• Scalpel

    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: February 27th, 2018.
    Director: John Grissmer
    Cast: Robert Lansing, Sandy Martin, Judith Chapman, Arlen Dean Snyder
    Year: 1977
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    The Movie:

    From John Grissmer, the man who gave us Blood Rage, comes this 1977 thriller in which Robert Lansing stars as Phillip Reynolds. He’s a surgeon with a dark side! He wants to cash in on the inheritance that was due to his missing daughter Heather, whose whereabouts for the last year or so, since her boyfriend died, have been unknown. He does this by coming up with a scheme in which he uses his skills with a knife to turn a prostitute he finds beaten and unconscious in the street into a dead ringer for his offspring!

    The girl, referred to only as Jane Doe (Judith Chapman), get used to her knew mug pretty quickly and then learns the ins and outs of ‘becoming’ Heather. Things are going well enough until the real Heather (Chapman again) returns, at which point Robert has to figure out exactly how to deal with all that he has brought upon himself.

    Very nicely shot by cinematographer Edward Lachman with an intent to create a very specific ‘Southern Gothic’ look, Scalpel plays its fairly ridiculous concept completely straight. The film is well paced and, if not ever all that scary, at least weird enough to easily hold out attention. If the concept behind the picture owes a debt to films like Eyes Without a Face or Dark Passage, so be it, it really isn’t all that original an idea when you get right down to it, but Grissmer takes things in his own direction focusing not on the horror aspects but rather the morality of it all. The central characters in the film are all more than a little morally ambiguous, which presents the somewhat outlandish central concept of the film as some interesting food for thought. The over the top horror movie theatrics of Blood Rage are nowhere to be seen in this film, they’re very different in both tone and in execution.

    As to the performances, Robert Lansing, who passed away in 1994, is a little melodramatic in spots, but he plays the part well. Cult TV fans will recognize him from his recurring role opposite Edward Woodward on The Equalizer, but he had a pretty lengthy career on both the silver screen and the small screen. Judith Chapman is the best part of the film. As Jane Doe and Heather Reynolds, she’s interesting, mysterious and the film’s most interesting variable. She handles the dual role very well giving each character her own distinct personality.

    It’s also worth noting that two versions of Scalpel are presented on this disc. The first one features the original color grading approved by director of photography Edward Lachman and the second version a newly graded more conventional looking version of the film. Aside from the color grading, the presentation of the two versions appears to be identical.


    Arrow presents Scalpel on Blu-ray taken from a new 2K restoration from the 35mm color reversal internegative (CRI) in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85.1 widescreen. Supervised by Edward Lachman, the film’s director of photography, it would appear that Scalpel is meant to have a ‘southern gothic’ look to it. As such, it often makes use of some unusual color schemes, leaning heavily on green and yellow throughout the movie. Given that the film is supposed to look like this, the colors actually look pretty good and they suit the tone of the story even if it does seem to flatten out some of the fine detail you might expect from a 2k restoration. That issue aside, this is still miles above what standard definition would be able to provide and there’s solid depth and texture here. The disc is nicely authored showing no compression artifacts while the transfer seems free of any obvious noise reduction or edge enhancement. The source is also pretty clean, so while a few white specks show up now and then there isn’t much in the way of serious print damage at all.

    Audio chores are handled well by an LPCM 2.0 Mono track in English with optional subtitles provided in English only. No problems here, the audio is properly balanced and it comes through without any hiss or distortion. There isn’t a ton of range here but it suits the material just fine.

    Extras start off with an interesting audio commentary by film historian Richard Harland Smith in which he offers up an array of background information on the film, its director, its cast and its crew along with notes about the locations and the themes that the picture deals with. It’s an interesting and very listenable talk delivered at a quick pace and with plenty of insight.

    Arrow has also come up with three new interviews, the first being the fourteen-minute The Cutting Edge with director John Grissmer who discusses his work on this picture, his thoughts on the film, what it was like working on the picture and a fair bit more. In the seventeen-minute Dead Ringer actress Janet Chapman shares her thoughts on the film, its story and what it was like playing a dual role in the picture. Last but not least, in the fifteen-minute Southern Gothic Lachman talks about the specific look that he intended for the film and how that’s reflected in the colors that appear on screen and in some of the movie’s cinematography.

    Outside of that, the disc also contains the film’s original theatrical trailer, a still gallery, thirty-second introduction from the director, menus and chapter selection.

    As to the packaging, we get a nice reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by The Twins of Evil as well as a full color insert booklet containing credits for the feature and the Blu-ray release alongside some technical information about the disc and an essay on the film penned by Bill Ackerman.

    The Final Word:

    Scalpel isn’t ever particularly scary but it’s just weird enough to work. Arrow’s Blu-ray presents this lesser known genre effort in an excellent presentation with a strong array of supplements to accompany a bizarre, perverse and intriguing feature attraction.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Gary Banks's Avatar
      Gary Banks -
      I really like this creepy, sick little film. I'm going to watch the Arrow version first as I'm not too wild about the gold/yellowish tint.