Directors: Claudio Fragasso & Bruno Mattei 
Vassili Karis, Mapi Galán, Charly Bravo

After writing more than five hundred movie reviews for this web site, I have come to a conclusion: I don't like movies very much. Naturally, I am kidding. Of course I love movies. And not just one or two different genres of movies, but a wide range of movie genres, as my genre index on this web site indicates. I also love a lot of movies that the general public shows little to no interest with at times. One of those kinds of movies that I love that the public (at least the section of public that involves people of the younger generation) shows general indifference or downright hatred to nowadays is the western. There is no other genre quite like the western. One foreign filmmaker said that the western is the only truly American film genre to ever come out of Hollywood. While I am not quite sure if that is true (I think the film musical genre originated in Hollywood as well), the western is definitely American in origin. With its often sweeping stories and opportunities for directors to go "big", it's no wonder that so many directors all over the world have been influenced by it. It's also a genre that lends itself to many different variations. Most westerns have been treated in a straight manner by their filmmakers, but if you look more closely, you will find some westerns where things have been shaken up considerably. There have been comic westerns, such as Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles to the bizarre cult classic The Terror Of Tiny Town. There have been science fiction movies that have been westerns in disguise, such as the post-holocaust movies Steel Dawn and The Road Warrior. For that matter, there have been westerns that have science fiction elements to them, like Cowboys And Aliens and Wild Wild West.

If you look closely enough, you will probably find a western with whatever mix or feel that matches what you are looking for. But I don't want to talk about the many different kind of westerns out there - I want to discuss a particular kind of western that Hollywood (as well as foreign) filmmakers have often been reluctant to make. The kind of western I am talking about are westerns that involve Native Americans. Now, I am not saying that only a pitiful number of westerns involving Native Americans have been made. But if you were to make a list of all the westerns that have been made, you will see that the number of westerns involving Native Americans are definitely in the minority. And if you were to cut out the westerns with Native Americans that don't flesh out any of them to make them significant characters in the narrative, your small list would get much smaller. Why is this so? After all, Native Americans in real life were a big part of the west. There seem to be two reasons why. The first reason is that in real life, Native Americans were often treated badly by white settlers. A movie bringing up this bad treatment nowadays would have a great chance of turning off white moviegoers, because they don't want to feel guilty watching a movie. The second reason that I've come up with is the fact that since the birth of movies, movies have been sold by "star power". There haven't been that many real life Native Americans who have become big stars. And when a Native American actor does suddenly become hot, Hollywood doesn't seem to know what to do with that actor. Look at Will Sampson (One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest) and Graham Greene (Dances With Wolves). They were in popular movies, but each of them a few years later drifted back into obscurity.

It's even worse if you look at westerns made by European filmmakers. Though there have been some movies that involve Native Americans (like Navajo Joe), of the over five hundred European oaters that have been made, precious few have involved fleshed-out Native American characters. ScalpsThe reasons for that are pretty easy to explain, in my opinion. One reason may be that "white guilt" I mentioned in the previous paragraph, but I think another reason is that until recent decades, Europe was pretty much all Caucasian in its population, and finding people who could pass for Native American was difficult. The movie I'm reviewing here, Scalps, is a rare spaghetti western involving Native American characters, though that wasn't the only interesting thing about it. The biggest selling point was the fact that it was directed by both Claudio Fragasso (who made the infamous Troll 2) and Bruno Mattei (who directed the camp classic Rats: Night Of Terror). Fragasso and Mattei teaming up for a movie? Well, it ain't exactly Peter Jackson teaming up with Steven Spielberg. The setting of the movie is in desert country shortly after the Civil War has ended. Although the war has ended, a small group of Confederate soldiers, lead by one Colonel Connor (played by Alberto Farnesse) is holding out in a fort. Colonel Connor hopes to barter with a local Native American tribe so he can get his hands on Yarin (Galán), the beautiful daughter of the tribe's chief. But Connor's troops just end up massacring the entire Native community save for Yarin, which they capture and subsequently start transporting her back to Connor. However, Yarin manages to escape into the open desert and stumbles upon the ranch of a white widowed settler named Matt Brown (Karis, The Arena). Although Matt has hatred towards the people of Yarin since they murdered his wife, he is tired of killing and takes in Yarin. But as Yarin recovers, Connor and his soldiers are relentlessly searching the desert for her. Eventually, both Matt and Yarin find themselves on the run from Connor and his troops, and while they decide to put aside their differences so they might be able to escape, it might not be enough to escape from the determined Connor.

