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HE LOST THE FACE OF THE WOMAN HE LOVED… SO HE GAVE IT TO SOMEONE ELSE.
US television staple Robert Lansing (Star Trek, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone) stars as a deranged surgeon in this twisty-turny psychological thriller from Blood Rage director John Grissmer.
In Scalpel, Lansing plays Dr. Phillip Reynolds, a man whose daughter Heather (Judith Chapman, As the World Turns, General Hospital) has run away from home a year prior following the suspicious death of her boyfriend. When he happens across a young woman one night, her face beaten beyond recognition, the unhinged Reynolds sees his an opportunity to put his trusty scalpel to use - hatching a plan to ''reconstruct'' her face in the image of his missing daughter, and so claim her sizeable inheritance.
Photographed by celebrated cinematographer Edward Lachman, who would go on to serve as DP on the likes of Erin Brockovich and The Virgin Suicides, Scalpel is an exemplary slice of Southern-fried gothic, filled finally rescued from VHS obscurity in this revelatory new Blu-ray edition from Arrow Video.
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The story revolves around a family in the south, those stalwarts of times gone by who drink mint julips while relaxing on the front porch of some southern mansion. It opens with the death of the family patriarch and the reading of his will. Grandpa wasn't too fond of his family leaving only his dog to his son Bradley (Arlen Dean Snyder), nothing to his son-in-law Dr. Phillip Reynolds (Robert Lansing) and his entire wealth of $5 million to his granddaughter and Phillip's daughter Heather (Judith Chapman). The only problem is that Heather disappeared over a year prior and no one knows where she's at.
As Bradley and Phillip are returning home after celebrating the old man's death a unclothed woman with a battered face falls in front of their car. Being a brilliant plastic surgeon, they gather her into Phillip's car and rush her to his hospital. There he takes care of her making the decision after noticing the similarities she shares with his daughter to give her Heather's face. With no identification she goes only by Jane Doe and when she's ready to leave, Phillip takes her to his home to recuperate.
It is there that he shares his plan with her. With his daughter gone and no clue that she even still lives, he wants Jane to take her place. She will learn her speech patterns, who the various family members are and to become Heather. In return he agrees to give her half of the $5 million. What he fails to tell her is his homicidal ways having killed both Heather's mother and her boyfriend, the cause for her leaving.
All goes well and the money is transferred. But then an eerie twist takes place. Phillip begins to fall for Jane. It takes on a creepy vibe as the man falls in essence for a woman who looks exactly like his daughter. Sure, he knows it's not her, but still.
Things begin to unravel when Heather actually returns home. Heather accepts Jane's staying at the house and doesn't reveal anything to anyone. Joyous for her return Phillip makes plans for the three of them to live there in the house without being bothered. But Jane isn't quite sure of the situation. Before the final credits roll the twists and turns of the film will find a resolution for everyone concerned.
The movie oozes charm and southern sophistication throughout even though the storyline revolves around murder most foul. Lansing who was a consummate actor and appeared on numerous TV series does a great job here, not making the character sympathetic but not painting him as a raving lunatic either. Chapman does a great job in both roles as Heather and Jane. Director only went on to do one other film, BLOOD RAGE, but cinematographer Edward Lachman, in what was his first time out as director of cinematography, went on to bigger things. Those include doing the same duties on films like SELENA, THE VIRGIN SUICIDES, ERIN BROCKOVICH, CAROL and recently WONDERSTRUCK.
Rather than receive the shabby treatment reserved for movies like this provided during the days of VHS it is now being released by Arrow Video and that immediately means that it is an upgrade over any version previously offered. To begin with we're presented with a brand new 2k restoration of the film on blu-ray format. There is also the option of watching the film in the southern gothic style overtones in coloring created by Lachman or the straightforward standard color version. Extras include a brand new audio commentary track by film historian Richard Harland Smith, brand new crew interviews, the original trailer, a reversible sleeve featuring new artwork by The Wins of Evil and lastly for the first pressing only a collector's booklet with new writing on the film by Bill Ackerman.
The film might not be for everyone but for fans of those southern gothic novels, of thrillers and of horror movies you'll want to give this one a watch. In the end you might even enjoy it enough to have it grace the shelves of your collection. In either case it's worth giving a watch.
The story certainly has potential, but the script meanders when it should be tightening the screws. Even the incest angle (Reynolds develops a physical relationship with his replacement daughter, both played by soap opera veteran Judith Chapman) doesn't really raise an eyebrow. Brian De Palma's Obsession is the most obvious comparison here, but with no exploitation elements and plot twists that aren't nearly as limber as they should be, Scalpel withers on the vine despite good acting all around and some solid technical credits.
That said, Arrow's new restoration should have no trouble attracting some curiosity seekers. The transfer, which offers up a yellow-tinged "Southern Gothic" version along with a more traditional take, is flat-out gorgeous. Extras include interviews with cast and crew and a top-notch commentary from Richard Harland Smith along with a collector's booklet.
One night, Reynolds finds a stripper who’s been badly beaten and is lying unconscious in an alleyway with her face badly disfigured. Taking the young woman to the hospital where he works, Reynolds devises a scheme to reconstruct her face to resemble his daughter, promising to split the inheritance that she will claim as Heather. Things get complicated, however, when the real Heather shows up.
Plastic surgery as a macabre plot device is not unique to “Scalpel.” Films such as “Goodnight Mommy,” “Eyes Without a Face” and “The Skin I Live In” also show dark aspects of those who abuse the procedure. Lansing is very effective as a modern version of the “mad doctor,” using his skills in ways his medical training never intended. Ms. Chapman plays the dual role of Heather and the Jane Doe Reynolds uses in his experiment. Her performance is not adequately differentiated, so it’s often unclear who she is playing.
The widescreen Blu-ray edition contains two versions of the film: one retaining the yellowish-green hues of the original cinematography, the other Arrow’s own newly tweaked version with the color grading adjusted to attain a more naturalistic look. Bonus materials include brand new audio commentary; introduction by writer/director John Grissmer; new interviews with director John Grissmer, actor Judith Chapman and director of photography Edward Lachman; image gallery; original theatrical trailer; and reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork.