The Boneyard (1991)

The Boneyard (1991)

The Boneyard (1991)

The Boneyard‘ is a horror film that was written and directed by James Cummins.

1991’s The Boneyard is a straight-to-video release that is sometimes listed as horror and sometimes as comedy, which is seldom a good sign. I think the film has to be categorised as horror/comedy but in an oddly literal way; first it’s a horror then it’s a comedy. The first hour is too laugh-free for the whole film to be called comedy but the last half hour is far too funny (and I have to at least hope that’s its intentional) for it to be called anything else.

The film centers around quite a nicely drawn relationship between Ed Nelson’s police detective, Jersey Callum, and Deborah Rose’s psychic, Alley Oates. Great names and interesting enough characters, each with their backstory.

Jersey persuades Alley to come out of self-imposed seclusion to shed some light on a strange case; the remains of three children have been found in a mortuary and autopsy reveals that they have been eating the other corpses! The man in charge, Chen, insists that they are demons which must be fed human flesh to keep them calm. Of course no one believes this but guess what…..Now Jersey and Callum are trapped with a few others (including the obligatory handsome young man and pretty young girl, and a shockingly wigless Phyllis Diller) in the mortuary as the three demons hunt them. At its best this section plays like Alien in a mortuary, dark, tense and bloody. The demons (called Kyoshi) are sometimes children in make-up, which works very well, and sometimes puppets, which does not, but they’re creepy enough to do the job.

The Boneyard (1991)

The Boneyard (1991)

Unfortunately at its worst this first hour is painfully slow when it wants to be atmospheric and as subtle as a sledgehammer when it comes to characters. Every character seems to have some sort of emotional backstory to get across and the action has to stop every five minutes for someone tell us about themselves and have a personal epiphany. The love story also feels horribly tacked on and suggests that a girl’s suicidal tendencies can be cured by the love of a good man.

The Boneyard (1991)

The Boneyard (1991)

There’s a bit of a grey area where the film shifts from taut thriller to action adventure and the machine guns come out, but then we’re into definite comedy territory when the zombie Phyllis Diller shows up. With swivelling eyes, puppet arms and strange resemblance to Spitting Image’s Margaret Thatcher, there’s no way this was meant to be scary, it’s just funny. But not as funny as the zombie poodle, which looks like a camp werewolf and is killed when Alley plays fetch with a stick of dynamite.

One interesting aspect about this film is that it is an early American convert to asian horror, getting in before Ringu (1998) made it fashionable. Although exactly which country’s traditions it’s drawing on remains frustratingly elusive; the character name Chen sounds Chinese but the demons are called Kyoshi which sounds Japanese. There is something very reminiscent of Japanese horror about the appearance of the Kyoshi, and they are the most convincingly ‘horror’ aspect of the movie. Horror has a fine tradition of creepy child monsters and these are up there with the best.

The Boneyard (1991)

The Boneyard (1991)

It’s a shame this isn’t a more cohesive film, straight-up horror, straight-up comedy or an even mix of both certainly could have worked but a sudden shift from one to the other is just weird. That said, if you can’t enjoy a film featuring an undead poodle with a pink bow in its hair then you’re just taking life too seriously! Stick with it through the slow sections and emotional sub-plots and the climax is worth the wait.

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Written by: Robin Bailes