If you’re a horror fan that grew up during the VHS age of home video you likely have fond memories of heading to your local video store on a Friday night and perusing the horror section trying to find the perfect film. More often than not your choice would come down to title and artwork. Maybe you’d flip to the back of the box and take a quick glance at the synopsis, but it rarely came to that. You’d be pulled in by the artwork and that would lead to your decision. The majority of the time the film would fail to live up the artwork, but that’s just the way it was.
In the DVD and Blu-ray age we haven’t ran into this problem nearly as much for a number of reasons. For starters it’s a lot easier these days to know about films before finding them on the shelves of your local video store (or Netflix or Amazon or wherever you get your movies from these days). In addition to that, home video releases just don’t have the same type of artwork they used to have in the VHS days. More often than not movies released have a very bland cover. The exception are the releases we get from Scream Factory, Arrow Video, 88 Films, Vinegar Syndrome and so on. The artwork on the releases from these little genre companies do their best to harken back to the 80’s.
Why am I talking about all this now? Because I was fooled, friends! 88 Films recently released Scalps on Blu-ray (also available in the US as an Amazon exclusive from Retromedia Entertainment) and the artwork is amazing. Seriously, it’s fantastic, check it out:
That’s pretty great artwork, right? That catches your eye. Plus it’s part of the Slasher Collection from 88 Films and I love their Slasher Collection. I was easily sold on watching this and was in fact very excited to do so. Now this is a Fred Olen Ray movie and I do enjoy the work of Fred Olen Ray, but my expectations should have been in check. Instead I was a fool and dove into this one head first.
In this “slasher” a group of college archeology students head to the California desert to do some digging. They’re warned that they must be careful when choosing where to dig, but they don’t pay attention because they’re college kids! They end up digging around in a Native American burial ground in search for artifacts and well this is bad. They release the curse of Black Claw, an evil spirit that possesses each student one at a time and causes them to slaughter one another.
This idea of this movie is fantastic! I would love a movie that ran with this idea and did it well. Scalps is not that movie. Not even close. Scalps is a bad, bad, bad movie. Even by Fred Olen Ray standards. It’s 82 minutes and it drags by! This movie feels like it’s two and a half hours long. Sure, the death count is pretty high, but these aren’t great deaths. Not only do the deaths fail to be anything special, the effects don’t look good and the acting is complete rubbish.
Man, Scalps is a bummer. I wanted this to be awesome, but it just isn’t. There are two things I like in this movie – the music is kind of ok and there’s a nice cameo from Forrest J Ackerman. Other than that this is garbage. I’m sure there are some 80’s slasher aficionados that will likely find some joy and charm in this, but not me. I couldn’t do it.
Actually, there is a third thing I like. It’s the lion-mask-thing pictured above. That looks pretty cool. Why didn’t they do more with that? I would have loved to see more of that thing.
As far as the Blu-ray goes, here’s the bonus content that is included:
- 2K Scan from the Original Negative with Censored Scenes Restored via Tape Sources
- Brand New Audio Commentary track with Director Fred Olen Ray
- Original 35mm Theatrical Trailer
- “Remembering Scalps” New 22 Minute Retrospective featurette with Richard Hench, Frank McDonald, Chris Olen Ray and Fred Olen Ray.
- Justin Kerswell on Scalps: A Slasher Experts View
- 88 Films Trailer Reel
- Reversible Sleeve featuring original poster artwork
Let’s start with that 2k scan. Adding in the censored scenes using tape sources is a nice touch. I’m all for getting the uncut version so that’s a major plus. As for the quality of the transfer its a bit rough and certainly not what you expect from a Blu-ray. I don’t think that’s any fault of 88 Films, however. If I had to guess the remaining elements for Scalps were not great and we got the best we could ever hope for. So while this isn’t a stellar looking release that will blow you away, I do think this is the best version of this film we’re likely to ever see.
The retrospective and experts view from Justin Keraswell are both very nice. They make a rather dull movie a bit more interesting. The commentary from Ray I have not listened to yet but just to know it’s there is nice. I will eventually listen to it and maybe Ray will be able to salvage Scalps in some way.
So that’s Scalps, the Blu-ray that seduced me with art just like many VHS did during my childhood. I don’t think this is a good movie, in fact I think it’s quite bad, but I’m sure there are many out there that have a soft spot for this piece of schlock. Despite the less than great picture, the Blu-ray is solid. If you’re a fan of the film this is definitely the way to go. Or if you just have to continue your 88 Films Slasher Collection, then you kind of have no choice but to get this.
Scalps is now available on Blu-ray from 88 Films.