When I look back at the horror films that I watched repetitively during my formative adolescent years, there are a lot of “classic” horror titles like THE MONSTER SQUAD and THE LOST BOYS. And then there is one movie that few other people are familiar with, THE BONEYARD (1991). To me, THE BONEYARD was the perfect mix of scares, laughs, and gore, very much like DEAD ALIVE or RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. Yet this title has long struggled with distribution, leaving it in obscurity.
A psychic who specializes in finding deceased children is approached by a detective about a new case. A local mortician has been found to be in possession of three unidentified decayed childrens’ corpses. The mortician claims that they are actually horrible monsters that he is cursed to feed or they come to life and attack. Assuming he is just an insane serial killer, the cops lock him up and take the corpses to the morgue where the psychic and detectives examine the bodies. But the curse is real, and the three corpses spring to life and begin killing anyone who crosses their path.
THE BONEYARD was the directorial debut of special effects master James Cummins. He cobbled together a cast of unlikely horror actors including Phyllis Diller, who appears without her trademark wig playing the morgue clerk, and Norman Fell who most folks know as Stanley Roper on THREE’S COMPANY.
Cummins’s special effects background is a huge part of what makes this film so glorious. During the first portion we follow the backstory of the psychic and are presented with several horrifying dream sequences of her “visions.” These all feature dynamite effects with creepy kids, some of which are downright terrifying. Then once our characters get to the morgue, there is a full FX onslaught with buckets of ooze and blood along with some of the best creature work from this period. The mutant zombie kids are amazingly well-executed. At one point, a poodle is even converted to a behemoth-sized poodle zombie, and though obviously intended to be silly down to the pink hair bows, the effect and scope are wonderful.
It is easy to see why THE BONEYARD may not have received as much success as a lot of other horror films. The characters are unlike anything you have seen before and work in opposition to most genre formulas. Instead of filling the film with good-looking young adults, THE BONEYARD’s protagonist is a very mature woman, and she is not portrayed as attractive. She comes across more like a female version of John Candy who is bulky, sweaty, and rather man-ish at times. The other main characters are also much older, including a hard-nose detective named Jersey and the aforementioned Phyllis Diller role. There are two younger characters including a rather bumbling cop and a troubled young mental patient, but their screen time is limited. Though these character choices make for an interesting story with a unique perspective rarely seen in the horror genre, it is not exactly marketable to the general masses, especially during this period in film history.
THE BONEYARD received moderately good reviews upon its initial release, many critics praising the amazing special effect work and stellar actors. Diehard horror fans may recall finding the VHS (which featured the monster poodle on the front) at local video stores.
The film had a very limited DVD release back in 2004 which has now become incredibly hard-to-find with copies selling for over $60 on Amazon and eBay. I’m sure if you are Internet savvy, you could find a copy somewhere, and if you happen to still be getting Netflix’s DVDs via snail mail, they have a copy as well.
If you ever get the opportunity to watch THE BONEYARD, regardless of format, it is a gore-laden romp that deserves far more recognition than it has ever received. And let’s all cross our bony zombie fingers that someone gives this a Blu-ray release soon!