Oct 6, 2009

The Plot: When the Northern army claims victory over the south immediately after the civil war, a crazed officer takes his platoon and holds up in the west secretly planning some sort of revival against the Northern forces. However, this idea quickly folds over as his taste for power becomes stronger and he decides he is in need of a new lover, so he sends his men after the beautiful daughter of a nearby Indian chief. When the chief refuses to hand over his daughter to become the sex slave of a mad man, the rowdy troops begin to massacre the entire village. The men from the village were all off hunting so it just made the job easier for the crazed soldiers, who proceed to brutalize women and children. After all is said and done they begin their journey back with the beautiful Indian girl. However, she’s quite swift and manages to escape her confines and finds refuge in the home of a man who holds his own resentment against native Americans but doesn’t look to hurt anyone. The man must decide whether to fight for the girl, or to sit idly by while these mad men have their way.

The Review: Directed by Claudio Fragasso and Bruno Mattei? Are you kidding me? Have I not learned my lesson from the likes of Troll 2 (that’s right kids, Claudio Fragrasso is the director of the infamous “worst film ever made”, amongst other junk) and Hell of the Living Dead? Fragrasso and Mattei teamed up quite a bit during their prime years, and together brought us some real achievements in the world of really awful cinema. Such as the previously mentioned Hell of the Living Dead and Rats: Night of the Terror. I should have reviews up for both flicks, and both are just absolutely terrible. Terrible or not, I will give it to both guys they know how to make a movie memorable and even fun to a certain degree. That doesn’t excuse their incompetence, but hey, there’s an upside to everything right? So, with my previous knowledge of these two immortal directors in the forefront of my mind I just have one question about the movie Scalps: How on EARTH is this good? It had all the makings of becoming some kind of kitschy piece of absolute garbage. However, Fragrasso and Mattei must have ignored their first instincts which I would assume would be something like having a Robot Apache taking on all of the west. With those two you just know they’re out to make a profit so the last thing one expects to find is an engaging western that deals with some of the racial prejudices found in the time of cowboys and indians. Not that the film is without the faint touches from either director, there is after all a great bit of violence for a western like this, but considering the genre and the themes that the film touches upon it actually works decidedly well in context. That’s right, there’s actually context for the violence to work in! In a Claudio Fragrasso/Bruno Mattei double billing! The world will astound you sometimes!

Made in the shadow of the looming nineties, what an odd time to be releasing a Spaghetti Western. I cannot imagine the idea behind the creation of such a film, when it seems the genre was all but dead in Italy as well as the US for that matter. However, I guess Fragrasso and Mattei both felt they still had something viable to throw into the mix. The use of graphic violence might actually be that minute area that the Spaghetti Western never seemed to really throw at the audience all that much. There were a few flicks that I can think of off the top of my head, such as Cut Throats Nine, but by and large the majority of Spaghetti Westerns were generally bloodless or occasionally packed on a few bloody squibs. The act of scalping soldiers and Indians though is that one area of the western world where a director prone to violence and sensationalism might could craft something interesting in the genre while still being fairly faithful to the genre. It just adds a bit of that modern (well, for the time) horror element that had been so popular for years within Italy. So yeah, it’s not quite a Spaghetti Western meets Gore flick, but it’s certainly one of the bloodiest of the genre. There are a few scalpings here and there, a massacre near the start and a torture sequence near the end that is definitely a bit on the disturbing side. The violence definitely adds another layer not usually found in these flicks, but you might be asking yourself “Is that it?”. Well, the best I can guarantee you is that on top of this consistent level of violence there’s also a decently paced (albeit rather conventional) but completely and utterly sensible plot to enjoy as well. Something you might not actually expect from the likes of Fragrasso or Mattei, so it turns out as a pleasant surprise to say the least!

I know I’m bagging on both directors a lot at this point in the review. I have friends, people I respect and admire who actually look at Mattei as some kind of sleazy visionary in the field of exploitation cinema but I just can’t get behind the guy’s work. Everything up until this point that I have seen from the guy has gone from being absolutely terrible to tolerable and terrible. Scalps is that odd circumstance where everything kind of lines up and all the starts part way for something you would never have thought could happen: it actually does. That doesn’t mean that Scalps is a masterpiece of any sort. I would be lying if I came out and said that. It’s really just a solid Western that mixes in these aspects of exploitation and horror rituals and delivers a fast paced and brutal action tale. It also has a few things to say about racial tensions in the west by placing this Indian goddess in the hands of a good man who’s wife was slaughtered by her people. He is good in nature, but his own racial prejudice keeps the two of them seperated for a decent portion of the film. However, this is all handled with a rather clumsy hand and becomes about as obvious as the answers to a first grader’s math test. Regardless, the combination of everything working “right” makes the whole of the picture actually stand out. Not a ‘great’ film by any stretch of the imagination, however, it is fairly solid and becomes an interesting pick for any genre fan due to the level of violence found in a Spaghetti Western. Also interesting for the late arrival to the Spaghetti Western party. Also, if you’re like some of my friends you’ll want to see it for the sake of collecting all of Bruno Mattei’s work. So, from me it gets a three out of five. Not anything spectacular, but the external elements (like Mattei’s involvement and the violence level) make it just interesting enough to warrant the watch even without taking into consideration just how decent the level of performances, cinematography and choreography is.

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