Scalps: The 30th Anniversary Interview


Last time we presented a retrospective celebrating 30 years of Scalps, a shocking slasher that would differentiate itself from the pack with its Native-American supernatural elements. This time around, we speak to the director himself. Read on as Fred Olen Ray peels away the layers of the 1983 production.

Retro Slashers: What originally inspired the idea for the film?

Fred Olen Ray: A friend of mine named Donald G Jackson suggested it to me. It was meant to be the cheapest film possible. I used to describe it as 6 Kids, a Station Wagon and a Tent and it pretty much was.

Retro Slashers: It has been said the original distributors had a hand in the editing room. For instance, the bizarre inter cutting of “The Lion Man”. Can you shed any light on this? Was it ever intended to be edited differently? And if so, how?

Fred Olen Ray: The cut we turned it was the one we wanted. Unfortunately being pretty green about that end of the business we also gave them, the distributor, the trims and outs and the result was their “improved” version. The Lion head was only meant to be seen for one or two seconds, but we shot a lot of it in order to have footage to choose from. It was a big mistake giving 21st Century the leftovers, but I don’t think anyone would have guessed what was going to happen with it. They also cut in some shots of the killer Indian before he actually appeared in the story. It was maddening.

Retro Slashers: Who exactly is “The Eel”?

Fred Olen Ray: That would be Lee Lankford (T.L. Lankford), now a very successful writer and director.

Retro Slashers: Was Scalps 2: The Return of D.J. always a joke, or did you ever plan on doing a sequel?

Fred Olen Ray: We never intended to do it, although someone else did… somebody sent me a fan film sequel a few years back and we all watched it one Christmas! I used to promise sequels where I never intended to do them. We did it on Phantom Empire and Hollywood Chainsaw also. It was a Gag.


Retro Slashers: In Kuwait the original film was (illegally) remade as Blood Desert. Has there ever been any attempts to have the film released officially by either party?

Fred Olen Ray: It was actually offered to us. The guy who made is a pretty nice fellow, but it just wasn’t right for me. I heard he was also going to remake Death Curse of Tartu… he certainly has eclectic tastes!

Retro Slashers: The film has several scenes shot “day for night” but other scenes in the real night. Was this due to re-shoots or just the way the filming was scheduled?

Fred Olen Ray: Well, as I said it was a real micro-budgeted movie. When we were close enough to a house to run an extension cord out to the location we could film with lights at night, but it wasn’t feasible when we were too far away from a fixed power source… we didn’t have the money for a permit, let alone a generator.

Retro Slashers: Do you ever have any contact with the original cast?

Fred Olen Ray: Not really. I’ve run into Richard Hench here and there and I certainly cast some of them in other films around that time period. But otherwise, no.

Retro Slashers: Would you consider remaking the film yourself, today? How about someone else?

Fred Olen Ray: I would certainly entertain the idea, but I’m not sure if the PC establishment would go for it. I wrote the script in about a 48 hour span at a point where I was unemployed… it was a different world back then.

Retro Slashers: Are there any deleted scenes?

Fred Olen Ray: I don’t think so… we were asked to add the rape scene by 21st Century after the fact and so we did, but none of us wanted it or liked it. It’s really disturbing, I think.


Retro Slashers: Any fond (or not so fond) memories from the shoot?

Fred Olen Ray: As the single father of a 4 year old son it had its challenges. Chris spent many a night sleeping in the back of a car while we made this. We were broke and had a dream that we could do this. It got made and actually found its way into theaters and onto Drive-In screens. For $15K it did its thing and I’m always amazed that people like it, or find something in it to like. My idea was to try to convey a feeling of claustrophobia in a wide open space, like having the pick up truck drive between deep gulleys and stuff that seemed to pin you in. Maybe it worked.

A very special thanks to Fred Olen Ray for taking the time to do this interview. Visit him at

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