An elderly prospector (Frank Scott) goes on a long drive out to a patch of the desert where the Native Americans used to bury their dead, but there's a lion headed spirit aware of his intentions to look for valuables out there and he sneers in the old man’s general direction. Once he does get to a promising-looking cave, he starts to dig, only when he quickly finds something worthwhile the image of an ancient shaman appears and he takes the knife he was using then stabs himself in the neck with it, ending his life supernaturally. Meanwhile, back in the city there is an expedition party about to embark on an archaeological excursion, little knowing of the danger that awaits...
Or indeed the punishing tedium that awaits, in the first Fred Olen Ray film to receive any kind of widespread distribution. He grumbled about that release since his producers recut it to add in various clips, like the lion spirit or the shaman, to jazz it up a bit: presumably if Ray had had his way it would have been even more boring than it already was. Inspired by the United States' strain of regional moviemakers, he thought he could make easy money creating his own low budget horrors, and if they were entertaining to somebody then so much the better. Sadly, as Scalps proved, entertainment was not on the menu.
In typical Ray fashion he cast his biggest names in the smallest roles. Kirk Alyn was and still is best known for being the first screen Superman, in a nineteen-forties serial, so he was recruited for his name value which should give you some idea of the sputtering stardom Ray had access to. He showed up at the beginning for a bit of background information on the dig that was so superfluous it was insulting, and as a bonus offered the star of thirties cult favourite Mark of the VampireCarroll Borland, inspiration to Goth girls everywhere, in a nothing cameo as an administrator at Alyn's university where she patently had left the look that made her name far behind.
There then followed the decidedly non-starry rest of the cast, much younger than Kirk and Carroll and Forrest J. Ackerman (never one to miss a trick, appearing briefly to plug his latest publication), who proceeded to go on a long drive to the desert. Seriously, it took the best part of an hour for anything remotely horrific to happen, unless you consider being bored to tears horrific, with much of that time taken up with walking when they were not in their van. Most other moviemakers would have cut to the chase in that time, giving the audience at least something to get their teeth into, but not here, all you had was an excruciating amount of padding with one of the most teeth on edge soundtracks imaginable droning throughout.
Also not helping was the rest of the sound recording, with the cast struggling to be heard over the dull roar of traffic in too many scenes, or otherwise muffled of voice when the dialogue was lost in the ambient noise. It's difficult to convey quite how much you do not care what happens to anyone in this story thanks to character development that goes precisely nowhere since you're well aware this is the sort of movie where everyone gets killed, or just about everyone, so there was very little reason to watch it. The violence was inspired by the slasher phenomenon of the day, so you had imitations of a couple of setpiece gore moments from other efforts, and a rape for no good reason other than to try and appear edgy (it fails). The list of Indians getting revenge on the white folks for their near-genocide horror movies is not too long and for the most part none too distinguished either, but Scalps, which includes one single scalping so should have been called Scalp but then it would sound like a hair care infomercial, had to be right at the bottom of the lot.