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Scalps


Title: Scalps
Year Of Release: 1980
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Blu-ray Released By: Retromedia
Directed By: Fred Olen ray
Writing Credits: Fred Olen Ray (screenplay), T.L. Lankford, John Ray & Fred Olen Ray (story)

Starring:
Jo-Ann Robinson, Richard Hench, Roger Maycock, Frank McDonald, Carol Sue Flockhart,Barbara Magnusson, Kirk Alyn
Taglines:
1. They came out of the grave... to get REVENGE!
Alternate Titles:
1. Caníbal 2000
(Peru)
2. El cementerio indio (Spain)
3. Der Fluch des blutigen Schatzes (Germany)

Review Date: 10.15.20

Shadow's Title: "Tomahawk Chop"

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Characters
Professor Machen – He’s an archaeology professor at some nameless university in southern California. Despite state laws prohibiting any digging or excavating on or near Native American burial sites, he is planning a field trip with some students to do exactly that. Paperwork demands force him to stay behind and send the young people ahead. He eventually shows up late to the party.
Professor Trentwood – Another instructor at the same university as Machen. He had a tiny part and only appeared in one brief scene, but hey, it’s Uncle Forry aka Forrest J. Ackerman! He was central to the formation, organization and spread of science fiction fandom and a key figure in the wider cultural perception of science fiction as a literary, art, and film genre.
Ben Murphy – He’s one of the students that goes on Machen’s field trip. In the absence of the Professor, he became de facto leader of the group. He seemed like a sensible, level-headed guy. He certainly had a hot girlfriend. Unfortunately, surviving a horror film often takes both luck and self-awareness, neither of which he had.
Ellen Corman – This is Ben’s girlfriend. I’m not sure if she was going on the trip for school credit or just to accompany Ben. What I do know is that if this chick had survived the film, she was looking at some serious weight gain in the future. It seems half the time we saw her, she was eating something. She totally destroyed an entire leg of beef or pork like it was a light snack.
Randy – He comes off as something of a jock or athlete. He goes on Machen’s field trip and seems a decent enough guy. Sadly for him, he becomes possessed by the spirit of a dead black magic practitioner which leads him to stalk and kill his fellow students. I wonder how that will affect his final grade?
Louise Landon – She is Randy’s girlfriend. Again, I’m not sure if she was on the trip as a student or just to accompany Randy. One thing is for sure: she complained constantly. The car ride was making her sick, it was too hot, her feet hurt, etc., etc., etc. The poor thing had quite the brutal demise, making one wonder if there is such a thing as karma.
Kershaw Ellerbe – Another student that goes on Machen’s trip. He rationalized all the weird shit going on because he didn’t want to admit the truth. Ancient stone bowel still has blood in it? The ground was damp! Chanting and drum sounds coming from the ground? Why, the soil acts as a conductor! If given enough time, I’m sure he could come up with a plausible reason for almost any inconceivable event…like how Trump got elected.
DJ – The final member of Machen’s students. She is sensitive to paranormal phenomenon and almost from the moment they arrive at their location, she is telling the others that they need to leave without disturbing the Indian graves or that they will all die. Of course, not a one of them listens to her, not even Kershaw, who seems to like her. I guess his grades were more important. Class before ass, indeed.
Spirit of Black Claw – A renegade Indian...er...Native American (for all you PC assholes) who was known for his black magic, his spirit watches over the graves of his people. If anyone trespasses and seems like they might remove any relics, Black Claw makes sure they are all eliminated.
Black Clawed Randy – This is what Randy looks like after the spirit of Black Claw has taken possession of his body. Not exactly an upgrade let me tell you. While that face might work when murdering trespassers, I think he’d break the entire internet if he uploaded a profile to Tinder.

 

The Plot Hold your cursor over an image for a pop-up caption

Shit Cinema Artistry Lets People Sleep.The very first thing we see after a couple of screen credits is a shirtless guy in jeans with the fugliest face you’ve ever seen jumping around like his ass is on fire. Then some guy gets decapitated with a sharp object of some kind. The headless body then reaches both arms up to feel around where the head once was. He can begin his career as a politician! This would seem like quite the mystifying opener if I had not already watched the film and listened to the director’s commentary track and thus learned that idiots at the distributor re-edited the film after the director turned in his final cut. Apparently the distributor had an absolute moron perform the editing, as scenes like this as well as others to come are spliced into the picture where they don’t belong at all or where they chronologically don’t fit and wind up giving away plot points. That’s like showing the identity of the killer right up front in a mystery before things even get started. Such haphazard editing might work in a Lucio Fulci flick, but here it is just annoying to see such idiocy on display.

A beat up old pick-up truck travels a road in the California desert and then Lion-O from Thunder Cats shows up. Well, a guy pops up wearing an animatronic lion head. I’m guessing this is supposed to be some Native American shaman or witch doctor or even the spirit of some such individual. I do know that this is more footage that doesn’t really belong here. Thanks again nameless moron at the distributor! The truck winds its way through some barren hills, an older guy at the wheel. He takes a gulp from a whiskey bottle as he drives, so we can see already that this guy is a rebel at heart. That or just a flat out drunk. The truck travels through an area which reminds me a lot of the places I’ve lived here in California, lots of dry hills covered in scrub brush and with very few trees. Right now I live in the middle of a huge valley, but a good thirty minute drive east or west would take me to such locales even now. I spent many hours as a youth hiking in such places.

Anyway, you’re not here to read about where I’ve lived, you’re here for cheezy movies! So the older guy in the truck finally stops in some secluded area and after another gulp of whiskey, retrieves a shovel from the bed of his truck and saunters up a hillside. At the mouth of a small cave, he starts digging around in the dirt with his pocket knife and unearths a small carved stone. As he gazes at it, the face of an old Indian shaman is quickly superimposed over his arm and then vanishes. Suddenly the old guy starts to shake. The hand which holds the knife is now possessed! He struggles to hold it back with his other hand, but in the end whatever force has taken control of his appendage uses it to make him slit his own throat. Watch as the actor leans into the knife as it draws near to his neck. I’d think he’d be trying to move his head in the opposite direction. Anyway, he’s dead. The camera draws back, then scrolls up to the blue sky before fading to black. Title card and credits now follow. Funny note: the producer is someone named The Eel. That sounds more like a wacky morning radio DJ than anything You know, like: Every morning from six to ten join Frankie and The Eel here on KRAP.

At some nameless university Professor Machen is preparing for a field trip of some kind. He’s in his office, going over papers and dressed in one of those safari outfits like the Crocodile Hunter used to wear. He’s even wearing a Pith hat! If that doesn’t just scream “I’m going on a trip outdoors” then I don’t know what does. A knock at the door produces his assistant, Ann, who has some papers for him. She reminds him to see a Doctor Reynolds before he leaves. Outside in the hallway Ann runs into Professor Trentwood, who is played by Forrest J. Ackerman. If you don’t know who Uncle Forry is, then you should be ashamed. Trentwood is carrying some kind of book on monsters, conveniently held so we can easily see the title as well as the Metaluna Mutant on its cover. Machen appears and Trentwood tells him that Doctor Reynolds has something for him. Then Machen points to the monster book and tells Trentwood to stop reading such stuff and stick to history. Machen walks away and after a shake of the head, so does Trentwood. Read it? He probably wrote it!

Machen goes to see Doctor Reynolds, who as it turns out, is an annoying woman and apparently, in a leadership position at whatever university this happens to be. She reads to him a letter from the California State department detailing how it is illegal to dig or excavate in any known Indian graveyard or burial ground. I guess the suckers learned their lesson after the events of Poltergeist. As she reads this, Machen gets this look on his face similar to a child who is told on December 24th that Christmas has been canceled or the look on any Democrat’s face when Trump survived impeachment. He assures her that any artifacts used as study aids in his classes are procured from the university museum or storage facility and that his impending trip is just for the purpose of collecting rock samples. Yeah, right. I’m sure he needs more rocks just about as badly as San Francisco needs more shit on the sidewalks.

Not done raining on his parade, Reynolds reminds him that he was supposed to complete a thorough inventory of the university’s artifacts and he has until Tuesday to do it. This means he won’t be able to go on his upcoming trip. Plus, she adds that it also illegal to buy any Indian artifacts. He looks defeated and deflated. What is she gonna do next, slash his tires? Shoot his dog? Kick him in the balls? Sheesh. Resigned that his fun has been spoiled, he exits her office. Leave it to a woman to ruin a man’s fun.

Elsewhere the students that were going to accompany him are gathered around a wreck of an old station wagon and are waiting. This includes Kershaw, Randy, Ben, Louise and Ellen. A sixth student, D.J. (henceforth known as DJ so I don’t have to keep typing those periods) arrives. DJ is a girl by the way. Machen then shows up and informs the group that he will have to stay behind for a couple of days while they go on ahead. He gives Ben a map to the area where they are going with instructions on where to dig when they get there. He even advises Ben to deny that they’re engaged in any type of archaeology work if asked. He then says he will come out to meet them on Sunday. The group gets in the station wagon and leaves. Fade out.

After numerous shots of the car travelling down the road which seem to go on for about forty minutes, Ben, who is driving, notices that the vehicle is overheating. He is forced to pull over on the side of the road. While Ben and Randy attend to the radiator (apparently all you need is a rag and jug of water), Kershaw chats with DJ, who is clacking her Indian prayer sticks together. Louise walks by and calls her weird. I guess this scene was included to show that DJ is different from others by not being a snobby bitch. The car once again in drivable shape, they all climb in and resume their journey.

“Hey lady, is he dead or just drunk?”“What do you mean, you’re out of Funyuns?!”They are able to make it to an Exxon gas station, but that crappy station wagon looks like it would fall apart if you kicked it hard enough. While the service attendant sees to the car’s needs, the group wanders over to a nearby store to procure some beer, because what’s an archaeology expedition without beer? Sitting on the steps leading into the store is an older Indian with his eyes closed. He’s either sleeping or he’s dead. As DJ approaches and leans in to look at him, we see that spooky Indian face from earlier in the film when the old guy’s arm got possessed. The face flashes for just a second and DJ recoils from it. See? She is different. She can sense this shit. The old guy wakes as DJ heads into the store.

Inside the store the proprietor has a box of Indian arrowheads for sale at a buck apiece. Randy gets the bright idea to buy some and save themselves from too much digging. We can see now that Randy is an imbecile. The old Indian right outside the door overhears this and comes inside. He introduces himself as Billy Ironwing and warns them to not go to some place called Black Trees. All of a sudden we start getting shots of dead people and others getting scalped by the same ugly guy we saw in the first few seconds of the movie. So this is either the peyote trip to end all peyote trips, or that dipshit editor at the distributor has struck again. I’m thinking it’s the latter. Anyway, Billy says that a hundred years ago many Indians were killed at this “Black Trees” location and became part of the land. Randy thinks Billy just hides his still there and doesn’t want others to find it. With that they pay for their purchases and head back to the car, which is ready to roll. With some last minute directions from the station attendant, they leave.

