Movie Review: Scalpel (1977)

Scalpel coverScalpel (1977)
Directed by John Grissmer
Starring Robert Lansing, Judith Chapman, Arlen Dean Snyder, David Scarroll

Nothing like the ’70s to have a movie with some creepy father lusting after his daughter! And Robert Lansing does a stellar job in the role too! Not sure if that’s a compliment or not.

Lansing stars as a plastic surgeon who has a daughter that has been missing for over a year. She just took off and nobody seems to know where she went. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that she witnessed him killer her boyfriend after he was watching them have a little sexual romp. So right off the bat, we see how seedy this guy is. After his father-in-law dies, leaving his estate to the missing daughter, he comes up with a plan, right after coming across a stripper who’d been beaten beyond recognition. Good thing he’s a plastic surgeon, huh? After a skillful operation, he has changed the face of this poor girl to look just like his daughter. Of course, when the real daughter shows up, things get even more weird.

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With a title like Scalpel, the surgery horror sure seemed like it was going to have a stronger hand in the plot, maybe a little like Georges Fanju’s Eyes Without a Face (1960), or something similar, but sadly no. Instead we have a story that isn’t really a who-dunnit, since we are shown that in the beginning, but more like trying to figure out what is going to happen next? Will the daughter and her new twin join forces, or will the father try to decide which love of his life does he want around?

As I mentioned earlier, Lansing does a great job just making you feel uneasy. When he is touching his daughter, even something as simple as stroking her face or cheek, the way he does it makes you feel a little creeped out. I’ve always enjoyed Lansing, mainly because I know him from his films that most would frown upon, that I happen to love, such as 4D Man (1959), Empire of the Ants (1977), Island Claws (1980), and The Nest (1988). Judith Chapman plays both the daughter as well as imposter, and does a great job bringing the two different characters to life. The way the script is written, we’re really never sure who is going to come out on top.

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Another character in the movie is actually the score from Bob Cobert. If you start to think that maybe you’re watching a Dan Curtis movie, this is why. Cobert is such an underrated composer, creating so many great scores over the years, he really should be more well known.

Scalpel blurayArrow has done a fine job bringing this little lost title to Blu-ray with some interesting extras. The film is presented in two different ways. One version is what Arrow did to clean up the print and make it look as crisp and clear as possible. The other version, was approved by the cinematographer Edward Lachman, which was how he had it look when first was made, giving the look more of a yellow and green coloring to it, which I happened to like better than the other way. It gives it more style and a feel from decades ago.

There is also a very entertaining interview with Chapman who really seemed to love to talk about the film and people she worked with, both in front of and behind the camera. She has some fun stories about the movie as well. Director John Grissmer is also interviewed, who talks about how he got into the film business, first as a producer then directing this one as his first feature. We also get to hear from cinematographer Edward Lachman, who tells us how he got started in the business, going on to become a very successful cameraman. The way he discusses film as a real art form, even on a film like this, was very refreshing to hear.

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Richard Harland Smith gives us a very informative commentary, offering up plenty of trivia about the different actors we are watching on screen, as well as different tidbits about the making of the film. One surprising little bit of trivia that I wasn’t aware of was that star Chapman’s birth name is Shepard and that she is actually the younger sister of Patty Shepard, who would star in many Spanish films, including a few opposite Paul Naschy! Small world.

So while this isn’t exactly a gory surgery flicks from the ’70s, if you like that era and the sleaze, then I think you might find yourself enjoying this one. Robert Lansing is so much fun to watch here and will make you shudder, while Chapman does an excellent job keeping up with him.

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