WRITER: Screenplay by Fred Olen Ray
Story by T.L.Lankford, John Ray, Fred Olen Ray
DIRECTOR: Fred Olen Ray
STARRING: Kirk Alyn as Professor Machen
Jo Ann Robinson as DJ
Richard Hench as Randy/Black Claw
Roger Maycock as Kershaw Ellerbe
Barbara Magnusson as Ellen Corman
Frank McDonald as Ben Murphy
Carol Sue Flockhart as Louise Landon
George Randall as Billy Ironwing
Forrest J. Ackerman as Professor Trentwood
QUICK CUT: A group of students hike up into the middle of nowhere, and dig up some rocks. A former owner of the property they're digging around on takes issue with their invasion.
Look. This is another movie with an interchangeable group of kids, whose names I barely remember. I'm lucky I kept them separate as much as I did.
THE GUTS: Welcome back, Triskelions, and Happy Triskgiving! For some, this review is being posted on Black Friday, and I hope y'all are safe and sound in your cozy homes, not rushing out to trample people in stores, and instead are enjoying online deals and these very words! If you're reading this after Black Friday...well, I hope you are still enjoying yourself!
ANYways, to celebrate this year, since I've milked all the Thanksgiving slasher movies available, I dug back for something vaguely seasonal, with Scalps. It's by Fred Olen Ray, who's done a few other Trisked movies in the past, so it's good to get him back on the chopping block. The movie's about a bunch of college students who dig up something they shouldn't, and angry Native spirits come after them. Yeah, there's a bit of racism here, but it could be worse. Heck, it's probably going to GET worse before this is done, so let's get started.
The movie literally starts with a decapitation. And I'm not counting it on the body count for the sole reason it is completely isolated and has nothing to do with the plot. There's a bunch of random flavour scenes that are just there for gore. But hey!
As if that isn't enough for ya, while some prospector drives around the middle of desert nowhere, he's being watched by some lion-headed dude. Which still has next to nothing to do with the plot.
He finds a rock, scrapes it, and a spooooky floating head shows up like a transparent ghost Muppet. I can only presume the Native Muppetican possesses the guy's hand, because he soon struggles and slits his own throat. Barely.
It's a pretty solid cold open, but ultimately has little to do with the rest of the plot, aside from leaving his truck to find later. But it does give you a feel for the weird, nonsensical world you are about to enter. The world of...
After the credits, we jump to our actual plot, some anthropologist/professor getting ready to go on a trip into that same desert, and he is dressed exactly how you'd expect. Khakis and a pith helmet. You're not going into the bush, doc.
He does the usual administrative boring stuff to get his trip going, and finds out he can't actually go, but still sends the students he was going to take along their way. The only notable thing in these scenes is a gratuitous appearance of horror historian Forrest Ackerman, who shows up proudly shoving his book at the camera. Which would be far more effective if this movie was in better quality, but oh well.
And let me tell you, the kids are bland and generic and I can't remember a single one, even while watching the movie. I'll do my best, but I know names are gonna get mixed up.
We then get a lot of driving. A LOT OF DRIVING. It rivals Birdemic, but that was at least driving with the credits rolling. This is just padding. It's almost as bad as the infamous Rock Climbing scenes from Lost Continent.
They break it up briefly with a stop at the gas station, and we get a mildly racist Native American stereotype who plays the role of Harbinger. He does that terribly stilted, halting dialogue of all Natives in films from Tonto on forward. It big heapum bullshit.
But have no fear, they leave the racism behind with...MORE DRIVING! I could almost roll with this, because some movies will have good scenery, but this is all drab and brown and desert and grey. Not the most thrilling scenery.
After more padding, they stop for a bit, and say they should find the Black Trees. "You mean the place the Indian said NOT to go?" "Oh, it probably doesn't even exist!" "Look, there they are right there!" They haven't moved, they've been standing there, and saying they don't exist...when someone just had to look three inches to the left. If the Black Trees were any closer, they'd be wiping their asses with leaves.
So they set up camp where they shouldn't, and hopefully now that we've got all the driving and walking and talking and warnings out of the way, we can get this show on the road. Wait wait, no, being on the road was the problem.
We at least get teases of some native guy with a terrible face lurking about watching them, so there's at least some building sense of dread.
They actually start digging, which is the whole point of this trip, and DJ takes a moment to reflect and point out how this is wrong, this isn't their land, they're defiling graves...they also point out it was the settlers that taught the Natives about scalping, so at least while we have a few insensitive racist moments, they're also not doing a complete whitewash and giving the settlers their due.
We continue sitting around some more as they talk about the dig, and the artifacts they found, until one of them notices a stone bowl is bleeding. Well, there. You CAN get blood from a stone, so nyah.
One of the girls has wandered off, and we see her get chased by an unseen force for awhile, before finally revealing it's Lion-o, back from the start of the movie. But they still don't offer up any explanation for him, so whatever. And this is also the last we see of him so...yeah.
Now that we're halfway through, the weird is finally starting to kick in. The group starts hearing drums, "From heeelllLLL" says DJ, in one of the most tortuously hilarious line deliveries I've heard.
Randy and his girl are off making out in the shrubs, and on their way back, stumble upon an abandoned campfire. The flames speak to Randy, so he stares into the fire like a moth to a flame.
Within the deadlights, he sees that same creepy Muppet head that's been floating through the entire plot, until it pulls a Scanners and explodes in the fire, nearly taking Randy with it.
And if you thought car rides and rock climbing was fun, brace yourselves for the never ending thrill ride of SLEEPING!