So they drive some more and end up in the hills. Ben consults the map given to him by Professor Machen at one point and then a shitload more shots of the car driving along dirt roads follows. DJ thinks the scenery is beautiful, but the others give her shit for her opinion. We see that fugly killer again, who henceforth will be known as Mr. Fugly, who seems to be watching the car as it moves along, but again I think these are shots inserted into the wrong part of the film by that dumbass editor. It’s a good thing that they are almost to their destination because Ellen and Louise are sniping at each other in that way that queen bitches do when they think they are not being bitchy.

In a dry riverbed the group comes across the old pickup belonging to that guy at the film’s beginning. Thinking it abandoned, they continue onward, unaware that the old guy’s dried up, desiccated corpse is just a short ways off, still propped up against the hillside where he died. His body is not much more than a skeleton with a thin meat wrapper on it, but you can still see the savage cut in the side of his neck.

After more driving they work their way further into the hills. They finally pick a spot and stop. As they get out, the camera shows us a tomahawk lying on the ground, made by taking a large sharpened stone and using a tight strap to affix it to a stick. DJ starts picking at the ground, but when Kershaw asks what she sees, she claims it was a scorpion. Huh? So did she see the weapon and lied or was the shot of the weapon another goof on the part of Dipshit Editor? Louise, who seems to complain about everything and has about as much charm as a pimple on your ass, spies a buzzard circling overhead and believes the bird has followed them out here. DJ agrees with her. Then we get shots of DJ clanking her prayer sticks together intercut with quick shots of Mr. Fugly’s face as well as the face of the Indian spirit that we’ve seen twice now, once when it possessed that guy’s hand and then again when DJ saw at the store.

Night has fallen and the group has set up their campground, complete with tents and a stone fire pit. Randy, Ben, Louise and Ellen are sitting around the fire drinking beer when Kershaw walks up and asks if they have seen DJ. Ellen says she was over by the station wagon earlier. Louise takes the opportunity to again call DJ weird. Kershaw is worried that DJ might get lost in the dark, so he goes to find her. Once he leaves, Randy starts calling him weird, too. It should be noted that Ben and Ellen are a couple as well as Randy and Louise. A quick shot shows Mr. Fugly running around with a crude bow and arrow in another shot that does not belong in this part of the film. I swear, Fred Olen Ray must have been just livid when he saw what the distributor’s editor did to his film.

Day for night has fallen across the land. Kershaw finds DJ on some rocks overlooking a ravine. She reveals that she knows the others think her to be weird. Such talk began a long time ago for her. He heads back to camp but she gives him a kiss on the cheek for caring enough to make sure she wasn’t lost.

“Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, it’s off to death we go…”Morning comes and after breakfast the group treks into the hills on foot. Now we get lots of shots of the group traversing the landscape, none of them wearing clothes ideal to what they are engaged in. Ellen has on boots, but not hiking boots which would have helped, but rather, knee-high cowboy boots that make it difficult to climb and scale the rocky terrain. They stop to argue about where they are going when one of them spots the Black Trees that Billy Ironwing warned them about. “And they became part of the land,” DJ repeats aloud. They make their way over to the trees and set up for their digging efforts. Another shot of Mr. Fugly is thrown in. Ben outlines the area where they should start digging, but Louise starts complaining and says she needs a break first. As she sits and pouts like an 8-year old child who has been denied dessert, she notices that she broke a fingernail and loudly announces it to the entire area.

Ben cordons off an area and Ellen wonders how long it will take to complete their task. Then she talks about how she doesn’t know who the real Ben is, as sometimes he’s foolish and other times he’s serious. She decides that he is seriously foolish, but she loves him anyway. He hands her a small spade and says that if she loves him, she will dig.

A few feet away Kershaw is digging with a large shovel but DJ is saying that they should not be doing this and it is tantamount to theft of other people's treasures. Kershaw believes the past has to examined to better understand oneself today. DJ says that defiling the graves of the dead will only anger their souls. Kershaw now asks her what anyone else would ask in this situation: if you feel that way then why in the fuck are you out here? Well, it was worded slightly different, but conveyed the same thought. She says she thought it would be different and then adds that she can feel the evil in this place. “It’s alive with evil!” she exclaims and then tries to pull the shovel away from him. I was almost expecting a swell of music and for her to launch into a rendition of The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Evil. But that didn’t happen. Shame.

Now DJ starts running around in a near panic warning all the others that they have to stop and leave or they will all die. All she needs is an advertising banner draped over her shoulders that reads Repent For The End Is Near! and a bell and she’d be set. Naturally, the others are none too receptive to this sudden crazy talk and resist her efforts to pull them away from their work. Louise gets pushed to the ground and Ben notices something in the dirt near her hand. Randy digs it out. It’s a small stone, carved into an eerie human face with a long, jagged nose. Ben tells everyone to get back to digging. DJ looks dismayed and then another shot of Mr. Fugly is thrown in. Does the editor think that this is supposed to represent the spirits of the place taking note and watching these idiots or was the editor just drunk on the day he worked on this film? Anyway, DJ screams and collapses, so maybe she was able to see the face. Maybe not. Who knows for sure?

Night comes and the group has returned to camp with a handful of stones that they have found. Everyone sits around the fire except for DJ. Ben explains that one stone they found was used by the Indians to scalp people. Louise calls them barbarians and then Kershaw explains that the Indians learned about scalping from white settlers. Louise doesn’t want to hear any more about scalping and suggests to Randy that they take a walk. This confirms her and Randy’s status as a couple because in horror movie lingo, “go for a walk” really means “find a private spot to have sex.” Ellen asks if Ben wants to “go for a walk” but he would rather record the artifacts they found that day. Nerd. Ellen then accompanies Randy and Louise on their walk. Wait, is it going to be a three way?!! Or are they actually going for a walk?

