The Scavengers [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Severin Films
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas. (27th March 2024).
The Film

Long cut off from their comrades, a troop of Confederate soldiers are low on morale, comrade Parker (The Corpse Grinders' Sanford Mitchell) is dying, and craving even horse meat as a respite from daily rations of greens and mush. Second-in-command Sergeant West (Michael Divoka) appeals on behalf of the men, but commanding officer Captain Harris (The Thing with Two Heads's Jonathan Bliss) believes a "diet of hate" is necessary to win the war as he reveals that their assignment is to infiltrate a largely deserted town that serves as a Union relay station and commandeer a supply run believed to be carrying a fortune in gold for the soldiers' payroll. Taking over the town proves surprisingly easy as the Union contact Mason (The Erotic Adventures of Robin Hood's Paul Wilmoth) is also the local brothel owner sees no difference in having his girls entertain one side or another. Mason's amorality disgusts fervent Harris who kills him while his men are having downtime with the girls.

The next morning, Harris has the women locked up and his men ambush the Union convoy, killing all of the men but Lieutenant Nelson (Warren James), his accompanying fiancee Faith (Dracula vs. Frankenstein's Maria Lease), and her black maid Nancy (Roda Spain). Harris refuses to believe Nelson when he insists that the war is over and that the South has surrendered. When the cache of gold turns out to be considerably less than expected, Harris tortures Nelson, and then turns his men loose on Nancy when Nelson continues to insist that there is no more gold. When Nancy manages to kill one of her captors and escape, Harris turns his attentions on Faith. Meanwhile, Nancy stumbles up a shanty town of former slaves and has a hard time convincing them to rescue white people from other white people.

"Look out, town! They're headed your way," goes the theme song penned by fellow filmmaker Paul Hunt (Twisted Nightmare) who also appeared in the film in addition to editing it. The Scavengers follows up producer Bob Cresse's and director Lee Frost's previous western-set "roughie" Hot Spur with a more ambitious production that also seems to have been stylistically-inspired by the recent release of Sam Peckinpah's violent and gritty western The Wild Bunch. Far more so than the prior film, The Scavengers is story- and character-driven, with the much of the sexual content consisting of clothed soldiers groping carousing with and groping prostitutes even softcore/hardcore seventies icon Uschi Digard (Supervixens) is merely a featured player with the more explicit violence than sex. The two rape scenes are more disturbing for their overall tone rather than what is seen although all of the film's sex scenes were offered in both R-rated and "hot" versions and it is more due to Bliss' frothing, leering racist Southerner than the actual "action" as he, like the slightly more sympathetic protagonist of Hot Spur, uses his men to enact violence in response to a personal trauma. The ending does explode into another massacre that wipes out most of the cast; although this time around, the film's villain definitely earns his fate while the survivors see the damage they have wrought.

Frequent Frost/Cresse collaborator Wes Bishop who co-wrote Race with the Devil with Frost (who started as its director before being replaced) works here behind the scenes along with production supervisor Ron Garcia who directed the roughie The Toy Box and later photographed David Lynch's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, while actress Lease later became a director, helming a few porn films like Little Girls Blue and its sequel before moving to the mainstream with the Child's Play clone Dolly Dearest.
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Video

Distributed by Cresse's own Republic Amusements Corp. directly to theater chains on the West Coast and Terry Levene's Aquarius Releasing on the East Coast, The Scavengers was offered in both R-rated and "hot" versions (there are rumors that a subsequent reissue version titled "The Grabbers" actually included hardcore inserts). We have not seen the source used for the Private Screenings videocassette or what is described in the commentary as a "rough print" Something Weird used for their VHS and DVD-R and initially provided to Severin a bootleg VHS source that has been floating around the net of the hot version came from a Dutch-subtitled cassette but this is another case like Hot Spur where the thought-lost original camera negative has been unearthed in the inventory of a French lab by way of a distributor who was still interested in softcore titles before hardcore was legalized in France.

Rather than just provide the "hot" version, Severin's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray features separate encodes of the R-rated (94:20) and unrated (104:21) versions; and, in this case, this is not a waste of space or a fake added value extra since the commentary reveals that the R-rated version is not a cut-down of the unrated version or the unrated version inserting material from an inferior source. The negative was found to feature separate trims of the R-rated and unrated versions of the sex scenes comprised of entirely different takes with their own line readings and degrees of nudity designed to be easily substituted (and, indeed, in some regions there might have been versions that used the unrated versions of some scenes and the R-rated of others depending on what they thought might be considered obscene locally). All of the material has thankfully been well-preserved and there are no noticeable quality shifts between the sex scenes and the body of the film. The cinematography of the usually slick Robert Maxwell (Point of Terror) contends with the location shooting, with well-lit interiors, well-exposed overcast exteriors, and some uneven day-for-night bits. The opticals including the credits and the moments of Peckinpah-esque in which the film shifts abruptly into slow motion look a bit coarser than the surrounding footage as expected; but this is yet another admirable presentation of a film that was once thought lost to the grime of the grindhouse.
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Audio

The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track sports clean dialogue in the location and on-set sequences, the sound design is a bit more attentive with the recurring audio motif of vultures, while the score is mostly supportive apart from the title sequence with its abrasive, growly lyrics. Optional English SDH subtitles are included.
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Extras

The unrated version is accompanied by an audio commentary by Vinegar Syndrome's Joe Rubin, Severin Films' Andrew Furtado and Temple Of Schlock's Chris Poggiali which was recorded before Hot Spur so it is a better introduction to Cresse and Frost, including Cresse's "Freudian" obsession and discussion of some of their other works like The Defilers, and some of the regular Cresse/Frost collaborators like Bishop and Garcia. Poggiali pops up to discuss his telephone interactions with Frost who frequently became exasperated with his enthusiasm about the films, Hot Spur surprisingly making the National Review's Top Ten Films of the Year in 1969 (after which the editor was fired) and how Cresse capitalized on that, and how the aforementioned film played in a double bill with The Scavengers on the East Coast afterwards (it apparently did play there upon release but not as widely) and continued to play on its own into the eighties, as well as anecdotes about Cresse's showmanship.

The disc also includes the Theatrical Trailer - R-rated (6:56) and Theatrical Trailer - Hot Version (6:56).
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Packaging

Archival marketing programs printed on the reverse of the cover sleeve, but also included in the case is the promotional program replica booklet "Our Family Album" that includes some photographs of other indignities heaped on the Union soldiers than seen in the film.

Overall

"Look out, town!" The Scavengers are headed your way, rescued from the grit and grime of the grindhouse.
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