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John Grissmer
Robert Lansing, Judith Chapman, Arlen Dean Snyder
Writing Credits:
John Grissmer

A psychopathic plastic surgeon transforms a young accident victim into the spitting image of his missing daughter.

Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English LPCM Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 95 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 2/27/2018

• Audio Commentary with Film Historian Richard Harland Smith
• Interview with Writer/Director John Grissmer
• Interview with Actress Judith Chapman
• Interview with Director of Photography Edward Lachman
• Image Gallery
• Trailer
• Booklet


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-Chane A2.4 Speakers
-SVS SB12-NSD 12" 400-watt Sealed Box Subwoofer


Scalpel [Blu-Ray] (1977)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 12, 2018)

A dark thriller from 1977, Scalpel introduces us to Dr. Phillip Reynolds (Robert Lansing), a plastic surgeon. He kills his daughter Heather’s (Judith Chapman) boyfriend, an act that causes her to flee.

A year later, Heather’s maternal grandfather dies and leaves her a $5 million inheritance. With Heather AWOL, this leaves the money in limbo.

Reynolds encounters “Jane Doe” (Chapman), a young woman whose disfigured face opens her to plastic surgery. Reynolds proposes to transform Jane into a facsimile of Heather so they can collect the loot.

Unmentioned but inevitable: the complications that will impact this plot. For a while, it looks like Scalpel will offer a perverse riff on My Fair lady, as we see Reynolds’ attempts to tutor Jane so she can “become” Heather.

Those parts of the story wrap up surprisingly quickly, and Jane/Reynolds gain the inheritance barely one-third into the movie. That came as a surprise, as I figured the tale would involve itself more in the developments connected to the transformation.

Based on the movie’s title and the Blu-ray’s cover art, I also anticipated a tale closer to “slasher flick” than “understated thriller”. That made me pleasantly surprised by the more subtle, less gratuitous film I found.

Not that Scalpel doesn’t telegraph some of its story and character points, particularly in regard to Reynolds. Rather than leave his potentially sinister personality vague, the movie makes it abundantly clear that he’ll literally kill to get what he wants.

I guess the movie needs that choice, if just to validate his extreme decision to “recreate” Heather. Still, I might’ve preferred this area to remain more of a question, as Reynolds lacks much room to grow given our understanding of his evil.

The cast doesn’t help, as across the board, we get pretty broad performances. Admittedly, Scalpel favors a borderline camp sensibility, so I don’t expect naturalistic work.

Still, the actors feel closer to “amateurish” than “intentionally broad” too much of the time. They’re still acceptable to good much of the time, but a better cast could’ve allowed the film to prosper better than it does.

Despite these complaints, Scalpel manages to deliver a reasonably taut experience. It follows a plot with some inevitable “twists” but it exploits these choices in a lively enough manner to give the material impact.

And even with some predictable components, I admit it doesn’t telegraph everything, so even with choices we can see from a mile away, other story bits manage to surprise. Nothing here dazzles, but Scalpel turns into an effective little thriller.

The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B-/ Bonus B

Scalpel appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Despite the film’s age and low budget, this became a strong presentation.

Sharpness mainly looked positive. A few low-light shots came across as a bit tentative, but those instances remained minor and largely inconsequential.

I witnessed no issues with jagged edges or moiré effects, and the image lacked edge haloes. I also saw no notable print flaws – we might’ve gotten a small speck or two but nothing more than that.

To suit the film’s “Southern Gothic” motif, the palette heavily favored greens and yellows. These weren’t the most attractive tones, but the Blu-ray rendered them as intended.

Blacks appeared dark and deep, while shadows usually worked fine. As noted, some dim shots could be a little dense, but they mainly appeared positive. Overall, this became an appealing image.

Note that two different transfers of the film appear on this disc. For the review above, I opted for the “Edward Lachman Grade”, which uses the yellow/green color choices made by the film’s director of photography.

The disc also presents the “Arrow Grade” a version with “a more traditional look”. This meant a neutral palette without any obvious color-related emphases.

I preferred the “Lachman Grade”, and not just because I favor the filmmakers’ intentions. I also thought the “Arrow Grade” simply seemed a bit sterile, as it went too far in its desire to be “neutral”, so it seemed bland and lifeless.

Though not as good as the visuals, the film’s PCM monaural soundtrack held up well given its era. Music lacked a lot of range, but the score seemed fairly full and well-rendered.

Effects followed suit, with tones that came across as acceptably accurate, if a bit thin. Speech remained acceptably natural and concise, without issues connected to edginess. I felt this was a perfectly satisfactory mix for a cheap flick from the 1970s.

As we shift to extras, we open with an audio commentary from film historian Richard Harland Smith. He provides a running, screen-specific look at the project’s roots and influences, cast and performances, story/character areas, sets and locations, and related topics.

For the most part, Smith delivers a good commentary, as he touches on the expected subjects in a concise manner. He does lose steam as the track progresses, so the movie’s second half becomes less informative, but I still think Smith provides enough useful material to make this a worthwhile chat.

We can watch the movie with or without a 31-second Introduction from Writer/Director John Grissmer. He just tells us he’s happy we can watch the film.

Three interviews follow, and The Cutting Edge gives us a 2017 chat with writer/director John Grissmer. In this 13-minute, 52-second reel, Grissmer discusses how he got into movies, aspects of Scalpel’s development and creation, and thoughts about its release/legacy. Grissmer doesn’t make this a scintillating chat, but he adds enough useful material to make the piece worth a look.

With the 17-minute, 20-second Dead Ringer, we hear from actor Judith Chapman. She covers what brought her to acting, how she got Scalpel, aspects of the shoot and her performance, and other memories. A vibrant personality, Chapman seems fun, and she gives us a solid view of her experiences.

Finally, Southern Gothic provides a 15-minute, 25-second chat with director of photography Edward Lachman. He gets into his career and work on the film as well as comparisons between the two color grades found on this disc. Lachman makes this another good interview.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we locate an Image Gallery. It offers a running three-minute, 31-second montage that offers 36 elements. These mix publicity stills, shots from the set, advertising and video box art to become a decent compilation.

The package also includes a booklet. It presents photos, credits and essays from film writers Bill Ackerman and David Konow. The booklet completes the set well.

With a title like Scalpel, one might expect a gory horror film. Instead, it provides a fairly effective character-based thriller that usually works well. The Blu-ray offers very good picture along with adequate audio and a fairly positive selection of supplements. Scalpel overcomes its genre restrictions to become a largely effective tale.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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