Robert Lansing was one of those actors who you’d see on TV and say, “Hey, wasn’t that guy in….” His career spanned from 1956 until his death in 1994. He had that face of unquestioning authority with roles in everything from 12 O’Clock High to Automan to The Equalizer and finally Kung Fu: The Legend Continues. Probably his biggest TV role was Gary Seven on the episode of the original Star Trek. He was the mysterious guy with the cat and Teri Garr in what was really a backdoor pilot for a series that didn’t get picked up. Amongst his supporting work, Lansing did have a few leading roles and one of his most cult worthy is the criminally calculating plastic surgeon in Scalpel. While the film has faded a bit into obscurity over the last few decades, the print has been restored so now Scalpel can be enjoyed in its Southern Gothic glory.
Dr. Phillip Reynolds (Lansing) is a successful plastic surgeon in a small Southern town. He does have a little problem in that he’s a homicidal maniac. He has killed and covered up the death of his wife and his daughter’s boyfriend. This second death leads to his offspring vanishing. When his father-in-law kicks the bucket through means not involving the doctor, they read out the will. He gets nothing, but his daughter gets five million bucks. But she can’t collect. He comes up with a plot on how to get his hands on the loot. He finds a stripper (The Young and the Restless‘ Judith Chapman) whose face has been messed up big time by an overzealous bouncer. He gives her a new face to look just like his daughter and teaches the family history. The stripper fools everyone and collects the inheritance. But things get complicated when she falls for the doctor and he has no problem hooking up with her. Things get even more complicated when the real daughter returns and finds dad with a woman who looks like her.
Lansing is diabolical in the role as the sociopath plastic surgeon. He’s wonderfully cold blooded in the lead. Chapman is up to her dual roles as the fake and real daughter. She pulls off the weirdness of seeing her face on another woman. They elevate the film from what could have been a campy Southern Gothic flick.
If you miss the credits, you’ll swear this film was made by Brian De Palma with its themes of identity issues, weird identity bending sex and twisted deaths. Plus it has a Hitchcock vibe. But Scalpel was written and directed by John Grissmer who only ended up directing one of other film a decade later, Blood Rage. Scalpel is a horror film that gained a pretty good following in the late ’70s as it ran on TV in the late night slot. It even did well in the early VHS era. But has faded during the DVD era. This Blu-ray should revive the Southern fried homicidal charms. After watching this film, next time you see Robert Lansing on a MeTV show, you’ll go, “Hey that the plastic surgeon from Scalpel!”
The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic. The new transfers look so nice. You get that Southern feeling in ever shot. You can get the detail in Chapman’s dual performances. The audio is LPCM mono. The mix brings out the sounds of bugs and birds when they’re outside. The movie is subtitled.
Two Versions of the film are available for viewing. But this is not a case of a released and director’s cut. Turns out they have the original version with Edward Lachman’s more golden toned visuals and a version that’s more neutral. I prefer the golden tone since it feels more Southern.
Introduction by Director (00:32) is a hello from John Grissmer.
The Cutting Edge (13:53) catches up director John Grissmer. He recounts the filming and his career.
Dead Ringer (17:21) gives Janet Chapman a chance to explore playing two women.
Southern Gothic (15:25) allows director of photography Edward Lachman to break down his visual choices for the film. Lachman went on to shoot The Limey
Image Gallery (3:32) feature location pics and promotional materials.
Trailer (2:42) is from the time it was in the theaters. But the film really caught on as a late night movie in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
Audio Commentary features Richard Harland Smith gives a bit of history about the film.
Arrow Video presents Scalpel. Directed by: John Grissmer. Screenplay by: John Grissmer. Starring: Robert Lansing, Sandy Martin, Judith Chapman, Arlen Dean Snyder. Rated: R. Boxset Contents: 2 movies on 1 Blu-ray. Released: February 27, 2018.
Tags: Arrow Video, Robert Lansing, Scalpel, Star Trek