Thursday, March 8, 2018

Blu-ray debut for John Grissmer's 1977 southern-gothic oddity, SCALPEL

Leave it to Arrow Video to unearth (and then so beautifully reproduce/remaster) some really oddball entries into the movie canon. One such is the recently-released on Blu-ray, 1977 psychological thriller/southern-gothic melodrama, SCALPEL, that features, among other delectations, a very heavy dose of would-be father-daughter incest. Golly, the south! Not enough that it was the cradle of American slavery, it seems, as ever, to get up to the most transgressive stuff.

This little zircon-in-the-rough, directed and adapted (from a story by Joseph Weintraub) by John Grissmer, shown at right, tells of a semi-famous and quite popular plastic surgeon whose daughter suddenly disappears following the suspicious death of her current boyfriend. Dad is so bereft that, when a young stripper gets her face beaten to that proverbial pulp, he takes the poor child under his wing and, yes, gives her the face of that missing daughter. As you might imagine, complications ensue.

Are you already put in mind of that classic of all plastic surgery movies, Eyes Without a Face? Worry not. Grissmer's little spin on the Franju film offers enough fun and games, smart and reasonably witty dialog, ambience and characters that fairly drip of our besotted south, and even a few surprises to keep you pleasantly engrossed.

The surgeon is played by that yeoman professional Robert Lansing (at left, above and below), who does a bang-up job of first impressing us (as well as his students) with how smart and resourceful he seems, before allowing us to see what an absolute turd this guy really is.

As the subject of his little experiment, The Young and the Restless actress Judith Chapman (above)-- who barely looks much older today than she did back in '77: she's a shining example of the art of plastic surgery -- also does nifty turns playing the dual roles required here.

Fine support is given by a game cast, including an especially good, Arlen Dean Snyder, as one of this seedy family's seedier members. If you've seen more than a dozen-or-so mysteries you will probably figure out much of the plot machinations prior to their taking place. Still, Grissmer does a nice job with enough of his twists and turns that you'll probably stick with Scalpel to its amusing and quite "just" finale.

About the Blu-ray transfer: It is up to Arrow's usual excellent standards. Especially worth noting is that the movie appears in two formats on the disc. One is evidently what the original release pretty much looked like in theaters. The other, however, has been given a kind of semi-golden overlay more fitting of the southern gothic look that both Grissmer and his cameraman, the now highly noted Edward Lachman, originally wanted. I watched a bit of the former but would recommend the latter, which not only looks wonderful but seems more correct for both the time period and location (Scalpel was filmed in the state of Georgia).

Bonus extras on the disc include very good present-day interviews with the director, the cinematographer, and the lead actress -- plus a new audio commentary by film historian Richard Harland Smith.

From Arrow Video, running 95 minutes and distributed here in the USA via MVD Visual, the movie hit the street last month and is available now for purchase -- and I would hope somewhere for rental, as well.

No comments: