Saturday, June 12, 2010

SCALPS (1983) - no thanks, Mr. Tomahawk...I don't need a haircut anyway

A creepy Indian ghost head appears in a bowl, a possible homage to a similar shot in Masaki Kobayashi's Kwaidan, or maybe a metaphoric attack on the racism inherent in certain breakfast cereals.

While director Fred Olen Ray went on to a steady career, exploring variations on all types of exploitation genres through a tittycentric, Hollywood skid row aesthetic, he peaked early with this stylistic departure, a complete and utter rip off of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (always a good plan of attack). While padded throughout, Fred keeps things gritty, throwing in effective little glimpses (ghostly images, flashbacks, and flash forwards of redskin related carnage) to add impressionistic touches to a realistic base.

So, some old drunk is driving his pick up through the desert, and notices some dude wearing a robe and lion mask, apparently conducting some sort of ritual (maybe Satan likes talking to lions). The old man heads to a cave to dig for rocks, but an Indian face superimposes itself on his head, forcing him to stab himself. I guess Tonto and the boys are still upset about getting wiped out.

We now sit in on a boring archaeology class, briefly lifted by a forced-in Forrest J. Ackerman cameo. The teacher explains to the students that their school project involves trekking out to the middle of the desert and stealing some rocks from an Indian burial ground. Our college "kids" include a hot girl that wears a red banana around her neck and eats raisin bran, a girl wearing overalls, a girl in short shorts, a jerk, and two bearded schmoes. I doubt this ragtag group is ready for the horrors of the desert. Oh, there’s also that Indian ghost dude running around…and that lion man, whoever the fuck that is.

They start their trip, and the car immediately starts to overheat, so they stop at the local redneck gas station (they’re not just limited to Texas, I guess). A real Indian warns them not to go to the burial ground (sort of a redskin crazy Ralph), and we see a scalping montage, in case some of the audience members are unable to piece together the obtuse narrative.

So, they continue driving and babbling while being followed by a vulture, even driving by a skeleton without noticing it (could this be portending horrors to come?). Finally getting through the padded driving sequences, they celebrate with the requisite bonfire beerfest. We catch a glimpse of an Indian wearing jeans, and frankly, I’m starting to get nervous.

The next morning, the sun rises to the tune of an overbearing synth line, spiteful and tuneless, like the morning desert sun (or maybe, more accurately, Vangelis biting down on his Casio). Undeterred, the group heads out on their endless hiking trek, eventually finding the burial ground where their precious rocks reside. Unfortunately, the girl in the overalls sees a scary Indian face and starts screaming about angry spirits or whatever.

They continue on into the night, investigating their scientific findings (i.e. rocks). The hot chick decides to wander off in the desert and gets chased by an Indian, so she runs back to camp. The hippie girl in the overalls asks everyone to "listen to the earth", and they do so, hearing drums and chanting and what have you (like one of those new age albums).

Later, a couple starts making out, and the dude gets possessed by the Indian spirit, so he beats up the girl and rapes her, even exposing her bare breasts. Not finished, he slits her throat in gooey fashion and then scalps her. I guess the passage of time did little to quelch the Native American’s lust for revenge. The others find the scalped girl’s body, and, the next morning, they pay their last respects to her hairline-less corpse. Also, the truck no longer works, but, fortunately, one of the bearded dudes is fixing it. They'll get it up and running and get the fuck out of dodge, living to tell a most unbelievable…oh no, the Indian smacks him in the head with a bone.

It is now dark, with another blazing fire, and the remaining schmucks quickly becoming easy pickens. The Indian nails the hot chick in the back with an arrow, which doesn't seem to faze her much, but she is finally stopped with an arrow in the leg, before getting scalped (I’m sure she felt that one). This leads into the final showdown, where the remaining males tussle with the supernatural Indian. I gotta say, if the monster is a ghost that can move around anywhere and possess anyone, there isn’t really much suspense as to who’s gonna come out on top.

The next morning, the teacher drives out to their campsite in the desert to catch up with his students, but he gets a stick in the eye (literally). One of the male students remains possessed, surrounded by corpses and banging sticks together (sort of a rudimentary drum solo). I guess the Indian finally has a physical body to inhabit, though I thought he was pretty effective working solo. Maybe I just don’t get other cultures.

I guess the lessons here are obvious. For one, stay the fuck out of the desert. Secondly. If you’re gonna invade a country, make sure you wipe out all of the natives. Any remaining stragglers are gonna be really pissed. More pertinently, as an ancestor of the settlers, I guess I’m supposed to feel really guilty, even though I didn’t participate or condone any of their actions. I’m not quite sure how I’m supposed to make up for all of this. I guess I could go spend money at one of those Indian casinos, but, frankly, I’m hot garbage on the slots.

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