KEEPING UP WITH THE BONESES
Director: Brett DeJager
Screenplay: Keith Melcher
Review: David Stephens
As missed and beloved as much of the 1980’s horror boom was (especially with older genre fans), there was a lot of stuff during that time which is cringe-worthy to look back on. Some films had troubling attitudes and morals in hindsight, and the way in which supernaturally charged boogeymen were depicted was often hilarious when viewed with millennial eyes. Mind you, when you look at the state of comedy and family entertainment back then … horror had less to be ashamed of. (NB: Especially in Britain. *shudder*). Nevertheless if it’s done right, some retro-horror spoofs of that era can be brilliant. There’s the immensely likeable “The Final Girls” (from 2015 with Malin Akerman and Taissa Farmiga) and the wonderful “Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon” (from 2006). They managed to successfully satirise pre-millennium slashers, but with smart humour and a lot of love. To that end here we have “Bonejangles”, a comedy horror that definitely has one-foot pre-2000AD. The cast features Reggie Bannister, referred to as “"The Hardest Working Man in Horror” on IMDB, and well-known for his long-running character in the “Phantasm” franchise. This film is currently available on VOD in the US, and should appear on UK home media at a later stage. So YGROY takes a look at the new boogeyman on the block…
It starts with the hapless first victim, an unlucky caretaker who’s sitting in a warehouse and innocently “reading” the classy publication “Melons & Muff”. As the news comes over the radio, reporting the appearance of a “supernatural serial killer loose in the warehouse district”, he hears a noise. The poor sap immediately falls victim to “Bonejangles”, otherwise known as Edgar Friendly Jr (and played by Keith Melcher, who also wrote the story). The skull-faced psycho slays the janitor and takes a bone as a souvenir. Outside a (crappy) police force gathers to take down the perp. This little collection includes Doug (Kelly Misek Jr.) and Randy (Jamie Scott Gordon), two cowardly (and virginal) cops who have no intention of being slaughtered by the serial killer. Despite most of their colleagues getting killed, they luck out and Bonejangles is caught. However, they need to accompany the killer as he’s sent to the Sanitarium, and their route passes through Argento City, which is Doug’s hometown. The trouble is, the place has a curse on it that becomes active on the 18th April every year … and guess what date it is? Things won’t go well…
There’s actually plenty of promise with “Bonejangles”. Although it never sets up a timeframe, the presence of a Walkman and plenty of relevant horror tropes seems to set it in pre-millennium America. Not only that, but it riffs on dozens of horrors from around that time including; “Friday the 13th” (obviously), “Night of the Living Dead”, “Evil Dead”, “The Fog”, and even “Deliverance”. There are occasional little knowing asides, like a reference to “evil rape trees”, and a character that is a more obnoxious version of Ash (which leads to a fairly wonky gore gag).
This is carried on with the character of Bonejangles himself, with a satisfyingly silly explanation for his inability to die (“I heard his Mom was voodoo priestess…”). Even the radio proudly announces that he can’t be killed with “conventional weapons”. This leads one cop to rattle off ways in which they’ve tried to stop him … which strangely parallel the demises of a certain Mr Voorhees over the course of his films. The character looks the part as well, and maintains that stocky unstoppable nature.
That element of the film (along with the actual opening scene) does work quite well and comes across as a promising comedy-horror. Cops scamper and scream like little girls, and Randy comes across as “Shaggy” from “Scooby Doo”, who’s grown up and joined the police (“What the Hell is a 327 anyway?”), whilst retaining his cowardly nature. A few witty but dead-straight lines like “Most of you won’t be coming back tonight”, also make for a nice spoofy feel. Misek and Scott Gordon are quite amusing and endearing in their respective roles, but they’re buried under the weight of increasingly desperate puns and horror references.
It’s when we get to Argento (*sigh*) City, that it starts to go a bit awry. A highly-stereotypical gay character is introduced, seemingly only for the excuse to deliver an inappropriate “Deliverance” reference. This is obviously a satire on 80’s movie representations of LGBT roles in films like this, but it still feels uncomfortable. The humour becomes lower and ever more childish; with Wayne’s World type puns (“Pussy says “what”?”), and Reggie Bannister (a cameo as Bonejangle’s dad, “The Brunswick Ripper”) constantly repeating the mantra “Protect your wee winkie”! Another character even says; “My naughty bits are burning like the pits of hell”.
The thing is that there are some interesting ideas in there. The basic notion is that one supernatural evil is the only way to defeat another. But the concept for what could have been a spoofy fun variation of “Freddy vs. Jason”, just gets wasted and ends abruptly soon after it’s introduced, in an ending that’s so throwaway that you’re not sure if it was the ending at all. Once Argento gets thrown into the mix, we end up with zombies (that barely appear), witches and an undead succubus, and it just becomes a mash of horror tropes that doesn’t hold together. If it had concentrated on just being a slasher spoof or an evil-against-evil plot, it might have been more successful.
The slasher element does throw up a few effective funnies, such as the campfire scene with the tone-deaf song about Bonejangles (“You don’t know that song?! … Here’s one about a French Philosopher”). But the kills themselves are actually pretty m’eh (if occasionally gory), with someone getting beaten to death with a guitar at one point being a lowlight, and the SFX are fairly minimal.
All in all, it feels like “Bonejangles” did have potential, and the fun opening scene is actually quite promising. But it tries to throw too many horror ingredients into the movie soup, with the humour becoming more puerile as it moves along. The incredibly annoying character of “Juice Lad” is just one element that should have been left out, along with the lazy non-ending that ties things up. Amusing in parts, it’s not as bad as the later entries in the “Scary Movie” franchise, but it does come frighteningly close.