Boneyard (The) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - 88 Films
Review written by and copyright: Charlie & Tex (9th June 2019).
The Film

Please note, images in this review are promotional images and NOT indicative of the disc!

The world of “B” movies is a funny old business. Unfairly slated by critics in the face of more “worthy” projects and used as a detrimental label to dismiss lower-budget films, the term is a certainly bogus one. Before you scoff, let’s take a look at the concept of the “B” movie to better gauge the whys & wherefores of the genre.

It seems funny to think that an entire generation have been rendered oblivious to the joys of the double-feature, in spite of the noble efforts of Tarantino and Rodriguez a while back. In the modern world of the Multiplex and their slaughterhouse-like processes of getting the punters in, extracting their money before kicking them out the door, the very notion that you could spend a whole evening at the movies for little money seems absurd. But yes, it was the norm to go to your local 2&9’s, watch the supporting feature, followed by a short film (usually about airships) before pressing on the main movie. All this as well as a box of popcorn and you could still get change out of minicab driver. First to see the light of the projector bulb would be a low-budgeter, produced as a supporting feature to get the audience ready for the main movie of the night. Companies like the hallowed (well…by us, anyway) Butchers Film Distributors made hour-long fillers for just such a job, with many other companies primarily making similar material for the lucrative second-string market.

Usually tight, brisk but largely by-the-numbers, these “B” pictures did sterling work to make the “A” movie look better than it often was. Like the bearers of a Sedan chair carrying a most exalted potentate, their solid support went unnoticed by a populace intent on worshiping the money rather than that which was propping it up. This beloved trend continued right up until the early/mid 80s, the point at which the scourge of extreme greed began to creep into the industry. Sometimes, the double-bill concept was a way to wring a little more money out of an old release, and we have fond memories of seeing Star Wars & The Empire Strikes Back as such a twosome, and even watching both the Star Wars & Star Trek trilogies on triple bills. Hell, gorehounds were able to fill their boots by settling down for the night in front of Zombie Flesh Eaters and The Toolbox Murders on the one program back in the day.

Since then, the term B-movie has been slapped onto anything of a low-budget nature that isn’t a study in pretentiousness, applied as a way of denouncing such fare by a public too used to glossy movies that wear their budgets like tiaras rather than using it on their writing. Although a label wielded by lazy critics to belittle any movie they don’t like, the B-movie is a thing of joy, a film created for the purposes of getting in, delivering what’s expected and getting out again. They do their job in a deadly efficient manner, and how many blockbusters of the last 20 years can that honestly be applied to? With this firmly in mind, let’s all go down to the Boneyard.



Once the credits start rolling, you are treated to a piece of library music that apes John William’s The Asteroid Field piece from The Empire Strikes Back. OK, such notions of artistic merit might take a severe knock when the credit “Phyllis Diller as Mrs Poopinplatz” pounces onto the screen, lulling the viewer into thinking that the next Return of the Living Dead Part 2 is about to unspool before them, but there is more heart to The Boneyard than its reputation and absurdist deviations would have you believe.

Detective Jersey Callum and partner Mullin are drawing a blank on their latest case. A mortician has been found not only in possession of the bodies of three dead children, but using the remains of his deceased “clients“ to keep the bodies in a state of perpetual passive life. Clearly insane, this Asian body-doc babbles a tale of an ancient curse and family duty that requires him to curtail the cannibalistic activities of three demons - named Kioshi - with offerings of flesh to keep the world safe. In a desperate attempt to get a break in his investigations, Callum tries to enlist the help of Alley Oates, a reclusive psychic haunted by her gift of seeing the last moments of the dead.

The trail leads our investigative trio to the Webster Ridge Morgue, current home to the mysterious corpses. Dilapidated and understaffed in a way that only Precinct 13 could rival, they are losing “clients” to the new mortuary in town, bagging only the occasional overspill to keep them in business. Once inside, Oates has visions of the children’s bodies returning to life as Kioshi and desperately tries to warn the pathologists working on the three bodies in question. Too late. The survivors take cover, joined by obnoxious receptionist Diller (and her annoying poodle), a jive-ass morgue-worker, Dana, a young woman (who arrives in a VERY unorthodox manner…) and the last remaining pathologist as they band together and break out the heavy weapons to take on the ancient anthropophagous beasts and try to last the night.