When it’s just Ben and Kershaw at the fire, the former asks how DJ is. Kershaw claims she is ok, but is just sensitive. In her eyes what they are doing amounts to grave robbing. Again, then why did she come on this damn trip? What did she think they were going to be doing? Taking pictures of bunnies, gathering up rocks and singing Kumbaya around the campfire each night? Ben doesn’t agree that what they are engaged in is so easily classified as grave robbery. He walks off to record their findings.

Kershaw finds DJ sitting on the station wagon’s tailgate looking like she just lost her puppy, with a veritable symphony of crickets chirping in the background. She claims that she doesn’t know what came over her earlier, but insists that they should not have gone up there and that they all will still die. Well, I can see that she hasn’t lost her optimism! Kershaw tells her to get some rest and things will be different in the morning. Then he kisses her. Amazingly enough, she lets him get away with it.

Randy, Louise and Ellen are elsewhere, sitting atop a large rock outcropping. Ellen notes how nice it is to get away from the city. Randy accuses of her sounding like DJ. This causes Louise to chime in and bash DJ again, saying how she gives her the creeps. Ellen gets cold and decides to head back to camp, while Randy and Louise elect to stay. I’m sure they have in mind a way of keeping warm. Ellen is barely one step out of frame when the two of them are liplocked in a frenzied embrace of tongues, spittle and possible chewing gum. Gross, especially since I bet neither of them has brushed their teeth since morning. And who knows what they ate for dinner. You know they can taste that all over again.

Who's going to believe a talking head? Get a job in a sideshow.In the tent Ben is using a clipboard to record the artifact they found. One is a small stone bowl with what appears to be a little bit of red liquid in it. As Ben looks at it, we see that spooky Indian face briefly again. Is the Indian spirit going to possess the bowl this time? Ben calls out to Kershaw, who comes running. Ben shows him the bowl and the liquid in it. Kershaw identifies it as blood and Ben states rather loudly that it is coming from nowhere. Kershaw motions for him to be more quiet, probably not wanting DJ to overhear and fly into another panic induced rampage of paranoia.

Out in the dark somewhere, Ellen is returning to camp. I know it is supposed to be night despite the day-for-night photography, but why doesn’t this broad have a flashlight with her? Who goes traipsing off into the dark when out in the countryside without a light? I’ll tell you who: morons. She could run into a rattlesnake or a bloodthirsty rabbit or a mangy Bigfoot or something. As she walks along, she looks around her with a look of fear on her face. I’m not sure if she is just lost, is hearing some freaky sound or looking for a place to poop. Then we get a POV shot of someone or something approaching her position. Whoever this is, they must have epilepsy because the camera is shaking something fierce. Ellen looks over her shoulder, spies whatever is stalking her and then begins to run. In slow motion. I suppose it was a stylistic choice.

She keeps running and looking over her shoulder, all in slow motion with no sound other than a strange drum beat accompanied by some chimes. Eventually she falls to the ground because you just knew THAT was going to happen. Then again, if she wasn’t wearing those stupid cowboy boots, she might have been able to run better. She turns and screams at what is behind her and then Lion-O pops up again and roars. Was that what was chasing her? An idiot in a cosplay costume? A rather crappy one at that, too! Then Lion-O…okay, the shaman wearing the lion mask, vanishes into thin air. Confused, she looks around briefly, then picks herself up and continues running.

At camp DJ is still sitting on the tailgate, but is now clanking her prayer sticks together again. Meanwhile in the tent, Ben and Kershaw are discussing the bowl. Kershaw thinks the liquid could be dye, but Ben calls into question why it is still wet. Kershaw then says that there is a lot of “dampness” in the ground and after a few seconds, Ben says that he is probably right. Well, that’s good. Given enough time I guess they could rationalize anything. Bigfoot would just be a sleepy bear, the Loch Ness monster an old log and Covid-19 just like the flu. Ow, wait, people already did that last one.

About now Ellen comes screaming back into camp, both literally and figuratively. She says that something was chasing her. Kershaw suddenly produces a rifle out of thin air and runs to go look, but returns a few seconds later saying he did not see anything. DJ approaches and Ellen, now calmed down, says that she probably just overreacted and got carried away. So did she see that Lion guy or not? Was he really there or was it just her imagination that got her running in a panic? If so, then why did she act like she saw something? DJ now tells everyone to be quiet and listen. After a few seconds, they claim they cannot hear anything. She tells them to listen to the earth, so Kershaw puts his ear to the ground. He says he hears drums. “Drums and chanting,” adds DJ. Ben leans down and hears it, too. Ellen asks where it is coming from. “From Hell,” DJ answers, so afraid she is about to cry. Me too! Though my reason for crying is vastly different. We’re over halfway through this film and jackshit has happened aside from some old guy slitting his own throat. I can see that in the mirror each morning when it comes time for my nearsighted ass to shave. So, back to the movie. Kershaw rushes to get a tape recorder and they lay it on the ground to record the sounds…which we the audience have yet to hear. For all we know this mysterious drum sound could actually be quite the sick beat.

