Radioactive Dreams (1985) Review by RevTerry

Ever since its introduction in 1945, science’s most notorious contribution, the atomic bomb (and its after effects) has been fuel for a wide range of fiction-- some inherently more positive than others. I personally have the irreversible, devastating weapon to thank (at least in part) for a substantial amount of my favorite things-- for instance post-apocalyptic movies.  No matter how bleak it may appear on the surface, the idea of mankind having a future of any form after a world erasing event (such as a nuclear fallout) is inherently optimistic, if not narcissistic. It's an extension of classic escapism--a concept set forth by the same generation that trained for nuclear attacks by hiding under door frames. The somewhat encouraging outlook has stayed buried inside the subgenre, even through its repurposing, multiple resurgences, and many iconic moments up to this day. It's at the core of the trope, man's remnants wake up sparse but scrappy, after truly fucking everything up, and begin to scrape together a new society, starting again from the wreckage. Even if that future begins with eccentric gangs and wars for water, that's still an upswing from the much more plausible outcomes of self-induced ecological remixing. But a plucky can-do attitude about the destructive tendencies of the human race isn't the only thing that has held over from the nuke-related fiction of the 40s. Somewhat inexplicably, the dapper sepia tone of the times has ingrained itself to the subgenre as well. There is a certain aesthetic appeal to the specific pairing of atomic bombs and the outward ideals of that generation. I'm not super sure about the reasoning behind it, but the look and feel of the early nuclear era managed to stay somewhat in fashion for genre fiction. Even as we sit in a future that would surely blow anyone from that era’s fucking head up, the slightly misinformed alternatives the people of the past dreamt up are just as interesting to us (if not for completely different reasons). The most obvious, and currently popular example, would be the Fallout games. Debuting in 1997, the game series features a wide range of references to other classic works and time periods, but its overall motif has come to be a mix of old-timey radios and the Duck and Cover cartoon. Twelve years before Interplay Entertainment put out the first Fallout game for PC (and long before they got their own game repoed by Bethesda), Albert Pyun put together his own ambitious tale about a possible 1940s influenced post-nuke lifestyle -- Radioactive Dreams (1985).
In 1986 the nuclear shit hits the fan. Somehow, during a worldwide incident, almost every atomic bomb in the world was launched, effectively hitting the global reset button on society and plunging the world into dusty chaos. The remaining nuke, which needs two separate keys to be armed, becomes the stuff of legend among the dystopian cities that remain. The idea being-- whoever held control of the remaining weapon would be the ruler of the new world. We know all this because it says so on bumpers before the movie starts. Sooner or later, we meet Phillip (John Stockwell) and Marlowe (Michael Dudikoff) who have survived the nuclear fallout by being locked away in a bomb shelter for the last fifteen years with nothing but a stack of detective novels for an education. Longing to make it in the outside world as “big dicks” and maybe score a few “dames”, the two hit the road in a classic convertible after tunneling their way out. Unbeknownst to them, while the duo had been safely locked away, practicing narration and nifty dance moves, the rest of the world has plunged into a radioactive wasteland ruled by warring gangs. In no time the boys are faced with obstacles that vintage pulp fiction did little to prepare them for, including armed, foul-mouthed children, enterprising glam cannibals and more than one attractive, double-crossing siren pretending to be a tour guide.