It was both a brave and an uncommercial decision to cast the 300lb+ Deborah Rose in the role of Alley Oates, the troubled psychometric who reluctantly reopens her soul to the calling of the dead. Any director more geared towards the sound of ringing cash registers would have had the character as a sexy little college student who works as a pole-dancer to take her mind off the troubling visions. It must be said that Rose looks very uncomfortable when the script calls for her to do anything other than either stand or walk, as she has the physical presence of a wardrobe about to topple over - her personal example of “running” almost equating to what others would consider hopping from one leg to another in a forwards motion. We‘re not saying she‘s big, but you expect her to beep when she walks backwards. When her character falls over early on in the movie, she has the slowest turn-over since British cattle farming during the 90s BSE crisis. Her performance varies from shot to shot, coming off best when battling the mental scars from her past career, and it’s this terrific work that leaves you thinking that it was an awful shame that she only appeared in a few other things aside from The Boneyard and a memorable bit in Columbo.

B-movie stalwart Ed Nelson turns in a fairly solid performance as the world-weary Detective Callum. Nelson has a screen career that spans six decades, even being part of the Roger Corman stable, starring in such classics as Attack of the Crab Monsters among others It was in this crash-course school of acting that obviously gave Nelson the necessary grounding in both professionalism and the ability to make a good fist of any role that was thrown at him, and sure enough, Nelson slips into the role of Jersey Callum as if it were a comfortable pair of slippers from his 60s wardrobe.



Guaranteed to throw many watching is the bifurcated nature of The Boneyard’s writing, When the movie begins, it sets up the audience for a satisfying psychological thriller in the tradition of Thomas Harris - the lengthy opening scene between Rose and Nelson is most intriguing, and very similar to Manhunter/Red Dragon, with a lawman trying to manipulate the feelings of a gifted retired agent when a dangerous killer emerges. In these early scenes, Rose & Nelson spark off each other in a way that is genuinely riveting to watch, and Rose carries herself with all of the mannerisms of a person who is genuinely burnt-out after being exposed to far too much of the evil side of human nature.

The schizophrenic nature of the movie emerges once the demonic shit hits the fan, with the utter madness of the final 10 minutes jars sharply with the grim, lingering shot of the three decomposing prepubescent bodies laid out in the morgue as the coroner details his findings to the police. Make no mistake, although this is a “fun” movie, some elements will upset those easily offended and leave a sour taste in the mouths parents everywhere, rather like the United Appeal for the Dead, but without the laughs. Regardless of their upsetting nature, the eerie Kioshi themselves are superbly realised, echoing the best of the Japanese cinematic demons before them, not to mention giving anything since a run for their money - yes, The Ring, included. The rotting bodies of children are always going to deliver a jolt when seen in movies, but the way they are designed and coupled with the stylish movement employed by the artists/dancers/puppeteers make them both seriously disturbing and very cool.

As the movie progresses, it doesn’t take long to realise that as well as Manhunter, the model for the skeletal structure of the story is Aliens. Think about it - a woman with a traumatic past is carefully manipulated back into service because her knowledge is considered invaluable when a new crisis arises, along the way, she encounters a young girl and a bond develops between them and her involvement with the girl deepens when she is put in mortal danger. If you think in terms of Alley Oates as Ripley, Jersey Callum as Burke & Dana as Newt, it all becomes clear. There is even a power-loader battle (of sorts) toward the end of the movie when a fork-lift truck is brought in to deal with one of the rabid foes, and you can’t help but spot the similarities in explosive air-vent chases between the two projects.

Staying with the Aliens theme, when Mullin breaks out the weapons and commandeers a hi-tech piece of firepower, it’s clear that director Cummins was enamoured of the pulse rifles packed by the Colonial Marines in James Cameron’s finest, as he fires it off using the Drake method of wielding a large firearm. Mullin gives Dana a quick lesson in using the gun, warning her that it kicks hard when fired. Familiar? For all these “homages,” you can forgive the majority of them when Mullin corners one of the phantom fiends in a lift and goes about blasting it to hell by merely sticking his gun between the closing doors and keeping the trigger squeezed, reporting later that he “shot the shit out of it”.

The final shots are very reminiscent of both Suspiria and Inferno, with rich, saturated blues contrasting against fiery oranges as all hell explodes around of heroes. The climax of Aliens is heavily referenced too, but (unlike the trailer) we won’t spoil the surprise for when you plunk down your hard-earned cash.

If we had to pick the weakest link in the chain, it would have to be the inclusion of Phyllis Diller - her over-the-top performance is the first thing that alerts the audience to the fact that The Boneyard might not be quite the movie they thought. She drips with such suspicion and menace that you are quite aware that sooner or later, the whole thing is going to be dragged down into a sucking pool of camp. Diller was a beloved American comedienne with a laugh instantly recognisable to millions around the world, and when she is transformed in a 12ft demon, that her laugh is still intact is testament to how potentially damaging a presence she is to the tone of the movie. Balancing this out would be when one of the Kioshi breaks off a chunk of its skull and force-feeds it to Diller, who consequently spends the next 10 minutes puking green slime. There’s nothing like heavy vomiting to cleanse the palette, right kids?



