Color, 1991, 93 mins. 15 secs.
Directed by James Cummins
Starring Ed Nelson, Deborah Rose, Norman Fell, Phyllis Diller, James Eustermann, Denise Young, Willie Stratford Jr.
Code Red (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), 88 Films (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Made at one of the lowest points in theatrical horror history, this oddball zombie film is mainly known as one of those bizarre titles that popped up on VHS seemingly out of nowhere. Unfortunately it was also completely overshadowed by the success of Peter Jackson's much splashier Dead Alive hot on its heels, which took the zombie gore comedy to new heights that still haven't been topped. That said, this one has its own weird charms and has understandably stuck in the minds of enterprising video treasure hunters so long that more than a few people will be glad to have it back in circulation looking better than anyone had a right to ever expect.
Trenchcoat-wearing police detective Jersey Callum (TV vet Nelson) and his sidekick, Gordon (Eustermann), decide to poke around the house of psychic Alley Oates (Rose) to apparently annoy her into helping them out with a case involving three dead kids preserved down at the local morgue. Alley's more than a little reluctant to get back in the business of solving child murders, but she reluctantly agrees and accompanies them to tangle with the powers that be at the mortuary, namely coroner Shepard (Three's Company's Fell, wearing a big fake mustache) and secretary Miss Poopenplatz (Diller), not to mention her helper, a pet poodle. As it turns out, the three kids aren't murder victims at all but supernatural beings who feed on human flesh. Of course, it isn't long before all hell breaks loose -- and if you've seen any of the video covers for this one, you should have some idea of what's in store for both Miss Poopenplatz and her fluffy companion.
It isn't difficult to see why this one didn't get much theatrical love since it feels very out of step with what audiences wanted in '91. Reminiscent of fare like Dead Heat a few years earlier, it's fairly pokey going in the opening stretch but does deliver the goods once the creepy kid and hungry undead mayhem kicks in. Diller and Fell actually don't ham it up here, with the former hitting a nice balance between quirky and creepy once she gets the spotlight; the lively orchestral score doesn't hurt either and makes for a nice change of pace from the droning cheap synthesizers you'd normally get around this time. It's especially surprising to see Rose, who's as far from the typical bikini-ready horror starlet as you could get at the time, anchoring the film as its de facto hero; the fact that she's also given more depth and vulnerability than expected is also a plus. In short, it's a fun time if you stick it out through some rough patches along the way; once you make it to the 48-minute mark, it's a fun time and a great party movie. Oh, and it ends with a rocking power ballad because... why not?
The Boneyard was barely released on DVD from Zia Film Distribution in 2004 featuring an audio commentary with director (and special effects maestro) James Cummins and producer Richard F. Brophy and a trio of interview featurettes with Diller (17m5s), Cummins, and Brophy (30m30s combined). Everyone notes the fluctuating weather of the North Carolina shoot, with Diller obviously stealing the show here with her great wit and obvious fondness for creature features (with which she has a richer history than some might recall). All of those extras are ported over for the 2018 Blu-ray releases in the U.S. and U.K. from Code Red and 88 Films respectively, and the film itself looks pretty spectacular with far more richness than anyone might expect from prior versions. Culled from the original negative ("financed by Code Red’s Credit Card," per the U.S. packaging), it also features some additional color correction on the U.S. release with slightly better modulated contrast; the LPCM 2.0 stereo soundtrack sounds great either way (and the U.K. disc offers optional English SDH subtitles). The Code Red also adds an exclusive extra: "The Little Ghoul Girl Grows Up" (13m27s) features actress Sallie Middleton and her family chatting about making a zombie film at the age of nine and standing in for other ghouls during the production, with all the effects complexity involved that you'd expect. She's interviewed by associate producer Bill Smoot (with a bit of random input from sound mixer Sid Williams added to pad things out). The original, spoiler-crammed trailer is also included.
Reviewed on June 20, 2018.