  For some, the name Albert Pyun might bring up certain expectations about a post-apocalyptic film. The man that gave us Cyborg (1989), Dollman (1991) and the Nemesis (1992) has a few favorite concepts that come up frequently in the bulk of his work. In fact, many of his films seem to thematically share the exact same futuristic setting. From what I understand, classic Pym is somewhat of an acquired taste, or at least that's what I have gathered from forcing everyone I know to watch Nemesis 2: Nebula (1995). Personally, I have nothing but love for the cyberpunk wonderlands he is known for, and that goes double for anything with Tim Thomerson in it.  Radioactive Dreams (1985), however, is something of an anomaly. The setting is still the dusty sci-fi wasteland, but it strays away from the cyberpunk aspects for somewhat symbolic anachronisms. In several ways, it comes closer to the mood behind his more ambitious fantasy or drama films (think, Alien from L.A. 1988 mixed with The Sword and the Sorcerer 1982), feeling closer to a straight-up adventure tale than a series of action sequences tied together by the central character. It also leaves behind the normal machismo for silly doe-eyed innocence and feels like a more earnest attempt at engaging the audience on levels outside of his normal tricks. It's still a Pyun movie (especially towards the end), and detective-noir is a theme he would visit again (and again), but it's fun to see him come at it with a more adventure-centric, almost family friendly attempt.
While the characters, Phillip Chandler and Marlowe Hammer, are undoubtedly influenced by Bogart era cinema, every other wasteland character or group has their own generation that they represent as well. The 40s influenced duo meets representatives from each following time period with a focus on the youth and music of the time. I can only speculate on the meaning behind it, but as the boys clash with greasers, hippies, punks and even disco, they openly try to avoid adapting each group’s cynicism. Before starting their path, the two make a pact to reach their goals without compromising their outlook, which essentially becomes the film’s theme throughout. Each new group brings with it a moral degradation, and the main conflict at any moment is surviving each encounter, using stand up “dick” style problem-solving, in a world that has moved on. It's not a deep movie, but there is some stuff to pick at, if you have the time, and it can do well as simple entertainment otherwise. Like its main characters, the film has a certain naive air to it that sticks around till the end and creates some of its charms. There is little realism to any of it, the logic is borderline cartoon, and the surreal nature of the world becomes apparent early on. There is a comfortable layer of whimsical cheese throughout, as if it's the post-nuke answer to The Wonder Years. In the best way possible, it never lets you forget that it is fiction. The storytelling makes attempts at a “classic” approach, sprinkled with 80s ridiculousness. It never really decides what type of film it is and could only be put in some kind of unnamable subgenre next to Circuitry Man (1990) and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984). The film’s action exists at some kind of strange three-way stop between films like One Crazy Summer (1986), Tuff Turf (1985) and Battletruck (1982). It's almost always light-hearted, even when the cannibals show up,  making stops for things like blossoming young love (wasteland be damned). Setting wise, it's a pretty general post-nuke landscape, with a pop-up-society of scoundrels per the usual, but they are less The Warriors (1979) and more Adventures in Babysitting (1987).  The villainous, eccentric groups that make up the dirty-ass new world are closer to the surreal foes of the 80s “teenage” romantic comedy than our usual Mad Max clone. It is quickly paced and somewhat bubbly, so it has no real lulls, just a few awkward moments that take the cute culture clash thing a little too far. The characters stumble from one encounter to the next--the entire timeline of the film taking place on the main character’s first day outside. The method of effectively falling into each scene reminded me of After Hours (1985) but mixed with the inventory system of an RPG video game (like Fallout for example, where key items can open new encounters).  In the tail end, the film shakes off most of the slapstick and takes on a more serious attempt at a final battle. It's kind of abrupt and on first viewing can feel a little lost, but it makes up for that by closing the movie out with a full-on dance number.
John Stockwell plays lead and part-time narrator Phillip Chandler. Stockwell pulls off the boy-in-his-dad's-suit-look well but could have benefited from watching The Big Sleep (1946) a few times to get ready for the role. Michael Dudikoff (aka the motherfucking American Ninja) appears in a rare, humorous part as Marlowe Hammer. It took me a second to even realize it was him, as he is the film’s main comic relief, and I don't think Cannon had taught him any martial arts yet. Despite being completely outside of what he would be known for, and employing a slightly obnoxious voice, it works out pretty well for some reason. Lisa Blount plays one of the romantic interests, appearing later the same year in the (much) more violent exploitation flick Cut and Run (1985). Veteran Don Murray makes a somewhat brief but important cameo, and even George Kennedy shows up to bookend the film. Keep an eye out for the demonic paperboy from Better Off Dead (1985, and his name is Demian Slade, which is kind of fitting) as one of the foul-mouthed greasers.