Somewhere out in the dark, Randy and Louise are putting their clothes back on. I guess they’ve been engaged in a round of parking the beef bus in tuna town. They also hear something, which Randy says is coming from over a nearby ridge. They go to investigate. So many people wandering around in the dark! Doesn’t anyone have a freakin’ flashlight?! Louise complains about the rocks hurting her feet. Then you should have brought along better footwear, you idiot! As they climb the ridge we can hear the sound that’s been playing vaguely in the background finally become more clear and defined. Yup, it sounds like somebody getting ready to go on the warpath. Eventually Randy and Louise make it over the ridge and find a clearing. A Teepee and fire pit can be seen, so the pair waltzes right on up as if they had a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.

They stand by the fire and listen. Louise thinks it’s spooky and wants to leave. Despite seeing no one around, the drums and chanting seems to be coming from this location. Randy notices that the fire is not producing any heat. He leans in for a closer look and the old, spooky Indian shaman face can be seen in the flames. It seems to mumble something for the longest time and then suddenly explodes as if committing suicide with an invisible shotgun. The fire also explodes, sending Randy flying through the air to land in a heap. Louise runs to him, but he seems to be okay aside from a face darkened with soot. They both get up and skedaddle.

Back at camp the others are listening to the recording they made. Ben calls it creepy. DJ says it is the ghosts of the dead. You mean Jerry Garcia? Kershaw tries to pull another rationalization out of his ass by saying that the ground must have working as a conductor. About now Randy and Louise return. Louise explains what they found, but Randy is silent, just staring at the fire. When he finally speaks he denies what Louise is saying and tells her to shut up.

Next we see Ben and Ellen in their tent, snoozing in their sleeping bags. So I guess everyone has now turned in for the evening. Louise is another tent by herself while Kershaw and DJ are sleeping in the car, front and back seats, respectively. I gotta say, that station wagon really shines in the dark. It’s freaking lit up like five spotlights are pointed directly at it. Randy is stretched out by the fire in a sleeping bag. I’m not surprised. After telling Louise to shut up, she probably banished his ass from their tent.

“I don’t suppose there’s any way you can conjure up a wine cooler out of that crate, is there?”The next day arrives and it’s once again time to go digging. Ben and Ellen are in one spot while Randy and Louise are a dozen yards away at another. Louise wonders out loud to Randy why they have to turn over any relics they find. She reasons that if they are valuable, they should keep them for themselves. Randy just says that it doesn’t matter, as the relics “will never leave this land.” She just looks at him oddly. Elsewhere, Kershaw is showing DJ how to get water from a cactus plant.

Pow, just like that it is night again. How long were they planning on being out here? They’ve been digging for two full days. This is their third night. I’m not sure they brought enough beer. In fact, I’m sure of it as now they’re all drinking soda. We see them lounging around the fire, a massive bone in Ellen’s hand with very little meat left on it. Where was the meat this whole time? In a cooler? I’m sure the ice would have completely melted by now and it doesn’t look like they are running any kind of generator to keep a refrigerator operating. Yet, three days in and they have fresh meat to cook. Randy, who seems very surly ever since his experience at that Indian fire, claims he has to clean up the things they found that day. Louise offers to help, but he tells her to stay and relax. Once he’s gone, the group (aside from DJ, who is not present) talks about how strange he’s been acting. Louise relates how Randy has been talking about someone named Black Claw and Indian death rites.

Wherever Randy went to, he’s now looking at some elaborate metal artifact. There’s a buzzing sound and he grabs his head as if he just got a headache with Excedrin written all over it. He then looks over at the others with an evil look on his face. He returns to the others and tosses a bundle of washed relics to Ben, who asks if he is feeling ok. Randy says he is fine and then asks Louise to go for a walk. She doesn’t look too thrilled about the idea, but allows herself to be led away.

Randy leads Louise out away from camp where day for night has once again settled over the land. As well as a literal shit ton of bugs flying through the air. Damn, the air is thick with insects. Oh, wait…those aren’t bugs, that’s just the horrible film elements the DVD producers had to source in order to make a complete film. We were warned about this at the very beginning. So Randy and Louise start smooching. She goes to remove his shirt and finds a strange necklace he is wearing. It’s the same artifact he was examining just a few minutes ago. He then becomes violent and forceful, ripping off her shirt and then slapping her to the ground when she resists. He climbs on top of her and then rapes her.

When he is done, his face has changed, showing a lot of scars around his eyes. More scars develop over his face and chest. Louise watches in horror and screams. She runs away. He goes after her with a knife, but now his face just looks dirty and shows no sign of the scars, though his chest does look like it’s been scratched by Freddy Krueger. After some chase footage, it ends how you would expect. She trips and falls. Duh. He is instantly upon her and wastes no time in grabbing her by her hair, pulling her head back and then slitting her throat. She writhes around for a few seconds as blood pours from the wound and then is still. He then takes his knife and scalps her.

In their tent, Ben and Ellen are cataloguing the day’s finds. Kershaw calls them outside and when they exit the tent they find DJ sitting there with a blank look on her face and Randy standing nearby with blood on his chest. In a monotone he says there has been a terrible accident and claims Louise fell from some rocks. Kershaw retrieves rope from the car (I swear that thing must be a Tardis for all the shit that has been unpacked from it, considering six people were crammed into the front and rear seats on the way out and there was nothing strapped to the roof). Randy stays at camp while Kershaw, Ben and Ellen race off to help Louise, who is of course, quite dead. Randy gives DJ a strange look after the others leave.

