A gifted plastic surgeon helps a woman who was brutally attacked. He recreates her face in the spitting image of his young daughter and then proceeds to fall in love and get busy… No, it is not the start of an X-rated film, it’s just the latest offering from Arrow Video, 1977 film Scalpel!
Going blind into this, I thought it was going to be a horror film. Mostly because of the name and the fact it was coming from Arrow. It ended up being quite the interesting psychological thriller instead. The screenshots on this review will be a little different than normal. Arrow decided to offer up the film fully restored, but with two different color gradings.
Director of photography Edward Lachman shot Scalpel with a “Southern Gothic” look in mind, containing strong warm tones with an intentional emphasis on yellows and greens. Lachman supervised and approved the grading for this version, which represents this stylistic look as intended. (This paragraph is taken from the ‘About the Transfer’ page in the included booklet)
The second version has a more traditional grade and is supposed to be used for comparative purposes. Both look phenomenal in their own way and I’ll discuss more below in the appropriate section. I’m putting this here because the screenshots will be the same shot with the different grades so you can see both.
The Movie Itself (4/5)
Scalpel stars Robert Lansing as Dr. Phillip Reynolds a skilled plastic surgeon. Even though he murders his daughter’s boyfriend and possibly his wife, he seems to genuinely care about a lot of others. Well at least until they piss him off. He’s certainly not your typical evil villain. After taking out the boyfriend, his daughter, Heather, disappears and runs away without a trace. This becomes problematic when Phillip’s father-in-law passes away and leaves five million dollars to his granddaughter, Heather.
Six months or so go by and there is nothing Phillip can do until one night he comes across a woman in the middle of the street, her face all cut up and bashed in. They actually do show the altercation between Jane (she is Jane Doe throughout the film) and what appears to be a bouncer at the strip club where she is presumably working.
The shots almost seem like an afterthought to get some boobs and blood into the film. The sequence is quite tonally different and feels clunky compared to the rest. I like boobs and blood as much as any fan of these types of films and it almost pains me to say it, but I think it should have been cut and she should have been just found in the road. Especially since they never explain any of it or give her any sort of background.
After not getting anywhere with the patient about who she is, Dr. Reynolds has the light bulb proverbially turn on with a fantastic idea. If no one will be missing Jane, why not make her look like Heather? With her being the right height and having the same eye color, he can swindle his way into the five million dollars. It’s not explained why Jane never tells who she is, but it must not have been happy because she accepts the doctor’s proposal quite readily.
The film then jumps into showing Jane’s recovery. Phillip figures that if they are going to try and make this work they better go all out. He puts her through the ringer and makes her study everyone that is a part of Heather’s life. he teaches her mannerisms and the little intricacies of his daughter’s character. This is the start of where we get to see Judith Chapman’s portrayal of both Jane and Heather shine. Even though she plays both roles, the whole point is to be the exact same person and yet they feel like two different actors. She gives enough nuance to really give the role substance and make it interesting for the viewer.
This film is filled with little subplots. Can Jane fool the family into believing she is Heather? Where has Heather been all this time? When she returns does she know about the money and her grandfather? How will Phillip keep two women happy? Will his daughter find it weird that her father is shacking up with a woman she could trade places with?
I’ve seen my fair share of Arrow films and many of them blind buys. It’s no secret that some are films of questionable taste. Scalpel, however, is one film that truly surprised me. It’s well-acted, well-directed and shot beautifully. The plot and settings are interesting and the film flew by with no drag whatsoever. Well other than the silly scene of Jane getting assaulted. The whole time I was interested in how poor Phil (yes that murderer who was somewhat charming) was going to get out of this mess. I also wanted to know what Jane and Heather were going to do and the third act doesn’t disappoint.
Visuals/Picture Quality (4/5)
This film is generally very pretty. Perhaps even more so than what the screenshots show. Arrow removed a ton of dirt and scratches per what we are told in the booklet. Unfortunately, the original negative wasn’t to be found. However, there are only a few problem scenes throughout. At various times, there is a decidedly noticeable lack of detail in certain surroundings and certain lighting. The issues are few and far between thankfully. The black levels are excellent and I didn’t notice any detail differences in the different grades.
I think most people will watch the Arrow grading versus the DP preferred due to it looking brighter, but I watched his version the whole way through and can say it does give the film a different feel. I’m not sure how many “Southern Gothic” films I have seen in my lifetime, but the DP’s grade makes you feel like you are transported back into the 70’s with an HD TV in tow.
Score/Audio Quality (4.5/5)
The original mono was completely remastered for this film and sounds terrific. There are pretty much no hisses or pops and dialogue is crystal clear. The score has a vast variety of instruments depending on the scenes. Everything from Jazz, to eerie oboes, upbeat solo guitar, synth, and electronics, to Heather playing the piano and singing. It all compliments the film well and that mono track does work. I was very impressed with the mixing on this one.
Special Features (3/5)
The Cutting Edge (13:53) A brand new interview with writer/director John Grissmer. A brief but very interesting look at the man that made the film.He discusses his favorite scenes and the people that helped make the film. I wish the director was a part of the commentary, he seems like a wealth of knowledge. It’s more curious because he does the commentary track on Blood Rage.
Dead Ringer (17:21) A brand new interview with actress Judith Chapman. She recounts her favorites scenes from Scalpel and what it was like to work with the cast and crew. She has a ton of energy and seems to generally love and enjoy the film. Worth watching if you liked the film also.
Southern Gothic (15:25) A brand new interview with the director of photography Edward Lachman. The first half he talks about working on the actual film and his experiences. He describes having fun with Judith off set and their adventures. The second half focuses on the different color gradings. This part was quite interesting because he explains about the degradation of materials and the different filters he uses. It’s certainly an interesting presentation the way Arrow did the transfer on this Blu-ray letting the viewer flip between both.
Image Gallery (03:31)
Audio Commentary with Richard Harland Smith (01:35:07) I lament above about not having the director on the commentary and after listening, I stand by that. Viewers are going to either really like Richard Harland Smith’s commentary or turn it off before its done. Smith is very very knowledgeable on every actor in the film. He obviously did loads of research and will talk about the commercials and films that every one of the bit actors has been in. I did enjoy when he talks about the settings and some of the Atlanta landmarks. I really wanted to know more about the film and think having the above three people (Grissmer, Chapman, and Lachman) would have been personally more enjoyable for me. Now, I wouldn’t ignore another commentary by Smith on a future Blu-ray, but I’d prefer to know more about the inner workings of the film.
- Reversible Liner
- Disc Art
- Clear Non-Eco Case
- Insert booklet that has a pair of essays about the film. (First Pressing Only)
- Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
- English: LPCM Mono
- English SDH
Runtime 95 Mins
Scalpel Overall (4/5)
Scalpel certainly took me by surprise. I was expecting a sort of sleazy horror but instead got an engaging thriller. The movie was well acted, shot, and directed. The story is compelling and done well. The technical aspects are great for a film of this age and the transfer was restored with great care. The features are interesting and should provide insight for those that do enjoy the film. The packaging is the standard for Arrow, which compared to most is fantastic. I think anyone that has an interest in Scalpel, will really enjoy this Blu-ray.
You can purchase Scalpel from Amazon or other fine retailers that carry Arrow products.
Note: This Blu-ray was sent to us for review. This has not affected our judgment or editorial process in any way. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this process.