The film’s cinematology (Charles Minsky) is somewhat inspired, if not a little torn apart, by editing. Most Scenes are set with intent, either pulling heavily from one of its influences or to create a unique contrast of elements. There are some color effects tied to certain locations, but most of the film’s shots bounce from fittingly bright desert landscapes and naturally dim underground layers. If anything, the camera work falls apart during the heavier action sequences, not quite knowing what to do with the comedic tone it has cultivated. There is a small range of practical effects, all of which work within the reality of the film. It all holds up today, in part, because it never tries to be too gritty or flamboyant.  There is definitely a ceiling in its special effects budget, but Albert Pyun can stretch with the best of them, using the restraints to create a style of sorts. The film’s cut-up seems a little broken and could possibly be damaging some memorable camera work. You get the feeling there may have been more there originally, and that it has been shaved for time. Music is a big part of the film and without legally having access to some actual classics from the time periods, it still gets a lot of the moods right. The bulk of the soundtrack is made up of some awesomely electrifying 80’s jams that seem to be written for the film, including the titular track by Sue Saad that has been stuck in my fucking head for three four days now. 
Radioactive dreams is a fluffy, post-apocalyptic ride through the history of American pop culture with mutants and extra cannibals. It was born from a sense of nostalgia, and here in the actual recycled future it definitely provides some--whether that's for vintage storytelling or zany 80s antics. If either of those things sounds appealing at all, I recommend giving it a try, even if you never really dug Cyborg. It's a different kind of Albert Pym grimy apocalypse movie, and honestly, it's a wonder it hasn't found a real fan base yet. Especially since some extremely popular mediums are currently playing with a similar blend of themes. The threat of fallout begins in the 40s, so it's only natural that our fictional depictions would return to it from time to time. Something about the “can do”,” future on the horizon” aesthetic just goes really well with a self-inflicted near-extinction.  We should be so lucky. If you think as a species we are going to pop back up after turning the whole world into a chemically induced Arizona (let alone have any kind of fashion sense), you are giving humans too much fucking credit.
1h 38min | 1985
 Director: Albert Pyun
Writer: Albert Pyun
Review by:
RevTerry


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Psycho Kickboxer (1997) Review by RevTerry

I'm under the impression that you can make any topic into an entertaining film idea just by adding “psycho”, “killer” or “maniac” to the title. For example, I might watch a movie about zebras, if it was on--I mean zebras are cool, and I like to learn shit. If, however, you have a film about killer zebras, I'm fucking down right now. Bloodthirsty, striped, safari horses sound like something I would like to see (at soonest convenience).  It works for all kinds of stuff, and it can be the least threatening thing that jumps to mind. Say the word “mailman” to me, and for some reason I instantly picture the kindly postal employee from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood stopping by to drop off letters or packages with a big honest smile on his face. Now, while poor Mr. McFeely had a very unfortunate name that elicited a few chuckles out of me later in life, he seemed like someone on the up and up. The mail person is so standard in society it's almost a comfort, but it's also hardly a concept at face value that I'm excited for. I see a title like Maniac Mailman, and I picture a hard-nosed civil servant that snaps one day and starts delivering death door to door (rain, sleet or snow). Which sounds like it would make a cool movie, if not a little offensive to our USPS friends in the field. The best part is that these combinations pretty much write and sell themselves. By placing any of those words in front of another usually unrelated, typically contradicting word, you not only have a title but as much plot as you would generally need to get started on a trashy splatter flick. A fIlm which someone like me will probably watch, no questions asked. If a word can make something usually lame into a cool movie title, then it goes double for something that already implies violence of some kind. For example--Psycho Kickboxer (1997).