The three amigos stumble through the countryside a bit, the sound of crickets all around them. They brought rope but no flashlights? Are these people for real? Do they all just naturally see in the dark like a cat or dog? Anyway, they spot Louise’s body and Ellen screams like it just stood up and insulted her dress sense. They return to camp to find Randy gone. When they ask DJ where he went, she replies that he will be “everywhere.” Before Kershaw can rationalize the death as a shaving accident, Ben tells him to shut up. He’s worried that they now have a psycho killer running around out there. Ben asks DJ what Randy did after they left. She shows off a necklace that Randy gave her and reports that Randy said he would be back. They think about jumping in the car and leaving, but quickly learn that the distributor has been cut loose and is missing. Ben grabs the rifle, prepared to kill Randy if need be.

Day comes and Ben and Kershaw retrieve Louise’s body, wrapped in a blanket. After spending all night outside, I’m sure it just looks great. Ellen claims that Louise was her best friend. Really? The way those two sniped at one another, you’d think they were enemies. The group now discusses what they are going to do. The station wagon is shot, but DJ reminds them of the abandoned pickup truck they saw on the way here. Leaving the rifle with the others, Ben elects to go check it out by himself. DJ gives him a canteen of water and he leaves.

All the others can now do is wait. Ellen says she just wants to get out of here, but DJ says that Black Claw won’t let them. When Ellen wonders who Black Claw is, Kershaw explains that he was a renegade Indian from the last century who was known for his pursuit of black magic and dark rituals. Yeah, that can’t be good. DJ now says that Black Claw is now back and that something horrid is going to happen. Yeah, like the rest of this shitty movie!

“Get! Off! My! Lawn!”We turn our attention to Ben, who is hauling ass along a dried creek bed. He eventually arrives at the pickup truck, jumps in and tries to start it. Nothing happens. So he gets out, pops the hood and then climbs under the truck. While lying there, he doesn’t notice a figure run past a few feet away. He then stands back up, kicks the door closed out of frustration and climbs into the bed of the truck, sitting down on one of the sides. He takes a sip from his canteen. As he sits there, a figure rises up behind him. It’s Randy, only now he’s gradually turning into Mr. Fugly aka Black Claw. His hair has turned white, plus the skin on his face, upper chest and arms looks all burned and scarred. He’s wielding a crude tomahawk, like the one we saw much earlier that no one else seemed to see (DJ thought she saw a scorpion, remember?). As he rises behind Ben, he’s drawing his arm back in preparation for a swing. SWOOSH. He connects with the back of Ben’s head and we see a big chunk of flesh fly off into the distance. Ben just continues to sit there, expressionless, as if in deep thought or concentration. The same look you get when you try to relax enough to pee without pooping at the same time. He slowly keels over, blood pouring from his mouth. He’s dead.

After a quick look at a rat sniffing around the remains of the old guy who slit his own throat at the beginning, we return to the others, where it is now night again. Ellen is worried that Ben is not back. Kershaw, who is even getting on my nerves at this point, tries say that maybe Ben took the truck to get help. Knowing what a crock of shit that is, Ellen tells him to can it. He says that if Ben is not back by morning they will go look for him. Ever the life of the party, DJ states that Ben is dead.

 


Note - It is at this point that the movie enters its final segment, so if any of you really feel the need to watch this film and not know the ending ahead of time, skip the rest of this section.

 


Later than night while asleep alone in her tent, Ellen hears the voice of Ben calling to her. She exits the tent, dressed only in a T-shirt (and underwear I assume). She sees Kershaw snoozing by the fire and then follows the voice away from camp, which implores her to hurry. She comes across a figure sitting cross legged in the dark, and when the head rises to look at her, we see that Randy has completed his transformation into Mr. Fugly aka Black Claw. Seeing this horrible visage staring back at her, Ellen screams, turns and runs. Black Claw rises and we see that he has constructed a crude bow and arrow. Knowing now that the Mr. Fugly face is a transformed Randy, then you will begin to understand the colossal stupidity of the film distributor’s edits, which placed shots of this transformed character into parts of the movie that take place before said transformation. That would be like showing the Hulk running around a city street long before Bruce Banner gets exposed to gamma radiation. It’s ineptitude of the highest order and shows such a level of carelessness and apathy on the part of the distributor that one wonders how they even managed to produce anything.

Black Claw lets loose with an arrow, striking Ellen in her shoulder. She continues to run. Another arrow is loosened and she is now sporting two protruding from her shoulder. She runs onward. Yes, a third arrow is shot and she now has three sticking in her shoulder. Hell, even three arrows were enough to take Boromir down, and she’s still going! She takes a fourth one in the leg, which prevents her from running any further. Black Claw approaches, grabs her by the hair and she screams.

At camp, Kershaw hears the screams and awakens. He runs around calling her name and looking for her, but cannot locate her. DJ is still snoozing. Armed with the rifle, he runs off away from camp…and you guessed it, the fool has no flashlight with him. After several shots of him stumbling around he comes across what looks like a bloody piece of cloth or maybe even skin, hanging from a bush. He sets the rifle down to take closer look and as he does this, Black Claw comes running up from the side and hits him upside the head with his tomahawk. Miraculously, the blow doesn’t kill Kershaw outright and he is able to dodge subsequent attacks. They grapple and Black Claw loses his weapon, but is able to pin Kershaw to the ground, using the rifle to help push him down. Kershaw reaches for the tomahawk and bonks Black Claw in the head with it. Black Claw goes down. Showing some sense, Kershaw slams the weapon down a second time on Black Claw’s head. He seems to be dead. Picking up the rifle, Kershaw heads back to camp.

