-a-ways decide to get busy with their shovels, anyway. It doesn’t take long for weird things to start happening around their campsite, including the team eventually being disposed of in gory ways. The tension (attempts) to grow as we learn the culprit may be one of their own, possessed by the spirit they’ve unleashed by tampering with ancient artifacts.
SCALPS is one of those films that rewards ONLY those patient enough to get through its first hour. Most of the action goes down during the third act, and gorehounds who may have heard about this one need only to fast-forward their DVD to the final half hour (although there IS a decapitation during the opening moments, perhaps placed as a slight teaser). A couple of people walked out during one of the endless digging-scenes, one guy yelling, “Keep digging, a$$holes!”, causing me to both crack a smile then wonder what someone had expected, paying to see a film titled SCALPS.
The spirit that possesses one of the campers pops up from behind rocks a few times, once actually scaring the audience (see picture below). Known as Black Claw, this Indian spirit is TRULY annoyed his stuff has been discovered (and, of course, WHY we’re never told) and thankfully there’s a bunch of freshly-dug-up weapons at his disposal.
Call me crazy, but if people found stuff I created a long time ago and wanted to put them in a museum, I’d be thrilled. Black Claw, however, only wants people to die. Horribly!
What drove the (now defunct) Fox Twin Cinema audience crazy were the seemingly ENDLESS scenes of our archeologists gabbing on and on about their work, both how important it was (another thing never fully explained why) and also how risky it was in light of the post-dig events. If there’s one film I wish I had a tape recorder playing through, it’d be SCALPS, where more profanity was offered to the on-screen cast than any other film I could recall attending. One full-figured guy two rows in front of me (complete with a backwards STP baseball hat—perhaps he drove in from New Jersey?) must’ve tossed half his tub of popcorn at the screen whenever one of the more annoying female students opened her mouth (which seemed like every four seconds). I have to tell you, folks—if not for the entertainment provided my fellow suburban grindhouse maniacs, I doubt I could’ve made it to the end of this thing.
BUT alas, when Black Claw finally gets his minion to go ballistic, the blood beings to spurt like soda from a shaken can: one poor guy has an arrow shot right through his eyeball from about 10 feet away, while another poor sucker becomes a human pin cushion from a hail of them. Living up to its title, SCALPS contains a couple of graphic scalping scenes, one comparable to Tom Savini’s work on the classic MANIAC (1980). Sadly, that was the only believable effect: one scene (that had the audience audibly gagging) features another poor victim having her throat slashed in a tight close up, then she gets scalped, causing one of the goriest kills of the early 80s (although it doesn’t look as convincing as the FX team had hoped for). So in retrospect, yeah, the last third of this one is a gorehound’s delight … although those gorehounds best be prepared to deal with some terrible acting, sloppy effects, and an ending that still has me scratching my head.
As mentioned, SCALPS was released on VHS in a double feature with a film titled THE SLAYER (while I didn’t see that one theatrically, I did watch the video and am beyond thankful I missed its cinematic release—if it even had one). For the curious, SCALPS is available on DVD, a format that mercifully allows viewers to scan directly to the good stuff.
Sometimes, being a pre-DVD child of the 80s wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
For generic, bad acting, sloppy effects, plotless slasher film completists only! (OH YEAH—there’s also a cameo by FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND icon Forrest J. Ackerman. Go figure).
© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato