Retro-review: New on BluRay/DVD from Shout Factory!

BONES (2001)

Directed by Ernest R. Dickerson
Written by Adam Simon, Tim Metcalfe
Starring Snoop Dogg, Pam Grier, Michael T. Weiss, Clifton Powell, Ricky Harris, Bianca Lawson, Khalil Kain, Merwin Mondesir, Sean Amsing, Katharine Isabelle, Ron Selmour, Deezer D, Garikayi Mutambirwa, Erin Wright, Josh Byer, Kirby Morrow, Ellen Ewusie, Lynda Boyd, Boyan Vukelic, Marcus Moldowan, Mavis D’Andrade, Colin Foo

Borrowing heavily from blacksploitation era and classic horror films but adding modern effects and music, Ernest Dickerson delivers a fun horror romp. While Dickerson will always have my respect for helming SURVIVING THE GAME, DEMON KNIGHT, and especially JUICE, he delivers an infectiously entertaining tribute starring Snoop Dogg himself as a new kind of prince of darkness.

A ganglord named Jimmy Bones (Snoop) is betrayed by his friends and a rival gang looking to expand their horizons by bringing crack to the hood and murdered. Twenty years later, the cathedral-like house Bones called home is being renovated into a nightclub by the sons of one of the men who killed Bones. The house has always been the creepy one everyone would stay away from with moving shadows and a pesky black dog roaming its grounds, but when there is new activity at the home, Bones returns for vengeance on those who wronged him.

I think the main reason BONES didn’t catch on was that horror was on a different page when it was released. Boiled down to basics, BONES is another version of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET with a supernatural killer murdering folks in creative ways. That would have fit right into the 80’s but this film was released in the 00’s—a month after 9/11 to be exact, so while the country was still coping with a national tragedy, horror was not something people were flocking to. And a straight-up throwback to the 80’s slasher era wasn’t going to be popular anyway since this was the tail end of the self-referential SCREAM era and BONES took itself too seriously to fit into that category. It’s a shame though, because the film itself isn’t that bad. The acting is capable for that type of film (it’s even got Pam Grier and a teenage Katharine Isabelle), even Snoop, who has loosened up in recent years, isn’t as wooden as he was when he tried to act in his videos back in the day (“You don’t love me…you just love my doggy-style!”).

But the true highlight of BONES is that this film is filled with fun imagery like a wall of souls breaking free from their sludgy bindings, a bloody yet well-choreographed fever dream, and an especially gruesome dog barfing up maggots scene. I also liked a lot of the fun shadow play with Bones, though it is a direct lift from NOSFERATU and especially BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA. There’s also an extended sequence that is a lot more than an homage to HELLRAISER’s Frank resurrection. The combination of entertaining effects and creative ways to show them through Dickerson’s lens makes this a potent combination.

Had BONES come out ten years earlier or later, I think it would have caught on and there would have been a new black horror icon that ranks up there with Blackula and Candyman. But timing is everything. Revisiting BONES all these years later, the styles might be dated a bit, the story is pretty thin, and the comedy is cringe-worthy, but there is an awful lot of tricky camerawork and cool effects sequences to keep you entertained.