80's Horror Central


SCALPS (1983)

Scalps is a low-budget slasher from legendary Z-movie director Fred Olen Ray. Fred Olen Ray has directed a few movies I really enjoyed (EVIL TOONS, HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS) and a few of the worst pieces of shit I’ve ever seen (SPIRITS, THE TOMB). So where does Scalps fall on the Olen Ray spectrum?

PLOT: A group of students head out into the desert to dig up Indian artifacts. An old Native American man warns the students about the land being cursed. An angry Native American spirit soon possess one of the students who begins killing off the others.

Scalps is definitely Fred Olen Ray’s most serious horror flick. I still think Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers is his cinematic masterpiece. Scalps is a straight up slasher flick that features some good gore for the budget and an interesting premise. Bless his heart cause Olen Ray really tries to make a competent and straight-laced slasher here…and mostly succeeds. If there is one thing I have learned from horror movies and ghost shows on TV is that you never want to mess around on Native American soil. The film is cheap and cheesy but it’s one of those gritty early 80’s slashers.

The film opens with an old man finding a cursed arrowhead and presumes to kill himself as a lion-headed man watches from a mountain top. The acting is pretty bad and the dialogue isn’t much better. The characters are all interchangeable…accept for the one chick who carries around prayer sticks.

Supposedly the film was re-cut by the distributors who inserted test footage never meant to be included in the movie (like the lion-headed ghost dude) and also spoiled the film by inserting death scenes early on as teaser footage. The film’s editing is sloppy. So I’m not sure how much of that is the distributor’s fault. But it is schizophrenic and also lazy at times. There’s a lot day for night filming with the low-budget. Something I always dislike because it just never looks right.

There is a nice throat slicing and a pretty neat scalping. The first death is pretty awesome. And the film concludes with a nicely done decapitation…but also a lame twist you can see coming a mile away. There’s a grainy-looking rape scene that has to be one of the most ridiculous rape scenes I’ve ever seen just based on the acting and also the way it transpires.

The film is too slow. It drags badly and with an 80 minute run time you can assume it was to pad this sucker out. Scalps features some of the longest slow motion chase scenes I’ve ever seen. The last 30 minutes are pretty damn entertaining in a cheap-slasher way. I really liked the musical score for this flick. It’s a very foreboding and atmospheric score for a low-budget horror flick. But it constantly plays over scenes. It seemingly never ends…which does create some tension but also becomes tiresome during scenes that are obviously not spooky. There’s some audio issues due to the low-budget and shooting outside and near highways. The film stock also seems to change so some scenes are cleaner then others...that at times can be quite grainy.

Scalps is a cheap but entertaining slasher that manages to create some tension and offers a few legit creepy moments. It’s not a good film by any means but I think slasher fans would enjoy it and I know I appreciated the effort that went into it.



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