Alex Hunter (Curtis Bush) is a kickboxer with a career on the rise. When he is not having romantic getaways, he spends his time kicking the shit out of sparring partners at the gym while supportive onlookers with mullets cheer him on. Having just proposed to his beautiful girlfriend, the couple attends a romantic dinner with Alex's cop father (George James). After congratulations, they spend the night appropriately discussing the police officer’s latest case involving the high profile mob boss “Houthorn” (Tom Story), of which he feels pretty secure in being able to prosecute. Mister Houthorn’s ears must have been burning from his minimalist bad guy HQ, because after having some dude's hand chopped off, he instructs his cronies to abduct the Hunter family. Catching the trio as they are leaving the restaurant, the mobsters get the jump on the (extremely well trained) martial artist and his (veteran police officer) father, loading the whole group into a limo with little issue. The men take their captives to a dark underground structure, where they tie them up for some shit talking and torture. At some point during the kidnapping, Alex pisses off the head goon who rewards him by forcing him to watch as they blow his father's head off and rape his girlfriend. Left for dead, Alex is rescued by a Vietnam vet (Rodney Suiter) who heals him with unshown magic and pep talks. As luck would have it, the highly motivated coach/nurse also has his own beef with the mob boss --and a plan. Using long-winded speeches, he tells Alex that to properly seek revenge, he must be trained under his guidance and also wear a ninja outfit. Understandably, Alex is reluctant at first, but since everyone thinks he's dead anyway, he is soon running the streets in black, breaking heads for justice. With his vet homie’s guidance, Alex is somehow transformed into a vigilante with superhuman powers--such as the ability to cave in heads--and begins working his way up the criminal empire. Along the way, some muggers get the shit kicked out of them for practice, a rambunctious reporter (Kim Reynolds) gets involved, and Alex has to fight in some kind of tournament-of-death for whatever reason.
The film is built around the lead, Curtis Bush, and his very real ability to fuck people up with his extremities. Essentially, a well mannered, gunless Punisher in a ninja costume, at no point does the main character give off a psychotic vibe. In fact, he never even edges on anti-hero, he is just a full-fledged old school do-gooder. He does dispense vigilante justice outside of the law, but he generally catches his criminals right in the middle of some kind of openly illegal activity and, for the most part, only kills the really bad guys (who fucked with his family first). So, while the story doesn't quite live up to the psycho part of the film's title, it does make an adequately simple backbone for random ass-kicking. Mostly, it's a low rent, cornball revenge flick in the vain of a Van Damme vehicle from the same time period, but with gore, more grime, and less money. The pacing drags a little when people aren't throwing blows, but the slower moments pack enough laughable dialogue to keep interest. In some ways it carries itself like a horror film, even though what's on the screen is completely made up of comic book elements and action movie cheese.  What actually plays out is a bare, but extremely spirited fight movie with extra blood. Unlike movies produced after UFC, and its influence on the fight movie genre, it has the benefit of being born from the tropes common in Bloodsport (1988) and the first five Kickboxer movies. The trashy tribute to martial arts feels like a scrappy, less well-off cousin to the Don “The Dragon” Wilson lead Bloodfist series. It has only a fraction of its less-graphic counterpart’s money to work with but makes up for it with a blood-soaked soul. There is a great grimy feel to it, but it is bizarrely light-hearted for a gore-filled revenge flick. It has more in common with something like Lady Avenger (1988) than Deathwish (1974), never quite selling the emotional gut of what's going on. Brutal acts happen on screen, but nothing feels grounded enough to matter in a meaningful way. There is little logic to what's happening, but it's never complex enough to matter. The pep talks our hero receives from his, almost mystical, Rocky style coach, about things like hate and inner strength, are borderline nonsense. Though for some reason, I have no issue with the fact that they seemed to be an integral part of his psycho-kickboxer trainer. That kind of shit can make sense in a place like this. If you took the Lundgren Punisher (1989), Hard to Kill (1990) and The Hammer of God (1970), chopped them both into pieces, (lost some), then boiled that medley in  watery juices, left over from a straight to VHS slasher (served undercooked), you would get something close to this film's motif.  There are only enough bits of a story given to grease a sleazy, fun ride through a fictional 90s underworld with a guy who breaks people with his feet.
