THE BONEYARD (1991) Blu-ray
Director: James Cummins
Code Red

Phyllis Diller cackles all the way to THE BONEYARD on Code Red's Blu-ray of the 1990s direct-to-video discovery.

The emotional toll of being a police psychic has driven Alley Oates (Deborah Rose, SKI PATROL) to become a shut-in, entombing herself alive with her memories of the child she lost to ovarian cancer. When Lieutenant Jersey Callum (Ed Nelson, BUCKET OF BLOOD) and his young hotshot partner Detective Gordon Mullin (James Eustermann, SPACED INVADERS) try to procure her services to identify the corpses of three children once kept "alive" on cadaver fed to them by mortician Chen (Robert Yun Ju Ahn), she turns them down flat until the mummified tykes invade her dreams seemingly appealing to her for help. Alley views the videotape of Chen's interrogation in which he claims that the children are undead creatures that his family have served for the last three centuries as penance for dabbling in sorcery, not protecting them but keeping them away from mankind. He has confessed because they are becoming too strong for him and he wants help to destroy them. Alley accompanies Callum and Mullin to the understaffed coroner's office during the night shift, but officious desk clerk Miss Poopinplatz (Phyllis Diller, BOY DID I GET A WRONG NUMBER) cites regulations to keep her from coming into physical contact with the corpse. Coroner Shep (THREE'S COMPANY's Norman Fell) find a workaround by sending up a lock of hair from one of the corpses. With Alley left upstairs to get a reading off of the hair, Callum and Mullin are roped into running interference between Poopinplatz and meat wagon driver Marty (Willie Stratford Jr.) when he tries to deliver a suicide to the morgue through the service elevator after finding out that the pneumatic delivery doors are malfunctioning (and unlikely to be fixed since the building is scheduled for demolition as the coroner's office consolidates its branches). The suicide Dana (Denise Young) waking up on the slab is a shock for the coroner and the detectives, but they are in store for more when Alley has a vision and realizes that the corpses of the children are just "playing possum" and are looking not only to feed on human flesh but also recruit new members.

A totally under-the-radar direct to video obscurity from director James Cummins – an effects artist who worked for Stan Winston on THE INTRUDER WITHIN, DEAD & BURIED, and THE THING, Tom Burman on CAT PEOPLE, and Cris Walas on ENEMY MINE before supervising the effects of New World's HOUSE – THE BONEYARD looks like a late eighties or nineties shot-on-film indie horror movie but is far more ambitious and a pleasant surprise. While there is some broad comedy in the supporting performances of Diller and Fell, the antics of her poodle Floofsums (ELVIRA: MISTRESS OF THE DARK's Binny), and Eustermann's squeamishness, the more dramatic aspects of the film from Alley's back-story involving the loss of a child and Dana's suicide attempt are not overshadowed. Rose is an atypical female lead for a horror film, especially a low-budget exploitation one, as a middle-aged and overweight woman but she delivers a moving performance and earns her third act badass turn even as the monsters get sillier. Nelson gets more to work with than the seeming hardboiled detective with a subplot involving burgeoning romance that allows him to express some emotion. The effects – designed by Cummins and Bill Corso, who would then work under Steve Johnson (INNOCENT BLOOD) before moving onto a mainstream solo career with more recent films like DEADPOOL – are creative if not quite matching the technical level of the former's similar contributions to the aforementioned HOUSE entry, but the amusement of the audience is echoed in the stunned outburst of laughter by one of the characters when confronted with a monster poodle. THE BONEYARD is well worth unearthing.

Released direct to video by Prism Entertainment and laserdisc by Image Entertainment, THE BONEYARD languished on the video shelves until Program Power put it out on an unauthorized but extras-packed release as part of their Lucky 13 line that also included SLAUGHTERHOUSE, EVIL LAUGH, and BLOODSUCKING PHAROAHS FROM PITTSBURGH. While 88 Films beat Code Red to the Blu-ray market with their Region B edition, the region free US edition's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen transfer comes from the same HD scan of the original 35mm camera negative "financed by Code Red's Credit Card" with "extensive color correction" exclusive to this edition. The UK edition's encode looked quite good with its own color correction, but Code Red actually has the edge here. The deeper blacks of the slightly darker image give everything else a bit more pop, from some bold hues to close-ups of characters that gain an enhance sense of immediacy from Nelson's first close-up to the various lunges of the zombie children and the other transformed monsters. It is probably not worth an upgrade for owners of the UK disc but those who held off and those who are region A-locked can feel like they have made the right decision.

Extras start off with the audio commentary by director Cummins and producer Richard F. Brophy (line producer on the original HOUSE), in which they provide some interesting "what if" production anecdotes like the intended casting of Conchata Ferrell – perhaps best known today as the wisecracking housekeeper on TWO AND A HALF MEN – who elected to work on the Lindsay Wagner series A PEACEABLE KINGDOM instead, Clu Gulager (RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD) having to pull out due to illness and recommending Nelson, approaching Alice Cooper and Warren Zevon for the coroner role before Fell, and the celebrity credits of the dog Binny. Cummins recalls being inspired to use the "kyoshi" after seeing A CHINESE GHOST STORY and MR. VAMPIRE, how the casting of Diller and Fell attracted investments and some scenes were made better by having to be quickly rethought due to the short schedule, and how they ended up getting the same orchestra in Los Angeles performing Andrew Lloyd Webber's PHANTOM OF THE OPERA to perform the score when they realized how rich the score by John Lee Whitener (RAGIN' CAJUN) was going to be.

Extras also include the aforementioned interviews, starting with one featuring a typically self-deprecating Diller (17:08) who is asked to discuss her entire career but provides some fond memories of the shoot after recalling some of her horror-adjacent roles – including voice work as herself on SCOOBY DOO – including the decision to use her own hair rather than one of her may wigs, the difficulty of working with the poodle which was old and less energetic than it appeared onscreen, and the cold weather although she most gleefully recalls witnessing televangelist Jim Bakker getting arrested while in North Carolina. The interviews with director Cummins and producer Brophy have been combined into one featurette (30:29). Cummins' half has a lot of overlap with the commentary, including the Old Hollywood elegance of working with Diller, the happy accident that lead to using her own hair rather than a wig – with her making the crack that if Dianne Wiest can wear her hair like that in PARENTHOOD so could she – the original choice of actors and contrasting working with Nelson the method actress Rose, the child zombie actors, and recruiting effects co-designer/supervisor Corso from a Joe Blasco workshop while the part with Brophy focuses less on repeated production anecdotes than on the business of being a producer on a low-budget film and the perils of the limited partnership which took two years to raise complete funding.

Exclusive to the Code Red edition is a new interview "The Little Ghoul Grows Up: Interview with actress Sallie Middleton” (13:27) featuring the grown actress in conversation with associate producer Phil Smoot (ALIEN OUTLAW) in which she recalls how she became a double for the other child actors who could not handle extended sessions under the make-up. She relates her memories of working with the actors and Smoot provides some additional input to stimulate the discussion while the featurette occasionally also cuts away to sound mixer Sid Williams who also provides some recollections of the shoot. The film's trailer (2:39) is also included. While 88 Films had its "comedy artwork" on the reverse of its cover, Code Red has theirs the other way around.
(Eric Cotenas)