But with the movie delivering such a blast of oddball fun, and giving Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners a few lessons in pulling the thematic rug out from under the feet of its audience, it deserves a decent transfer, so let’s take a look…

Video

88 Films have brought this forgotten oddity to Blu-ray here in the UK, and they certainly haven’t skimped on the picture quality. Although The Boneyard was made on a very low budget, the transfer presents the movie in a way that makes the most of showcasing the production values without really betraying its origins. Brought to you in 1.78:1 at 1080p, the print is in pretty great shape, with a blemish-free transfer and the image quality is pretty damn good, and is much better than other low-budget movies from the same period. Given that this was shot with a low budget, and was probably using some of the last supplies of cheap, 80s 35mm film stock, there was always going to be a lot of grain present, and we are happy to report that there has been no attempt to get rid of it. Supposedly taken from the original negatives, it’s awash with a thick grain and firmly slams the door on any rumours that it was shot on tape. The colourful finale is well rendered, and the chilly blues in Alley Oates’ gloomy house almost send a shiver up the spine. Contrast is well-balanced and stable in motion, certainly unlike Alley Oates. Black levels are better than we were rightly expecting, even though the old Hardgore DVD release wasn’t too shabby in this department. A release this nice might inspire others to experience and appreciate the unstable genius of The Boneyard in all its bewildering glory.

Audio

The English LPCM 2.0 mono audio is a little constricted, but this is probably a result of the original mix. But overall, it’s fine. Maybe a little too fine. We watched it with a sherbet or two and when the end credits rolled around, the hideous MOR track that graces them hit with the devastating impact of a cluster bomb in a crowded marketplace. Even though we had never heard it before, we were perfectly matching every drum fill and tempo change, both of us twigging early on that it followed the dreaded percussion of Faith of the Heart, the hideous theme to Star Trek: Enterprise, right down to the closing fill.

Extras

Interview with Actress Phyllis Diller” featurette (17:08)
Interview with Director James Cummins” featurette (18:22)
Interview with Producer Richard F. Brophy” featurette (12:17)

It’s worth discovering these little gems for yourself without covering them too much. Anyway. Diller is her usual self and both of the guys are enthusiastic about the movie, with Cummins clearly enjoying his filmmaking experience, either for having a classic Hollywood icon like Diller working for him or being able to pour his rubber-shop knowledge into the shoot. Brophy gives invaluable information on the production side of things, including the exact nature of the role of producer and how to go about raising money to make a low budget movie. Above all else, his most telling nugget is about the creation of limited partnerships to get a movie off the ground, with his advice being simply: “don‘t”.

Audio Commentary with Director James Cummins and Producer Richard Brophy

Sounding, as the Missus would say, as though it was recorded in a cupboard, this is a pretty entertaining track, covering all of the basics and tricks used when making a low-budget movie like The Boneyard, as well as some of the infighting among certain factions. Commentaries on indie movies are always the most fun, as they reveal the effort it too just to get a project off the ground, let alone finished and released, as the big studio ones tend to be deathly dull and focus on how fun it was goofing off between takes. This is informative stuff!

Theatrical Trailer (2.39)

This is the definitive trailer which should not be watched before seeing the movie - OK, we know this sounds ridiculous, as trailers are supposed to be seen before the movie, but this is one of those bloody trailers that gives away far too much of the movie, including the climax and several of the surprises near the end. This is a practice that is thankfully dying out now, but with the way trailers are using ever-faster editing techniques to capture the shortest of attention spans these days, they could show a trailer for King Kong with the big ape falling off the Empire State Building and there wouldn’t be enough of it to register it as such. If The Boneyard had a modern trailer - the words “Visit”, “The” & “Boneyard” would flash up on the screen, interspersed among several rapidly-edited shots and with a percussion-driven choir composition on the soundtrack.

Overall

The Boneyard could be likened to a schizophrenic that has not been taking his medication - seemingly fine one moment, then springing into irrationality when you least expect it. One cannot help get the feeling that they adopted the same approach here that legendary cult moviemaker Ray Dennis Steckler had with his serious black & white crime drama - half way through production, Steckler thought “f*ck it” and turned the thing into the campy Batman send-up, Rat Pfink a Boo Boo. An interesting nugget to ponder…



For those who might be disappointed when the initial pretence of a psychological thriller is blown out of the water, it is definitely worth sticking with, because for all of the movie’s silliness, it holds your attention throughout and you ultimately feel glad that you did not abandon it, coming away entertained.

OK, when it shifts into campy high gear, The Boneyard may be so stupid that it has greying temples whilst still at school, but it’s a fun movie that kills 90 minutes in a pretty damn agreeable way.

The Film: B- Video: A- Audio: A- Extras: B Overall: B+

 


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