Dir. Chad Ferrin (2023)
Psychic Clementine Carter (Susan Priver) is once again being hunted by a sadistic murderer who scalps his victims.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Susan Priver plays Clementine Carter, a psychic who shared a link with a recently deceased serial killer in Night Caller, and now she's having visions of murder again. Has the killer returned, or is someone new taking up the mantle? This time, she has the assistance of detectives Jake Busey and Kate Patel to finally end this threat to the city once and for all, but it's going to take everything they have... and possibly a little more.
Straight off the back of his brutal slasher movie Night Caller, director Chad Ferrin brings us a sequel that is perhaps even more vicious than the original. If you've ever seen any of Ferrin's films (and we've reviewed a couple here), you already know very well the type of irreverent, politically incorrect humor and action that permeate his films. Scalper is no different, and the tone is set immediately with an anal penetration by knife in the opening couple of minutes. Ferrin styles his film like the cheesy, tongue-in-cheek slashers of the 80's anyway, so when he decides to make a straight-up slasher in the same spirit? You know it's going to be a great love letter to the genre.
And you'd be right. There are scenes in Scalper that almost feel lifted from other classic slashers from the past, though homage is perhaps a more appropriate word. The driving, orchestral score during pursuit scenes feel almost Jaws-like, but Spielberg never did gore and ferocity like this. Ferrin is the master at taking what would be over-the-top cheese in less capable hands and bringing it just across the border of creepy, delivering some scenes that will stick in your craw and remain burned on your brain. Scalper feels like a slightly more serious Troma film, joining together a standard slasher plot with a cruel streak and sadistic, prolonged gore. More often than not, it's pretty decent gore, too.
There is some silliness afoot, of course, some parts that go for humor when a more serious tone would've actually made the scene scarier. During one scene, the killer is wearing the face of a previous victim while hunting his next, but he's simultaneously being attacked by a psychic ghost who is attempting to warn the next victim. The killer walks through the ghosts incorporeal strikes, because, well, he's a ghost, and makes his way to his victim unencumbered. It's a bit ridiculous. But that's Ferrin's oeuvre, a love-it-or-hate-it component of his films that make him an acquired taste for some but a cult favorite for others.
The music choices are interesting, fitting well into the 80's slasher aesthetic that Scalper aims for. The acting is the same, melodramatic at times from Priver while attaining a neo-noir mood through the performances of Jake Busey and Katie Patel. The inserted cigarette burns really add to the chosen style. Some shots, especially those that take place within the dreamlike world of Clementine's psychic visions, feel almost beyond what you would expect of a Ferrin film: they're expansive and surreal, as artistic as they are all-encompassing. Throughout the whole film, though, Ferrin's nasty little thriller wears its inspiration on its sleeve. For referential horror, it's a fun throwback jaunt to the golden age of the genre. If it's your thing, you're going to absolutely dig it.
Who this movie is for: Slasher lovers, Gory horror fans, People who think horror was better in the 80's
Bottom line: Scalper is mean, relatively lean, and even a tad ridiculous at times, but it's also genuinely creepy and filled with some brutal shots that feel like a well-done homage to back when horror was fun. A cross between a serial killer slasher and a detective flick, there's a little something for everyone, as long as you don't mind director Chad Ferrin's irreverent sense of style. If you're a fan of old-school slashers with a bit of a supernatural twist, this will definitely be one that you'll enjoy.