The Bone Yard Review
A detective and his young partner approach a dilapidated house, they’re looking for Alley Oates (Deborah Rose) - a school teacher turned psychic investigator who helped Detective Jersey Callum (Ed Nelson) solve previous crimes. Detective Callum needs Oates’ specific talents to close a case of child murder. The owner of a mortuary, Chen (Robert Yun Ju Ahn), is the prime suspect when three mummified corpses are found in his morgue. However, there would appear to be more to the bodies which is not discovered until they move the remains into the county morgue, dubbed ‘lovingly’ by police and civilians alike as “the bone yard”.
From the plot summary you would assume that The Bone Yard is a chilling tale of suspense and terror, and for the first half of the film you are safe in your assumption. I mean, yes, the sound design is weak during the opening scenes, which ruins both the emotional impact and the tone of it. There are some weird, slightly juddering editing choices that disrupt the flow of the stage, especially in some of the goofier moments early on, but it's all okay because the silly bits help to humanise the characters and the issues with editing and sound will sort themselves out, especially as the next scene contains a psychic vision that is well shot, edited and involves a (mainly) well-executed special effect that leads to something unexpected. All of the atmosphere and pathos is laid down at Ed Nelson and Deborah Rose's feet who at the start of The Bone Yard have great chemistry which suggests a more extended history that we see onscreen.
However, when we get to the meat of the film as our characters enter said “bone yard”, the film takes a massive nosedive and it all starts with the introduction of Miss Poopinplatz. Played by TV Comedian Phyllis Diller, Poopinplatz will be the litmus test for whether you enjoy The Bone Yard. Diller gives a performance that is simultaneously both over the top and yet incredibly wooden, all shouting and screeching, retching and cackling. She feels out of place in the film and draws attention to the other weaker players in the movies, namely James Eustermann as Gordon Mullin, Jersey's partner, and Denise Young as Dana, whose entrance into the film as a seemingly dead body is a whole other thing. Though perhaps the lousy acting shouldn't be a surprise as most of the cast, when they aren’t old stalwarts of TV, are special effects practitioners.
The monster design and more so its execution is similarly stilted. Our main antagonists are three tiny demons that are shot in such a way that does not suggest threat or fear. Rather they look like a cross between the aliens from They Live and grubby children, and yet our characters are actively avoiding fights with these pint-sized pipsqueaks until we get the rubber-suited behemoths that made this film a ‘cult classic’. While The Bone Yard came out a year before Peter Jackson's Braindead, the design of the monster poodle and Poopinplatz have an incredibly similar feel to the Vera monster, though while Vera and the other Braindead zombies had life, personality and that gross-out factor, the poodle and Poopinplatz - beyond the initial reveal - have no staying power in the film in terms of scares, humour or threat. This is all the more disappointing when you find out who was helming this bottom-of-the-bargain-bin bound flick, James Cummins, one of Rob Bottin’s team in the make-up department of John Carpenter's The Thing.
These issues lie at the fault of the script, written by Cummins himself, with some story elements missing. The film’s opening for example, while atmospheric and well acted, seems to suggest (by way of character dialogue) that the script had a scene at the beginning of the film showing why Alley stopped helping the police in the first place, as well as the raid on Chen's mortuary. Then we have the terrible jokes and the poorly written dialogue prevents any character development, it prevents an audience from connecting with the protagonists, heightened all the more when they make odd decisions. The lack of threat from the film’s ‘monsters’ does not help.
88 Films, however, treat the release of the film a little more seriously than the filmmakers do, including a whole host of extras that gives us an insight into the directionless feature debut from a special effects artist. Firstly we get a commentary track with director James Cummins and Producer Richard E. Brophy, as well as interviews with the two, and actress Phyllis Diller who plays the unfortunately named administrator. Similarly, they also do a decent transfer into HD with a 1.79:1 aspect ratio at 1080p and an LPCM 2.0 stereo audio track so the film looks the part. It's just a shame then that even with a new lick of paint you can still see the faults in The Bone Yard’s foundation.
The Bone Yard is a tonally confused, directionless mess of a movie. Though really what was I expecting with a straight-to-VHS chiller? The back of the box compares the film to The Evil Dead and Re-Animator, but it feels more like a cheap haunted house ride than a horror-comedy. The jokes are a little too obvious, especially with Poopinplatz and the killer poodle. The monsters are lazily put together and unthreatening. You can tell that this film wants to be funny and thus the jokes fall flat, meaning that while the scares may be more amusing than frightening, the supposed laughs are painful. The Bone Yard just doesn't have any enough meat on its bones.