I don't think it's necessary to go on with describing what happens in Scalps from that point on. If you are familiar with westerns - both American and European in origin - you probably have some sort of good idea what eventually happens. Besides, I think you have another question in mind about the movie, one that is very pressing. Since you know that Claudio Fragasso and Bruno Mattei directed this movie, the question you probably want answered first is, "Is this movie an inept laughfest like some of the other movies that have been made by these two particular directors?" Well, I know that many of you will be disappointed by the news that the movie is actually not a barrel of laughs, at least for the most part. Towards the end of the movie, there is an extremely funny moment when the movie recreates in this western environment a scene from - get this - Rambo: First Blood Part 2. As it turns out, that is the only scene in Scalps that can be considered unintentionally funny. What will really surprise a lot of viewers is just how the rest of the movie comes across. The feel of the majority of the movie is one that's surprisingly sombre and even downright grim at times. For one thing, quite a few people get killed during the course of the movie, sometimes a whole bunch of people in one particular scene. And when there is a violent act in the movie, more often than not it's portrayed in a way that will not have addicts of cinema violence getting off on it. The killings and various injuries come off in a more savage way than you usually get in a Hollywood or European western, one that will have audience feeling the pain and suffering of the victims of the various assaults. Be warned: Scalps for the most part is not a "fun" movie like many of the other efforts from Fragasso and Mattei. Personally, I don't see anything wrong with a movie that aims for that, at least as long as it's executed with skill (more on this later.) So if you decide to watch the movie regardless of what I say here and later in the review, be sure you know what you're in for.

There is also additional competence to be found in Scalps here and there if you look carefully enough. Music composer Luigi Ceccarelli (who also scored Mattei's Rats: Night Of Terror) provides a score that, while sounding more Hollywood than spaghetti, provides a good backdrop. It's no classic that will have you humming it for days afterwards, but it always seems to fit well with whatever is happening on the screen at the time. While I could list a few other small touches to the movie that work, I don't want to get away from the fact that we're talking about a movie made by Fragasso and Mattei. There's much more that doesn't work in the movie that does work. Mattei co-wrote the screenplay (from a story co-written by Richard Harrison, the star of countless Godfrey Ho ninja movies of the 1980s), so it should come as no surprise that in a number of ways the writing for the most part is lacking. To Mattei's credit, the screenplay does avoid a number of clichés when it comes to the developing relationship between the characters of Matt and Yarin. It doesn't improve with every subsequent scene, but for a long time repeatedly switches back and forth between hot and cold, which I think is more realistic. But other than that, there's a decidedly lack of good writing for these two characters. Matt comes across as someone who very seldom reveals what his thoughts and feelings are. He never really becomes a heroic character, even though the movie seems to think that he deserves the label. Yarin, on the other hand, has the handicap of not speaking at all for the first part of the movie, so it's really hard to know exactly what is going through her head. Eventually she does start speaking, but what she does subsequently say is not very interesting at all. Her dialogue doesn't give her an extra dimension above the Rambo-like killer she abruptly becomes in the last part of the movie.

The villains of the movie are a disappointment as well. The various soldiers under the command of Colonel Connor are not given any chance to come across as different from each other. They are just a mob that only likes to kill and make people suffer. And apart from a short speech Colonel Connor makes at the opening the movie, not much is done to make him stand out from his troops. It doesn't help that one of his soldiers looks remarkably like him, creating some confusion in a few scenes. But the movie doesn't just suffer with an inadequate screenplay, but also with the direction. Whether it was too many cooks spoiling the broth, or Fragasso and Mattei being simply bringing the incompetence they have brought to other movies, Scalps is not very well directed for the most part. The grim mood I mentioned earlier is striking at times, and they throw in some welcome nudity in a few places, something you don't usually see in westerns (even those made by Europeans.) But other than those things, the direction is hopeless. Though shot in the same Spanish deserts that gave earlier spaghetti westerns eye-catching backdrops, the locations here are poorly chosen, looking incredibly dull to the eye scene after scene. The action sequences, though plentiful, are all equally incompetent in their execution, from poor choreography to badly chosen camera angles. The movie also suffers from some of the worst day-for-night photography I've ever seen, with some night sequences so dark you simply can't tell what is going on. The worst thing about the direction, however, is that there is no heart to the movie. I don't immediately object to a movie with a grim feel to it, but at the same time I ask that it be done with an appropriate amount of skill. It seems Fragasso and Mattei were working so hard to give the movie a nasty edge that they failed to give the audience some kind of human touch, something to hang onto to make us care about the hell that was going on for these characters. Watching the movie is kind of like allowing yourself to get repeatedly slapped in the face for no reason at all. Unless you are a masochist, I can't imagine why you might find this movie entertaining.

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See also: Cheyenne Warrior, Navajo Joe, Rats: Night Of Terror