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DVD Review: The Boneyard

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It was a late winter night for us in the cinematorium. Zimba stretched out on the Empire scroll sofa, already snoring away, while I prepared drinks for myself and Zombos. The Christmas shopping was completed, and Zombos Jr. anxiously waited for the big day. I prepared the drinks before starting our evening's film.

"Make mine a double espresso with lots of foam," said Zombos. He stretched out his long legs and slumped in the Chesterfield club chair. "And don't forget the popcorn. By the way, what's with those annoying banners you've added to my site?"

"What? They are not annoying. They add a bit of graphic flair to your blog. It gets boring seeing only text all the time, you know."

"They've bought you off, haven't they?" he quipped.

"What? Certainly not! I don't receive any money whatsoever for them. I am happy to promote independent filmmakers."

"Right," he winked. "Next you'll be asking me for a raise, too."

"Oh, bother!" I was exasperated. Zombos could be such an addle-brained twit at times. I loaded up the skull o'popcorn and brought the drinks over.

I prefer to sit in the traditional theater seats that take up the first half of the cinematorium. Zombos rescued them from the Manhattan 44th Street theater just before its demolition in 1945 to make room for the New York Times newspaper headquarters expansion. I dimmed the lights, took a sip from my frothy mocha cappuccino, and started the film.

This time around we wanted to watch a horror film that did not have a Christmas theme to it. Funny, but I can't think of any Hanukkah-themed horror films. How odd. What with eight days and all that, you would think someone could easily come up with an interestingly scary storyline around the Festival of Lights. Why is the jolly fat man in a red suit always the target of holiday horror? I wonder.

the boneyardOur film this evening, The Boneyard, is a creepy but uneven mix from director and writer James Cummins. While there are elements to the script that make it watchable, the inclusions of drawn-out scenes, comical monster puppets, and lackluster acting by the main character, simply don't add up to many scares.

The plot — a burned-out and overweight psychic investigator, Alley, takes on child-ghouls that also eat too much — holds lots of possibilities; but by the time we get to the demonized, giganticized Phyllis Diller, and poodle demon puppets terrorizing everyone, the terror becomes dismay, and the scares turn to snickers. Which is not to say that this film wouldn't be good for a horror-thon get-together with friends. Along with the cheese dip and crackers, this might just be your life of the party, a heckling tour de force.

It opens with a drawn-out scene wherein our two stalwart detectives, played by veteran actors Ed Nelson and James Eusterman (Spaced Invaders), enter the world-weary — and really messy — psychic's house. They need her help to solve a baffling case involving a mortician, and what appear to be three dead children. They draw their guns dramatically when she doesn't answer, but why they do that is not made clear. She finally turns up after a tedious search through the house.

When they fail to convince her to help them, they leave. Deborah Rose's acting here as Alley is so flat it bogs down her scenes. Later that night, she has a disturbing psychic vision involving a very putrescent little girl, with lots of long, stringy blond hair, who wants very much to hug and thank her for her help in a previous case. This promising scene has nothing to do with the story itself, but it does cause Alley to change her mind about helping the detectives.

Cut to the police station, where Alley and the detectives listen to the interrogation of the mortician. He explains how his family has, for three centuries, kept the three child-sized ghouls — he refers to them as Kyonshi — from devouring living people by feeding them body parts garnered from the funeral home's cadavers. At this point in the film, Zombos complained that Kyonshi, or hopping vampires, are not flesh-eating ghouls, so the use of the term here may be ill-chosen.

Next, it's off to the soon-to-be-closed coroner's building where the story kicks into low gear, but not before we are subjected to a confusing flashback experienced by Alley, along with an interminable dialog between the two detectives, standing in a hallway, where nothing happens. And I do mean nothing. We also are introduced to Poopinplatz (yes, you read that right), played by Phyllis Diller, who manages the front desk along with her annoying poodle.

Luckily the script is included as an extra on the DVD, and reading that flashback scene on paper helped explain what the film didn't. It appears that relatives in the mortician's family tree tried to resurrect their children three hundred years ago with dark magic that went awry, but important whys and wherefores are still left out in the script. How that dialog sequence was not clipped still eludes me also. It reads as boringly as it was tiresome to watch. It brought the story's momentum to a standstill, and provided no important exposition.

the boneyardThose Kyonshi, or whatever, finally start the film hopping when Alley snaps back from her flashback right into a vision of the three little ghouls awakening downstairs in the morgue, with tasty-looking attendants (including veteran Norman Fell)  in the next room. However, little tension is generated as boy-this-weight-does-slow-me-down Alley frantically makes her way downstairs to warn the yummy-for-their-tummy lab attendants of the impending smorgasbord.

When she finally does make it downstairs to the morgue, the scene she comes upon, with dead bodies strewn everywhere, gobs of blood across the floor, and the little hellions chewing away — especially one who gustily attacks an open rib-cage — is suddenly, and unexpectedly, gory, horrific, and exciting. Here is the well-executed scene as written in the script:

The room is in disarray. Bodies hang limply from shelves, disturbed by foraging. Sitting atop the battery operated forklift the Medium Ghoul feasts on a Pathologist while the Big Ghoul rips at Mack's lifeless form. A dead Pathologist lies behind a desk, his upper torso in view. The feet protruding at the other end of the desk have been stripped of flesh. The Small Ghoul has dragged the bloody corpse of a Pathologist atop the fifth level of the shelves. It takes turns sampling its menu. It eats an ear off and then snacks on a finger. The creature looks happy and contented, it even makes a pleasant purring sound. The creatures gaping mouth rips a chunk from a pathologist's side.

Its very gruesomeness is a sudden and unexpected jolt that brings us into the story. Mayhem ensues as the survivors try to escape the onslaught. They trap and kill one little bugger, but he manages to stuff part of his skin down Poopinplatz's throat. She turns into a very tall and pop-eyed puppet monster that desperately needed more money and a better designer to be convincing. The comical nature of the puppet ruins the momentum established by the morgue scene.

the boneyardMore mayhem ensues as the survivors dispatch the tall, pop-eyed demon puppet, and Floosoms, Poopinplatz's dog (yes, you read that right), licks up some deliciously bubbling yellow ichor oozing from one expired ghoul. That naughty poodle! She quickly turns into the man-in-a-suit Floosoms demon. A horrified girl rescued from the morgue even lets out a laugh upon seeing the poodle monster, even before Zombos or I could. Perhaps Cummins anticipated the audience's "resistance" to the concept of a giant poodle-demon, and had her character reflect their incredulity. Feel free to enjoy the absurdity of this scene, too.

In the midst of all this carnage, the action is stopped cold for a bewildering dialog exchange between two characters. All of a sudden, Cummins decides to give us the background story on the girl that survived the morgue attack. He couldn't do that sooner? Talk about poor timing.

the boneyardAlley, the big psychic, and Floosoms, the big poodle-demon, finally square off, and the ending contains no sequelization antics to spoil it. Though in this case, I doubt anyone would want to watch a sequel anyway.

Extras are in a directory on the DVD as PDFs. Just pop it into your PC. Included are the script, publicity kit and photos, and preliminary artwork for the monsters in PDF format. Scripts are always welcome, as they can show the original vision as written compared to the finished film.

All in all, the film is worth a view if you are looking for a fun entry in your evening's horror-thon. Aside from veteran actors Phyllis Diller, Ed Nelson and Norman Fell, the ghouls are cool, and the carnage scenes are effective. And with the built-in, all-you-can-heckle moments, it's a good party film for horrorheads.

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