DJ is still snoozing, so he takes a seat by the fire. A wild cry splits the air and Black Claw jumps out of the darkness and then just as quickly, he vanishes again. Kershaw looks around and sees Black Claw running at him, wielding his tomahawk, so he raises the rifle and fires. This wakes DJ who now starts screaming. Black Claw keeps coming, even after another hit, so Kershaw manages to put one right into his forehead. Black Claw falls over dead. DJ gets out of the car and then when Kershaw turns the body over, it has reverted back to poor old Randy, only now with a gaping bullet hole in the forehead that is pouring blood. Kershaw tells DJ that it is all over and that she can come out now. She comes up behind him, brushes his hair with one hand and then violently grabs it and pulls. The other hand holds a shovel and with a quick swing, Kershaw is deprived of his head, which goes bouncing across the fire to land near the tent. This is in fact the very same decapitation we saw at the very beginning, as his hands now reach up and grab in the empty space where his head used to be.

Morning arrives and with it comes a white van that pulls up next to the station wagon. It’s Professor Machen! Boy, is he in for a nasty surprise. He gets out and calls out for anyone. There is no answer. He doesn’t believe that any of them could be out in the field this early so he approaches the tent. He picks up the tape recorder that is playing the spooky sounds from a few nights back. As he fiddles with it, we see the prayer sticks clacked together. He hears the sound and pulling back the flap, enters the tent. He is barely inside when he exclaims “Dear God!” and then comes stumbling out, an arrow protruding from his face. He’s dead.

Give grandma a kiss.Oh, for fucks’ sake, no!!The camera pans over the scene, which is intercut with shots of the various dead bodies. That makes me wonder…how did Ellen die? We never saw it. We only saw Black Claw grab her by the hair. I guess he just whacked her upside the head with his tomahawk, too. Anyway, we see the inside of the tent, where DJ sits cross legged, face down and is banging her prayer sticks together. All around her are the bodies of the others. Does this mean she hiked all the way to the abandoned pickup truck and hauled Ben’s dead ass back here? When she looks up, we see that her face is all moldy like possessed Randy/Black Claw’s was. She smiles. His spirt has now taken possession of her body.

Roll credits, where we learn that a sequel was jokingly promised, Roger the rat had his own hair stylist and the assistant to the producer the Eel was “Eeelet.” I shit you not.

The End.


Review

When setting out to make this movie, director Fred Olen Ray wanted to make the cheapest movie ever, describing it as “Six kids, a station wagon and a tent.” Fifteen thousand dollars later and that is pretty much exactly what you get in this film. Shot just north of Los Angeles in Agua Dulce, California the film would go on to suffer three rounds of editing. The first was from the distributor, who had insisted on having all filmed material handed over to them. This was used to add in shots throughout the first part of the film that should not be there as they were either chronologically out of place, or was just test footage – which was the case with the lion headed character. This made for a confusing narrative where the viewer is not exactly sure what is transpiring. Thank goodness for director commentaries, otherwise I would never have learned this. Ray states that only about fifty prints were made for the domestic theatrical run, with all seeming to have been lost over time. The second round of edits occurred when the film was sold overseas. Almost all scenes featuring the kills and gore were heavily trimmed. In some cases the sound track was kept, but new images were inserted in place of the originals. The third edit came when the film was released to home video on a double feature VHS, paired up with The Slayer (1982). It was trimmed by a few minutes so that a shorter running time would allow both films to fit on one tape. The gore scenes were kept for this cut of the film. Sadly, when it came time to assemble a print for the DVD release, the gore sequences had to be taken from the VHS version, making for a jarring transition from scene to scene. Ray admits that the elements needed to restore the film to his original vision most likely no longer exist.

The film itself is rather simplistic in both story and execution, but given the tiny budget this is understandable. While shot on just a handful of locations with a small cast, the film does manage to rise above the monetary constraints and deliver a creepy moment or two. This in itself is something of an accomplishment considering the barren, sparse landscape where so much of the film occurs. Once Randy is possessed and on the loose, that same rocky landscape suddenly becomes more menacing and the sense of isolation is heightened. In this way the setting and locations are maximized for their fullest effect. This was only the third film directed by Fred Olen ray, after The Brain Leeches (1978) and The Alien Dead (1980), and one can see that he is still developing his skills behind the camera. As easy as it would be to heap blame on him for all the things that are bad with this film, one has to keep in mid things that were beyond his control. The editing done by the distributor for example. Another is the fact that the film was shot with several different cameras which doesn’t lend a cohesive look to the film. Additionally, there was no budget for monitors with which to see camera set ups, so they had to trust that the camera picked up what they wanted it to pick up. This led to several scenes being slightly out of focus. So, yeah the movie looks ineptly made, but a lot of that is due to lack of funds rather than lack of ideas or passion.

In the end, Scalps is not a good movie. Even the director would tell you that. However, this is mostly due to the nature of the film itself. It was conceived to be simple and cheap and that’s what you get. There are some good gore FX considering the time and budget. There is also a subtle undercurrent of menace that runs through the second half of the film, which is where I think the film succeeds. Given how short it is, you may want to check this out if you are in the mood for super cheap horror.

 

Expect To See:
Crazed Killers – One crazed killer here, hell bent on murdering everyone in the vicinity. Then again, that seems to be the goal of most crazed killers. In must be part of the union rules or something.
Desert Hijinks – While it’s not filled with sand like the stereotypical desert, the High Desert areas of the Mojave Desert in southern California is where 90% of the action takes place. This area just happened to be a short ways north of Los Angeles.
Extreme Violence – The poor folks in this film meet some truly brutal ends which may or may not involve such crude objects as knives, stone tomahawks, arrows, shovels and a synthesizer. Well, that last one only applied to the audience.
Ghosts – The spirit of an Indian black magic user hijacks one guy’s body and takes its new meat suit vehicle on a killing spree. Why does that always have to be the case? Why can’t a possessed person ever go on a spree of eating, drinking and screwing?
Gore – There is some really decent moments of gore in this movie. Sadly, thanks to the film being heavily censored back in the day, the only surviving elements that feature such scenes are VHS copies. This explains why these scenes look so shitty now.
Nudity – This one is very brief and hardly worth mentioning. One female character exposes her boobs at one point, but considering what was being done to her at the time and only depraved individuals will derive any enjoyment from it.

