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Scalper (2023) Review

Writer/director Chad Ferrin’s 2021 film Night Caller was a brutal and blood soaked throwback to the slashers and gialli of the 70s and 80s. Its sequel Scalper quickly makes it clear that it was cut from the same cloth as the original, within the first minute a man has his pants yanked down and is repeatedly sodomized with a large knife before being scalped.

That, in a wonderfully non PC gag, gives way to a radio spot for Anusol, “The suppository more doctors recommend” airing on The Hurricane Harvey Show where Clementine Carter (Susan Priver, Mafioso: The Father, the Son, Serving Up Richard) is being interviewed about the events of the first film. A call with her former boss Jade (Bai Ling, Johnny & Clyde, Maximum Impact) quickly goes South as she’s murdered, and her face cut off live on air.

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Since Clementine’s father (Robert Miano, Fast & Furious, The Deep Ones) killed Lubitz at the end of Night Caller, it can’t be him. Unless her psychic abilities aren’t the only supernatural powers in play here. But if it’s a copycat, who is it, and what is their motive?

Detective Lupino (Kate Patel, Light Visions, Proof Sheet), who blames Clementine for the death of her father, Detective Simms, in the first film is sure that she is involved in the killing. Her partner Detective Hayden (Jake Busey, Dead Ant, Ghost in the Graveyard) doesn’t believe that, but doesn’t have any other ideas either. But whoever it is, they’re targeting anyone with a connection to Clementine.

Scalper is a pretty wild film, Ferrin’s script goes all over the map with slasher style killings, police investigations, psychic premonitions, ghostly visitors and even a couple sequences set in some sort of other reality. And, give or take a ghost trying to punch out the killer, it’s played straight. It doesn’t always make a hell of a lot of sense, but he plays it with conviction. Where he does get playful is characters whose names reference everyone from Corman to Tarkovsky. One even shares a name with cult actress Joy Bang (Night of the Cobra Woman, Messiah of Evil).

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If you’ve seen Night Caller, then you know this is a very different tone from that film’s fairly straight forward slasher approach. If you haven’t seen it you probably should see it first, it’s a great film, and free to watch on several ad supported services including Tubi. And while the sequel has its own identity, being familiar with Night Caller will help the pieces of Scalper’s plot fall into place easier.

One thing both films do have in common is the intensely bloody practical effects by Joe Castro (Lake Michigan Monster, Bonehill Road). While it’s not quite on the same level as Terrifier 2, the kills are bloody and frequently sadistic, with the removal of Jade’s face and a decapitation being among the film’s highlights.

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For some, the supernatural aspect of the story will be a turnoff, I didn’t mind it, and it reminded me of films I grew up with such as The Psychic and The Killing Hour. What I did mind was the reveal of the killer’s identity. The character actually is a logical choice, they just needed to be better integrated into the story because the viewer could have seen both films and would still need Clementine’s powers to figure it out.

Scalper is a highly entertaining slasher film whose supernatural elements and heavy dose of gore help set it apart from the crowd. While Ferrin does make a miscalculation or two, it remains above average for its genre. Whether you’re a fan of slashers, supernatural stories or both, Scalper is definitely worth checking out.

Breaking Glass Pictures will release Scalper to Digital Platforms on January 16th. And if you want to see more films like this, FilmTagger can make some suggestions.

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