Scalps (1983)

What can I say about Scalps? That’s not a rhetorical question, I’m actually having difficulty coming up with words to describe it. It’s a low-budget flick, though not an exceptionally bad one (I’ve seen far worse) but it’s not really very good either; it’s just sort of – there. But then again, under the right circumstances, just being there can be good enough. Hey, I realize that’s not really a tagline-worthy assessment (Scalps: It’s there and that might be good enough) but it’s a start.

Scalps follows a group of archaeology students who venture out into the desert looking for artifacts. They make the mistake of digging on sacred Indian land (ignoring the dire warning of an old Indian who apparently lives in a gas station) thereby summoning the spirit of an ancient Indian warrior who possesses one of the students (Richard HenchBiohazard, The Tomb, Slaughterhouse Rock, Deep Space) and then sets out to murder the others. Sounds pretty exciting, right? Well as long as you are somewhat flexible with your definition of excitement, then you, my friend, are in for a non-stop thrill-ride. There’s the not-to-be-missed driving-in-the-desert scene, followed by the much-talked-about walking-in-the-desert scene, which makes the perfect lead-in to the show-stopping sitting-in-the-desert scene. Yes, if you’re into watching people do regular things in a desert setting, then you’re going to love a big chunk of the middle part of Scalps. For everyone else, this would be a good time to go and put a frozen pizza in the oven.

Scalps students

The movie isn’t all dull, though, and, in fact, there are some aspects of Scalps that are quite effective – the desert setting was desolate and eerie, creating an unnerving feeling of isolation, while the gore scenes were sufficiently splattery and actually pretty good for a movie with such a highly-constrained budget. There is a fair amount of cheesy dialog/acting to generate some laughs, but some of the cheesiest moments come from clips that were never intended to be in the movie at all. This being one of director Fred Olen Ray’s earliest movies, he made a rookie mistake in agreeing to include all the cutting-room-floor footage when he sold the rights to the movie. The new owners decided to jazz things up a bit by inserting some of this footage into head-scratchingly random spots throughout the movie, the most ridiculous of these being a test shot of a guy in a crappy lion mask raising and lowering his upper lip. The insertion of these clips definitely didn’t do anything to help make sense of the movie, but if nothing else, their non-sequitur nature did add some unintentional humor.

Scalps lion man

If you’re not familiar with director Fred Olen Ray (The Alien Dead, Biohazard, The Tomb, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, Deep Space, The Phantom Empire, Beverly Hills Vamp), he specializes in low-budget B-movies that tend to be light in the story area and heavy in the gratuitous nudity area. If you’ve ever watched a movie with the word “bikini” in the title, chances are good it’s a Fred Olen Ray flick. Those aren’t criticisms, just facts, and Olen Ray seems like a guy who doesn’t take himself or his movies too terribly seriously. Like many independent movie directors, he likes making the movies he wants the way he wants to make them, and I can respect that even if the results tend to be a little bit stupid at times. If you run across a Scalps DVD, be sure to watch Ray’s commentary for some entertaining insight into the process of making B movies. I almost always gain a greater appreciation for a low-budget film when I hear a director speak fondly but honestly about its creation.

Scalps ancient warrior

So should you watch this movie? The best way I can think to answer that is to say you’re probably not going to want to invite friends over for the sole purpose of watching Scalps, but it’s not a bad movie to have on when you aren’t feeling like paying very close attention. Not really a definitive answer, I know, but it’s about as strong an endorsement as I can offer. If the night requires (or you can at least be satisfied with) “good enough”, then Scalps might just be your movie.

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