 

Movie Stats:
Shadow's Commentary:

Deaths: 7
Characters actually scalped: 1
Alcoholic drinks consumed: 9
Cups of coffee consumed: 2
Cans of soda consumed: 4
Boobs: 2
Smokes: 0
Gunshots: 3
Explosions: 1
Days that pass in film: 5
Days that’s seem to pass while watching film: 10
Times Black Claw’s disembodied face appears: 5
Times Louise complains: 5
Times Ellen has food in her hand: 5
Times DJ clacks her prayer sticks: 4
Times camera rolls after calling cut: 1
Times camera rolls before calling action: 2
Times possessed Randy is seen before actually becoming possesed: 6

04 Min – The dead guy just blinked.
07 Min – Uncle Forry!
10 Min – Cameo by director’s son, who went on to become a director himself.
14 Min – I think I’ve been down that road.
16 Min – Holy shit! Gas was only $1.42!
21 Min – I think he forgot that he was driving.
28 Min – Unknown vehicle spotted in distance.
37 Min – Crew’s shiny board reflected in actor’s glasses.
42 Min – Either the film just switched to slow motion or I am seriously stoned.
43 Min – Cool cosplay costume, bro.
46 Min – Crew’s shiny board reflected in actor’s glasses.
54 Min – Director calls cut, editor waits a couple seconds to switch scenes.
54 Min – Is that snow or bugs?
67 Min – Give him a piece of your mind!
71 Min – The arrow in her back just came loose.
73 Min – That really should have killed him.
74 Min – 3-D comin’ at ya!
80 Min – Wait, the rat had a hairstylist?


Shadow's Drinking Game: Every time someone says the word INDIAN, take a drink.

 

Images Click for larger image

The live action ThunderCats film
needs a serious budget increase.


Gillette. The best a man can get.

“Damn it! Where did I put that
prescription for Cialis?”


 
“Keep reading that shit and
you’ll rot your brain.”

I’m suddenly flashing back to
family vacations in the 1970’s.

“And when you’re done just say
‘mischief managed’ and give it a tap.”


 
Going by her face, the last time that
jar of pigs feet was opened was 1967.


 
“Can I have some sunblock, PLEASE?”

Unto this barren land came Kershaw
the librarian, upon whose shoulders
was destined to sit…well, nothing.


“I forget, are we marking this area
off for digging or for pooping?”

DJ insisted on trying out her
Sasquatch calls, "just in case."

“Man, I am boiling. Does anyone
else feel hot?”

And now we know why they called
it Big Chief’s Nuclear Chili.

“Blackface! Cancel his ass NOW.”
“It’s just soot.”
“I don’t care!”

This was not how Ellen had
envisioned getting boned.

“I've heard of red wings, but DAMN.”

 

Immortal Dialog
Keep In Mind

Odd sounds heard in the night.

DJ: “Listen! Listen to the earth.”
Ben: “Have you guys gone wacko? This is too much.”
Kershaw: “It’s drums.”
DJ: “Drums and chanting.”
Ben: “Let me in.” leans down to ground “Son of a bitch!”
Ellen: “Where is it coming from?”
DJ: “From hell!”

Shadow’s Comment: So Satan started a band? Again?

  • Indian prayer sticks are vital archaeology equipment.
  • Day for night photgraphy would be more convincing if the actors carried flashlights.
  • 70's model station wagons had the storage capacity of a Tardis.
  • The older you are when you die, the faster your body decays.
  • Some older cars have luminescent paint.
  • Decapitated bodies will reach for their missing heads.

 

Movie Trailer
This Film & Me
Yet another film that I had never heard of until I saw it in the store. This would have been around 2004 or 2005, shortly after the DVD was released. I kept seeing it on the shelves at the local Best Buy. This was during the DVD boom and the shelves were quite extensive and loaded with stuff from which to choose. I saw Scalps a few times on the shelf before buying it. Not long afterwards, I watched it one day and since it is a rather short movie, I watched it again with the director’s commentary from Fred Olen Ray. The film reminded me a lot of Death Curse of Tartu, which Ray even mentions on the new commentary track recorded for the Blu-ray. I only watched the movie those two times until hauling it now for the Graveyard, despite upgrading to Blu-ray a few years back. Given the lack of any preservation and the likelihood that it will never be properly restored, and I’m really not sure why I made that upgrade. Oh, well. Now I have two copies. Yay me. Yeah, I know the Blu-ray is a couple minutes longer with some restored footage, but that footage is nothing to get overly excited about. I bet I won’t watch this movie again for another twelve or fifteen years.


 

Rating
Shadow Says


Shadow's rating: Two Tombstones



The Good

  • Decent make-up and gore FX...when you can see it
  • Good sense of isolation
  • Acting does not outright suck

The Bad

  • Some scenes could use less music
  • Too much day-for-night (I know, it was due to budget)
  • VHS copies sourced for gore scenes

The Ugly

  • That editor should never work again
  • Too much of film is out of focus
  • Film will probably never see a full resoration

 

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