"The Boneyard" is one of those films that creeps up on you out of nowhere. Coming to it cold (having never even heard of the film before a screener copy dropped through my letter box), I had zero expectations. The opening ten-minutes didn't seem that promising -- far too much like one of those cheap b-movies with which The Horror Channel like to pad out their scheduel (in fact, I've since noted that they are currently screening "The Boneyard" from time to time!); but another thirty-minutes in and I was completely hooked on what turnes out to be a hugely entertaining, rather offbeat horror-comedy which still manages to be both compelling and more than a little creepy, even as you're laughing at the absurdity of much of it!
Street-wise cop, Jersey Callum (Ed Nelson) and his rookie partner, Gordon Mullin (James Eustermann) enlist the help of burned-out psychic Alley Cates (Deborah Rose) with a bizarre case involving a Chinese mortician who apparently murdered three children. Their bodies were later found to contain human remains -- fed to them by their captor before they were killed! Callum wants Cates to come down to the mortuary to see if she can pick up any "vibes" from the childrens' bodies so that they can find out exactly what happened to them and who they were. (Doesn't sound like a comedy so far, eh?)
Upon arrival at the coroner's office, the group find that it is soon to be closed down and so is in rather a dilapidated state of repair. Only the eccentric Miss Poopinplatz (Phylis Diller) is on hand to oversee the smooth running of the place on the nightshift... along with her pet poodle!
Calum, Mullin and Cates meet up with mortuary attendant, Shepard (Norman Fell), who lets Cates have a few strands of hair from the child corpses to see if she can pick up any psychic impressions. Meanwhile, he and the two detectives go upstairs to examine the bodies in closer detail.
While examining the hair from the children, Cates has a vision of the three tiny corpses rising from their resting places in the morgue's storage facility. Through a window in the background, she can actually see Callum, Mullin and Shepard examining the corpse of a female suicide victim who has just been brought in. Suddenly, Cates realises that these events are actually taking place at that very moment: the dead children really are coming back to life! Cates rushes upstaires to warn her collegues. Meanwhile, Shepard begins an autopsy on the suicide victim only to have the subject leap off the slab when he makes an incision in her neck! It turns out that, far from being a zombie, she was never actually dead in the first place -- thus providing the film with one of the most novel character introductions in screen history!
By the time Cates reaches the autopsy room where her friends had just been examining the apparent suicide victim, she finds that they've all disappeared. The whole room has been wrecked, and is, rather ominously, completly covered in blood! Cates hears strange noises coming from the storage facility where the three dead children were being kept and, summing up all her courage, she kicks open the door only to be presented with the horrific sight of the three decomposing children (who have indeed been re-animated) greedily feeding on the other corpses in the storage area! Cates makes a run for it with the vile creatures in hot pursuit. Meanwhile, Callum, Mullin, Shepard and Dana (Denise Young) the failed suicide, have escaped and barracaded themselves in another room while, in reception, Poopinplatz and her pet poodle go investigating the disappearance of Cates -- only to find themselves ambushed by the re-animated children!
As if three flesh-eating Chinese ghouls wasn't enough to be going on with, our heroes soon find themselves also having to deal with a slime-vomiting Miss Poopinplatz and a giant zombie poodle!
Child murder and a giant flesh-eating poodle! If you can get your head round the fact that these two elements can apparently coexist in the same film quite harmoniously, then you should enjoy this utterly bizzarre b-movie treat. Writer and director, James Cummins, started out as a special-effects wizard for films such as the horror-comedy "House", and also several episodes of the "Twilight Zone"; his own first feature covers similar ground: with a healthy mixture of outrageous monster mayhem, comical performances from some of the cast, and a few genuinly tense and disturbing moments along the way as well.
The lead character, played by Ed Nelson, is a wisecracking veteran cop who displays a similar likable charm to Kolchak -- the newspaper journalist protagonist from two famous cult movies of the seventies: "The Night Stalker" and "The Night Strangler". The opening twenty minutes develops the relationship between Nelson and his younger partner, while also introducing us to their reluctant psychic aid played by Deborah Rose. Unfortunately, things get off to a slow start here, and there is little indication of where the film is going -- but stick with it ... once the characters decamp to the creepy morgue setting it really gets into it's stride, and a strange combination of light-hearted banter between the characters (particularly the acid wit of veteran comedienne, Phylis Diller) and some rather unsettling subject matter involving three murdered children, ensures that the film soon begins to pique one's interest.
An unusual and quite original back-story is developed which involves a curse passed down through three generations of Chinese morticians and the child ghoul/zombies prove to be unexpectadly disturbing creations. Cummins' previous experience in the world of special-effects serves him well here: the lithe, naked, decomposing, and malevolent little creatures feature in most of the memorable -- and all of the truly scary -- sequences in the film and their design actually prefigures the ghostly creations which inhabit the world of contemporary asian horror cinema!
Rather than the bite of a zombie causing the victim to become one of the creatures themselves, this film features a novel method of zombie creation: the creatures force-feed their victims chunks of their own flesh -- which leads to them vomiting green slime and then turning into monsters! The last third of the film is where the pastiche of cheesy b-movies really takes over, and we are treated to deliberately less realistic special-effects -- which indicates that, in this portion of the movie, Cummins is playing it completely for laughs ... especially when we get to the giant monster poodle -- which is clearly just a guy in a ridiculous costume! Everything is done very knowingly though; after the initial slow start, the audience is constantly kept guessing with increasingly bizarre plot developments following each other rapidly -- right up to the explosive finale.
The word "quirky" could have been invented just to describe this film! With scenes of slapstick comedy, high melodrama, gross-out horror, and ironic monster movie piss-takes all vying with each other for dominance over the course of ninety minutes, it's almost as if Cummins has combined every screenplay idea he ever had into his first feature -- just in case he never got the chance to make another! The end result is probably not for everyone but I certainly enjoyed every ridiculous moment!
The DVD from Hard Gore features a solid, if unremarkable transfer, which is presented full-frame. The mono audio track is perfectly fine for the most part although there are occasional instances of print damage which are also accompanied by crackles on the audio track. This time, Hard Gore give us some great extras in the form of three interviews (running at fifteen to twenty minutes each) with star Phyllis Diller, director James Cummins, and producer Richard F. Brophy. The interview with Diller gives us a rundown of her career as well as covering her experiences making the film. The vivacious comedienne is a hoot to listen to and still full of energy; she appears to have enjoyed making the film, despite the fact that her character spends a great deal of the movie vomiting green slime! The interview with James Cummins covers his early career in special effects and is full of anecdotes on the making of the movie; while if you've ever wondered exactly what a producer does, the interview with Richard F. Brophy gives you a fairly enlighting account.
Extras are rounded off with a trailer for the film (which gives away everything!) and the usual series of trailers for current and upcoming Hard Gore releases.
A good release of a hugely entertaining film. Worth seeking out.