Retro-Review: New this week on BluRay from Arrow Films and MVD Visual; help me out and pick it up on DVD/BluRay here on Amazon!

SCALPEL (1977)

Directed by John Grissmer
Written by John Grissmer, Joseph Weintraub (original story)
Starring Robert Lansing, Judith Chapman, Arlen Dean Snyder, David Scarroll, Sandy Martin, Bruce Atkins, Muriel Moore, Clara Dunn, Stan Wojno, Laura Whyte, Larry Quackenbush, Greg Oliver, Mimi Honce, Tad Currie, Warde Q. Butler, George Macrenaris, Lynda Simon

A razor sharp Southern Gothic medical nightmare is what you’re in store for if you take a chance with SCALPEL, which only teeters on the precipice of horror, but is still a damn fine film.

Dr. Phillip Reynolds (Robert Lansing) is depressed and desperate. He gone to great lengths to inherit his family fortune and estate, but having run out his daughter June (Judith Chapman), he just might lose it all as she is the sole heir to the money. So what’s a brilliant plastic surgeon to do? Why, take a woman whose face has been destroyed and recreate her in his daughter’s image, that’s what! Coincidentally, a Jane Doe with a destroyed face and the exact measurements of his daughter is brought into the emergency room and after making a deal with her to split the money, they hatch a scheme to replace June. But what happens when June returns?

SCALPEL has a storyline that is as twisty and turny as the rollercoaster Phillip and Jane ride in the film. Who has allegiances with who? Which June is which? How can any of them live under the same roof and hate each other so much to do such unspeakable acts to one another? It’s simply amazing to see the way this film snowballs from it’s simple beginnings to it’s complex and mania ridden end. This one goes into some icky territory that will definitely make you squirm, relying on what we know about the characters rather than just blood and guts. Just writing a synopsis is exhausting as there is so much to tell, yet still I only cracked the surface of this story.

This film rides on the shoulders of its two lead actors—Lansing and Chapman. Lansing does everything with a Southern drawl which makes it feel like he is a just and downhome gentleman, even though he most certainly is not. Lansing’s character can spin a yarn and charm the pants off you but uses this as a weapon here that truly creates an evil and despicable character in his Dr. Reynolds. And Judith Chapman is amazing in the dual role of June and Jane. The scripts give them fantastic words to toss at one another violently, but Chapman is able to give each character a life of its own. Seeing these people at odds with one another is something remarkable.

While the doppelganger is a well often plunged into in horror, I haven’t seen it done in such a thoroughly entertaining and devious way. Add in betrayal at every corner and some medical monstrosity and SCALPEL is a Frankenstein Gothic movie not to be missed. Arrow Films have added quite a few bells and whistles to this release. You can watch it in the yellowed hue that director John Grissmer intended to have to highlight the Southern Gothic nature of the story or a color corrected version. There’s also new commentary by film historian Richard Harland Smith, cast and crew interviews, theatrical trailer, new artwork on a reversible sleeve, and a collector’s booklet with new writing on the film by Bill Ackerman.

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