All of the fights look semi-realistic, brutal and are well performed. Unfortunately, the film doesn't quite have the camera work or editing quality to match the skills of the performers. Each scene only has a handful of angles, even during fights, sometimes producing a less than helpful look. The squandering of expert high kicks just goes to show how much work actually went into some of the classic hate dancing in other films. Curtis Bush and company know what they are doing, but without technical support, it ends up looking like someone’s Handycam recording of a seedy sparring competition.  Although somewhat handicapped, the brawls are a cut above what you might find in another no budget, beat-'em-up flick with a similar plot. Outside of the throwdowns, the technical side is more in line with a shoestring horror flick. Much of the movie takes place in dim basements or in alleys illuminated by street lights. Sometimes, at its most together, it reminded me of a Canadian TV show. Think, The Highlander TV series, but filmed in a basement (minus swords and immortals). The highlight of the features is ample gore which seemingly took the whole Budget. It's not quite Riki-Oh (1991) or anything, but there is a notable escalation from bigger action flicks that it otherwise imitates. The practical effects for the splatter are a step above most everything else in the film, and the movie takes pride in making a mess. People make low powered fountains when busted open properly, reminiscent of the bloodier Shaw Brothers films but with more realistically colored fluids. The music is kind of fun when it makes an appearance. It starts off strong with some video game worthy synth but goes quiet for large parts of the film. The sudden lack of soundtrack adds to the misappropriated horror tones, leaving whole scenes with only background noise. The best part of the musical choices is a makeshift theme song that accompanies the credits. It’s as if Tone Loc was in charge of making Mortal Kombat’s soundtrack but had only a low-end Casio and a Yak-Bak. Every aspect of the film crashes against its limited resources with optimistic bravado. I'm pretty sure most of the scenes were done in one take, as I doubt some of the mumbling was scripted. Most likely, editing was more worried about sampling the best action than getting the wording perfect--it’s that kind of movie. With that kind of budget and priorities, there is plenty to poke fun at, but it goes for broke on the face smashing which is pretty damn respectable in my book.
 At the center of the mayhem is Curtis “The Explosive Thin Man” Bush, a real-life 90s world champion kickboxer, who not only takes the lead in the film but was also the driving force behind its production. According to legend, Bush dreamt up the film with his then-girlfriend Kathy Varner after his role as a foot soldier in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990). Bush, inspired by Bruce Lee and the film careers of other similar martial artists, persuaded his friends and family to invest in the project and shopped the idea to studios. After about five years and multiple setbacks, including being robbed of his film’s funds by an associate, Bush found some kindred spirits in the form of David Haycox and Mardy South , who took on the passion project as their own. They brought on Danny Dennison who provided some script work and the scant tunes. Even the completed film, also referred to as The Dark Angel: Psycho Kickboxer (unrelated to Dark Angel 1990, or the 10+ other releases with that name), had trouble obtaining distribution until Alternative Cinema picked it up in 1998.  As stated above, Bush is obviously skilled as a fighter, and it comes through even in the film’s most ridiculous fight scenes. He isn’t much of an actor, to the point that every one of his lines is almost inaudible (and I don’t think I missed anything important), but he does make up for the atrocious delivery by just looking like he is having a blast the whole time.
Psycho kickboxer runs almost completely on hand to hand combat, fake blood and ambition. It's a cheap, brainless experiment that doesn't have much to offer, outside of well-trained fights and extra gore, which is sometimes exactly what I want out of a movie. It squeezes a lot of trashy entertainment out of its resources, even though the kickboxer is never what I would call psychotic. I don't even feel tricked, they got half the title actually in the movie and somehow that's relatively good for some of the movies I watch.
1h 30min | 1997
Directors: David Haycox, Mardy South
Writers: Danny Dennison, Kathy Varner

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The Boneyard (1991) Review by RevTerry

 
Kids in horror movies have a horrible track record, just like children and action films. A misplaced, whiney spawn in a supposedly mature film series can really fuck up the mood. If you go far enough into any long-standing genre series, you will most likely find a sequel where bad writing was combined with tone-deaf noises and shoved into a small person costume for a starring role. The 80s loved adding youngsters to otherwise grown media, shamelessly shoving an avatar for the younger audience to sell a few toys on the side, or whatever, (actually I kinda miss the toy part) into bloody R rated films. It hardly ever works and didn't go over any better when I myself was a youth. It's rampant really, but there are a few that stand out. Some of my favorite bad ones include the bratty, Mormon looking youngster in RoboCop 2 (1990) and the Krueger possessed Jacob in  A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989). What the fuck is with the dream child shit, who thought that was a good idea? How did Wes Craven not hurt someone? It pains me to make it through the moments that have poor Whit Hertford dressed up like a miniature version of Freddy (and I watch a lot a bullshit). At least RoboCop 2 added some tacky depth, with the fact that Murphy couldn't just run in and start shooting spoiled little shits as he would normally with adult criminals, even if that kind of negates some of the entertainment we showed up for in a RoboCop movie.  Anyway, it just usually fails when they stick a kid in the lead, in anything really. I'm not talking shit on the youth themselves--(I'm still with you Edward Furlong) it's the whole package they are stuck with. It's in the basic writing they are given and only exacerbated by their sometimes fledging talent. The really fucked up part is that kids can be scary, well... kid shaped things anyway. As Charles Band (just) keeps attempting to show everyone, spooky shit can come in some small-ass packages. Using children as monsters is a whole different thing since children are kind of creepy already.  In keeping with the same era for the effective human spawn in horror, my brain jumps to Gage Creed from Pet Sematary (1989) first. After all the gore I have consumed with my eyeballs, that little pasty toddler still ranks pretty high. Say what you will about the Stephen King adaptation as a whole, but with little to no make-up, that milky little undead nightmare is on point. Undead tots are scary, I don't know if it's the size or what, but if a little corpse came after me, I would run (manliness be damned). Especially if it's Gage or something all rotted out and gross like in The Boneyard (1991).
The film opens with detective Jersey Callum (Ed Nelson) and his green partner Gordon (James Eustermann) dropping in unannounced on psychic Alley Oates (Deborah Rose) who obviously hasn't left her house for a while. Miss Oates, we learn, used to work for the police department as a consultant, using her gift/curse to help solve violent murders before going into retirement for somewhat traumatic but murky reasons. After being roused from her pile of dirty laundry and thoroughly coaxed, she agrees to come down to the station to look into a string of strange happenings the detective is having trouble with. Recently, a mortician had turned himself in, claiming to have “ghouls” locked in a basement. When the police went to his business, they found the decomposing bodies of three children and signs that the mortician had been feeding the tots pieces of human flesh. At a standstill (and kind of weirded out), the police, Callum specifically, are hoping that Oats can shed some light on the fucked up situation, possibly bringing the unknown victims some closure. Detective Callum shows Oats the videotaped confession of the mortician, Chen (Robert Yun Ju Ahn),  in which he describes a curse upon his family, one that requires him to play servant to some kind of ancient evil. The mortician explains that the bodies were, in fact, dangerous creatures that would rise again if not contained. When Oats has had enough of the crazy guy babblings, the group heads to the police mortuary (aka the boneyard). While there, they are forced to view the body on closed-circuit television for legal reasons, so a doctor Shepard (Norman Fell) shows them the dead kids with well-meaning, but misaimed social niceties, from down in the basement. Unable to make a connection through the fuzzy tube television screen, Oats asks if she would be able to get a lock of hair with the hopes that physical contact will show her something. The doctor on the TV screen agrees and pulls out some scissors. However, before she can get ahold of the hair, the “dead” youngsters jump off their corpse carts to the surprise of everyone (except Mr. Chen) and start running around the facility killing people (and doing other freaky magical shit). Somehow during the chaos, the group gets locked in the basement and must face off against the little moldy monsters who have taken to possessing (or maybe infecting) their victims in grotesque ways, effectively reproducing. Oats and Callum must combine their skills (and smooth out Oats' personal issues) if they are going to survive the night and solve the mystery of the freaky-ass dead moppets. At some point, there is also a giant fucked up poodle-beast complete with a pink bow, and somebody kind of melts.
The Boneyard has a dry, almost gumshoe-esque feel to it but with cartoon charm. Not quite noir, the story feels like just one of the main character’s many adventures as it's extremely comfortable in its strange skin. If I didn't know better, I would think the film was adapted from a single book in a series of supernatural detective novels you might find at the supermarket. The character Oats and her relationship with the world around her, especially the detective Callum, feel seasoned as if they have had time to build together and planted roots. At times I get a hint of Kolchak the Night Stalker (1974-1975) as the film uses a similar flavor of hard-boiled goofball storytelling. Our flawed but unfaltering duo (Oates and Callum) almost look accustomed to the strange happenings around them, you get the idea it's not the first time they have gone up against some kind of unexplained madness together, and it won't be the last. The well worn almost dusty feel works for it, it is a bizarre, dangerous fictional world while still leaning on the familiar or even bland parts of its influences. It takes a little bit to get going, borrowing the bone structure of a quirky crime show pilot. A lot of time is spent building a case or collecting clues, even though when it's all over very little investigation was actually needed. The comic book tint in the film’s universe harkens to Cast a Deadly Spell (1991 and its semi-sequel Witch Hunt 1994) but with less of the Dick Tracy surrealism. The pseudo-noir build-up leads into a cliche horror lockdown which splits the film and ignites the more horror-laden aspects. After it picks up speed, it takes on a Full Moon-like, isolated back and forth between the gang of survivors and the pint-sized zombies. Like a later Charles Band movie, its story never quite commits to terror, and the creep factor is left up to the effects and editing (which oddly enough, in this case, were both partly done by the same guy). Plenty of the movie’s details are divulged with little or no payout, and the explanations behind the events feel like the wrap of an X-Files episode, only “over” because the threat can be considered neutralized and, possibly, soon forgotten. It is carefree enough that the near-dead ends don't hurt it, and the extended television episode effect ends up working in its favor. There is spacey padding between moments, and each scene seems to go on longer than its content. The crawl aims to create an eerie atmosphere and highlight the pain of Oats’ abilities despite the tendency to roll over into cornball antics without notice. It's only effective about half the time, but the technique reminds me of early Sam Rami or dramatic Hollywood films made two decades before. Even if it meanders a little, the movie never wanders enough to lose my attention. It helps that the story rides a great line between self-aware B-movie antics and serious shlock. Once it starts getting crazy and magic mutants start popping up, little matters beyond the survival of the main characters. It kind of fools you at first, coming across like something your aunt might pick up from the library, until the cadavers are melting and giant googly-eyed abominations are squirting blood-goo everywhere like a well-budgeted Troma flick.
The television-like style carries over to the technical aspects for the most part. In a lot of ways, it feels like it was built by combining two or more episodes of an unaired program together with unused fluff to film its runtime (`a la anime ova or something like the Kolchak TV movies). As I touched on, the scenes seem to stick around longer than they need to, sometimes to just survey around the room. The film’s editing plays heavily into the horror elements as well as the comical tone where the writing is thin or off-subject, with a few fun zooms for effect at opportune times. When they finally show up and start moving around, the practical creature effects are the highlight of the film. The tiny, crusty zombie kids illicit some real shudders when first animated--before becoming something closer to the “Things” from the Cat in the Hat book. Prosthetic work on the faces is consistently unsettling, despite the fact that at some point, I think I saw one do a cartwheel. I imagine it's what you would get if you bred the zombies from a Lucio Fulci movie and the Twilight Zone movie-version of the “There's Something on the Wing” gremlin. Their victim-army ranges from makeup crafted Return of the Living Dead callbacks to oversized, slimy, cartoon-eyed puppets that look like something that might pop up in a manga adaptation of Ghostbusters (if there already isn't one). Extremely detailed, a little silly and filled with the kind of shlop you only get in the days before computer graphics, the creature effects make amends for any slow points at the beginning that may have shaken a few viewers. The bright greens and yellows of the grotesque fluids break up the drab khaki and grey the film is built around, giving it a pay off akin to the final panels of an EC comic set in the 50s. The music is ambitious as fuck if not a little off at times. Its role in the beginning scenes helps sell the straight horror vibe, but it slowly loses focus as the film drops the ploy for the more openly ridiculous. Make sure to stick around for the horribly confused and misplaced pop song that brings in the end credit.
The film was written and directed by special effects designer James Cummins. The work on this film’s creature would cap off a career in effects that spanned ten years and included credits on classics like The Thing (1982) and Enemy Mine (1985). Cummins would direct two more films (Dark:30 1993 and Harbinger 1996) and even move into children's books before dying in 2010 from heart complications. The film was completely filmed and had started final production in 1989 but got its straight to video release in 1991. Deborah Rose plays Oates with a tired, annoyed style that takes a unique route in the washed-up private dick trope. Up to this point, she had played mostly small roles in television and films, none of which I could point out to you. This film's psychic is her first starring endeavor as well as her last acting gig ever (as far as I can tell). Rose’s style, mixed with the writing, makes it feel like we are watching the exploits of another film’s background character, in a good way, as if the bus driver from some teen sex comedy also solves violent crimes on the weekends. She's a strange pick, but it plays off well, and I could see her on her own Monk style show only with voodoo and slippery gore instead of whatever happens on Monk. Hollywood veteran Ed Nelson plays old-school detective Jersey Callum. Jersey feels like a natural fit for Nelson’s brand of ham and pulls from a few of his previous roles, of which he has plenty. Piercing as always, Phyllis Diller appears (sans her wig) as the boneyard receptionist, throwing in her normal brand of comic relief and providing a reason for a poodle to be in the building. Norman Fell plays a government mortician who wears a ponytail and can't really read a room. I have no idea if it's what he was going for, but the drawn-out, awkward exchange between him and the group, via closed circuit television, is the kind of comedy people only really started appreciating almost twenty years later and on mostly on Adult Swim. There's a good chance he was just phoning it in, but it works for me.
The Boneyard is a peaceful blend of made for TV detective tropes, child zombies and body slime. It's based in the familiar but makes some strange choices in its execution that pay off in memorable ways. There is a lot going on and most of it doesn't matter, but it helps the world feel broken-in, like this is just one of its stories. Honestly, I'm still ready for the further adventures of Oats and Callum. It's not the scariest film in the world, it's more fun than anything, but when those little fuckers jump off the table and snarl for the first time--it's pretty fucking unsettling. The fact that they are bite sized only adds to the creep factor. So I guess sometimes the ungrown and horror can mix, just as long they are playing the creature and not the lead (and definitely not mini-Freddy). Nothing against kid actors as a group--they are just more believable as disgusting inhuman creatures, like the ones you see running free range at Walmart.
 1h 38min | 1991
Director: James Cummins
Writer: James Cummins 

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Review by:
RevTerry


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