Randy's been acting weird since the fire went nuclear on his face, but he still coaxes his girlfriend out into the desolation for more fun. He gets rough with her, because y'know, he's possessed by Native spirits, and Natives were savages. I am massively rolling my eyes right now.
He tears off her clothes, forces himself upon her...ahhh, racism AND rape. It's like the Trump presidency, all rolled into one single movie.
After that, somehow scratches appear all over his face and chest, and I'm not sure if they're supposed to represent an attack on him, or more akin to Native war paint.
She runs away after all that, and I can't blame her. NotRandy chases her, catches her, and finishes the job by slitting her throat, and yep, scalping her. And hoooly potatoes are the effects good. If the footage was higher quality, I'm sure they would look cheap and fake, but this is the one time a cheap grindhouse look is working for the movie. Even if I do want to see a higher quality print of this some day.
Randy makes it back to camp, and he speaks in a possessed daze, telling the group that there was a terrible accident, and Louise fell. Yes. She...fell. Against my chest, scraping it along the way? I don't know. No one questions his bleeding.
Of course, the group goes to help Louise after her...fall. And they find she fell so hard, the top of her head popped off like a dandelion! TOTALLY normal, kids.
They rush back to camp to grab Randy, and find DJ in a daze waiting for Randy to return. Oh, he also took out the car so they won't be driving off to safety.
After retrieving Louise's body, they try to come up with a plan, and someone remembers the prospector's truck they found earlier amidst all the driving. The other guy that's not Kershaw goes off to try and get it, so they can escape.
But DJ informs them that "Black Claw won't let us". And Kershaw JUST so happens to know who Black Claw is, a Native wizard who was known for his rites of black magic.
OtherDude finds the truck, but that's not working either. He tries to fix it, to no avail. He chills for a bit in the truck to catch his breath from the run, and grab a drink, but Black Claw Randy shows up to kill him too.
The rest of the group sit around doing nothing until night falls, and decide if OtherDude doesn't come back by morning, they'll try and get out on their own. After they sleep, OtherWoman...er, Ellen, is called out by OtherDude's voice, and that can't end well.
She runs into Randyclaw, who chases her and marks her with a few arrows, before eventually scalping her too.
Kershaw hears her screams, finally, and rushes off in the early morning sunrise with the rifle to try and not die too.
The Native Possessican finds him first though, and the two fight for a bit. Kershaw eventually grabs the guy's stone hammer, and bashes his former friend in the face with it. Whew, we're done! Or not, because as we all should know by now, Black Claw is Not Really Dead!
Kershaw heads back to the campsite, thinking things are over, until Screaming Black Clawkins returns with a howl, and gets shot a few times.
Randy goes down, the possession seemingly over, and Kershaw breaths a sigh of relief. Also his last breath, as a now possessed DJ slices his head clean off and it flips off over to a nearby chair to rest up.
The Professor finally wanders his khaki covered ass back into the film, and finds the campsite abandoned, until he follows a clacking noise and finds DJ sitting in the tent surrounded by all her friends corpses.
Oh, he also takes an arrow to the eye for looking where he shouldn't. That'll learn ya.
Video: As I hint at a few times, and you can probably see from the caps, the quality ain't great. It's one of those movies where they slap a letterbox on a 16:9 presentation, and make it all fit into a 4:3 window. Every time this happens, it hurts the overall quality. It also doesn't help that the master is lost, and they had to piece together this version from the best possible sources from various edited versions.
Audio: It's honestly not terrible, and like the video, serviceable.
Sound Bite: "If you follow this, it's almost impossible to get lost!" Yeah, ALMOST.
Body Count: Not a large count, but as far as percentages go, it's up there.
0 - Bonus unrelated opening decapitation!
1 - Three and a half minutes in, random dude slices his own throat.
2 - One of the girls gets killed by possessed Randy slitting her throat.
3 - OtherDude gets the back of his head lopped off by Black Claw.
4 - Ellen gets three arrows to the back, and one to the knee, before finally being scalped.
5 - Kershaw shoots Randy in the head, killing the host body.
6 - But not the spirit, as DJ finishes Kershaw off by beheading him.
7 - The professor dies with an arrow to the face.
Best Corpse: The girl who got her throat slit, and then scalped, is just some amazing effects sowkr.
Blood Type - B+: The effects are deceptively great, because of the quality of the image. Also, there's quite a bit of blood and gore, tickling that bone.
Sex Appeal: Noooope.
Drink Up! Every time the movie throws in something random for no reason. Lion dude, random deaths of unrelated people, general weirdness. It's your own discretion!
Video Nasties: I talk about the floating muppet head a lot, so thought I'd share it's most notable scene, plus there's a good firesplosion.
Movie Review: As a movie, this is lacking. Having people muck about with it, by editing bits out, editing bits in, and the various edits that got made to send it to other countries, eventually ended up with a confusing mess of a project. The basic story is straightforward enough; kids go into the wilderness, get killed by forces beyond their ken. You've seen it a billion times. I've reviewed it a million times. And if you look past the random edits, the movie is generally well made, for a very early project by Fred Olen Ray, with some creative kills and solid effects. If you take it for what it is, it's fine, if confusing. But ultimately there are those issues, and the movie is the worse for it. Two out of five scalps.
Entertainment Value: I was pleased to see this was far less painfully racist than I feared. It still has its problems, but it really could have been a lot worse. The acting isn't terrible, but could be better. The weirdness adds to the experience, rather than detracting from it, and it's a lot of fun to watch this strange little movie. I really enjoyed this mess of a movie, and it's definitely recommended. Four out of five clacky sticks.