Wednesday, May 8, 2019

SCALPEL (1977) Blu-ray review

Scalpel (1977) d. John Grissmer (USA) (95 min)

Dr. Phillip Reynolds (Robert Lansing), a renowned plastic surgeon, has a bit of a conundrum. His wealthy and recently deceased father-in-law has cut him completely out of a vast inheritance, leaving the entirety of the estate to Reynolds’ daughter, Heather (Judith Chapman). Problem is his estranged offspring is unlikely to share, having run away from home after her overprotective daddy drowned her beau in the pond out back last year. One night, the disinherited doc crosses paths with a young exotic dancer, Jane, her face beaten beyond recognition, and hatches a scheme to reconstruct her features in the form of the missing Heather and split the $5 million pot between them. As her scars heal, the two grow closer, both to sealing the deal and to each other, but first they’ll have to convince suspicious Uncle Bradley (Arlen Dean Snyder) and the rest of the family that Jane is Heather... and make sure Heather doesn’t show up to ruin the party.

Whew! Combining the classic Eyes without a Face plot with an insurance-fleecing scam proves surprisingly entertaining in the hands of director Grissmer (Blood Rage), who penned the script based on producer Joseph Weintraub’s original story. Taciturn, gravel-voiced TV veteran Lansing (who appeared in Bert I. Gordon’s Empire of the Ants opposite Joan Collins later that same year) is perfectly cast as the amoral sawbones, with his incestuous desires clearing simmering below the surface.

Soap opera staple Chapman (nearly a thousand episodes, with almost 800 logged for The Young and the Restless alone!) also makes quite an impression in her first big-screen appearance, nimbly dancing between the dual roles of Heather and Jane.

Prior to collaborating with Todd Haynes (I’m Not There, Far from Heaven) and Steven Soderbergh (The Limey, Erin Brockovich), celebrated cinematographer Edward Lachman delivers a rich and sticky Southern Gothic atmosphere in this, his second feature. In his featurette on the new Arrow Blu-ray, Lachman discusses how the colorists for the new high-def transfer wanted to “clean up the yellow tones” that he had worked so hard to create, seeking a sepia-tinted world where rot and avarice hold sway. (Both versions are available for viewing on the disc, making for an interesting compare/contrast opportunity.)

Robert “Bob” Cobert lends the same sense of queasy unease with his melodic soundtrack that he does to his myriad of Dan Curtis projects (The Night Stalker, The Norliss Tapes, Dead of Night, Burnt Offerings), and production designer William De Sata made his debut here before going on to classic 1980s action exploitation efforts like The Exterminator and The Protector (with Jackie Chan).

An oft-forgotten VHS fave that’s well worth checking out!


Brand new 2K restoration from original film elements

High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation

Original Uncompressed Mono Audio

Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

Brand new audio commentary by film historian Richard Harland Smith

“The Cutting Edge” with writer/director John Grissmer (14 min)

“Dead Ringer” with actress Judith Chapman (17 min)

“Southern Gothic” with cinematographer Edward Lachman (15 min)

Original Theatrical Trailer

Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by The Twins of Evil

Scalpel is available now on Blu-ray from Arrow Video and can be ordered HERE:


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