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The Boneyard   C+

Program Power Entertainment

Year Released: 1991
MPAA Rating: R
Director: James Cummins
Writer: James Cummins
Cast: Ed Nelson, Deborah Rose, Norman Fell, Jim Eustermann, Denise Young, Willie Stratford Jr., Phyllis Diller.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

You know that cardinal rule of screenwriting? The one that says if you show a gun in the first act, the gun must go off in the last act. Well, The Boneyard does something that should be added to the screenwriter's rulebook: If you show a cute little poodle in the first act, the pooch must turn into a giant bloodthirsty mutant in the last.

The Boneyard is a silly B-grade horror film from 1991 that has its share of guilty pleasures, but never quite hits its stride (though it comes close with the arrival of a mutant Phyllis Diller and the aforementioned mutant poodle). Most of the film's action takes place during one night at a county morgue, where an overweight psychic (Deborah Rose), an aging detective (Ed Nelson), and the detective's young partner (Jim Eustermann) are conducting an investigation. The authorities have just arrested a mortician who claimed to have been feeding parts of corpses to three children he kept locked away there. Well, it seems that the children he spoke of are dead. What's up with that?

I advise you to forget about that setup I just gave you, since this movie is not about plot. It's about a group of people trapped in a morgue, getting preyed upon by those three children, who turn out to be ghoulish zombies or something along those lines (there's an ancient Chinese curse involved). Man, those kids look icky. And they don't play nice, either.

As the psychic, Deborah Rose is pretty darn good. Her character is haunted by the crimes she has helped solve in the past, plagued by memories of dead children, and she goes into this investigation with much reluctance. Deborah Rose, hitting all the right notes, gives a slight emotional weight to what is otherwise a hollow, just-for-fun B-movie. Ed Nelson is also pretty good as the tough, rugged detective, while Phyllis Diller is supremely annoying as Miss Poopinplatz, the desk clerk at the morgue (and owner of the poodle). Overall, though, the cast is fun and the characters are likable enough to root for.

In the post-Evil Dead 2 era, however, The Boneyard is surprisingly slow to get where it's going. It sets itself up as a creepy psychic mystery-thriller, then turns into a silly monster fest with zombie kids running around. The first half of the movie is pretty atmospheric and creepy, especially the dream sequence with the little girl, decaying and skeletal, reaching out for help and affection. That was creepy, and oddly moving. But like I said, it turns into a gooey monster fest about halfway through and the creepy atmosphere it established in the beginning is lost, making way for that hilarious mutant poodle (even one of the characters laughs when she first sees the damn thing).

The film is available on DVD from the fine folks at Program Power Entertainment, who also released the feature-packed DVD of the '80s slasher flick Slaughterhouse. The DVD features the full-screen version of the film, hi-fi stereo sound, and an audio commentary with writer-director James Cummins and producer Richard F. Brophy. There are also separate interviews with those two and an interview with Phyllis Diller that's pretty funny (but I wanted to shoot her after hearing that laugh of hers 80 times). There's a theatrical trailer that gives away the entire movie in two minutes, a creature effects photo gallery, and lots of DVD-ROM extras (including the screenplay, publicity photos, video packaging art, press kits, and newspaper clippings). In other words, this disc is jam-packed, just like Program Power's Slaughterhouse DVD.

The Boneyard is forgettable cheese, but it has a little charm and fans of low-budget horror or B-movies probably won't regret watching it. It's a decent time-waster with a little gore, lots of goo and slime, and some laughs, but it's nothing to write home about. It has a great orchestral score, though, which makes the action seem more exciting than it is. Perhaps the coolest thing about The Boneyard is its original tagline:

Just keep repeating: It's only a poodle, It's only a poodle...

Review published 09.21.2001.

Follow Michael Scrutchin on Twitter or Letterboxd.

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