Bones Movie Review
Before its last-reel nosedive into bullpucky about a parallel world of the dead, the hip-hop horror flick "Bones" is gutsy, stylish and inventive.
Building on the foundation of a haunted house plot, director Ernest Dickerson mixes great B-movie goosebumps with a revenge fantasy that takes aim at how drug culture has overrun black neighborhoods turning them into ghettos.
He introduces a trio of young urban entrepreneurs who plan to renovate a long-abandoned, ominously cathedral-like brownstone in a bad neighborhood, opening it as a nightclub when they're done. But we know from the get-go that the deck is stacked against them. In the movie's opening scene, two white-bread frat boys looking to score dope get dragged into the place and gored by a red-eyed demon dog that the whole 'hood likes to pretend doesn't exist.
We soon learn in flashbacks peppered throughout the film that the house has stood empty since its last owner -- a gangster named Jimmy Bones who ran the local numbers racket -- was double-crossed and killed in 1979 after refusing to help introduce crack cocaine to his streets. Gaunt, snarling rapper Snoop Dogg -- showing a lot more potential as a menacing figure than he did in "Baby Boy" -- seems genuinely credible as a crook who cares about his community. He looks sharp in his pinstriped pimp threads, too.
Back in the present, two of the club buddies (Khalil Kain and Merwin Mondesir) happen to be the sons of Jimmy's ex-partner Jeremiah (Clifton Powell), who helped covered up the murder then went legit, marrying white and moving to the 'burbs. Jeremiah's boys discover Jimmy's suspiciously juicy corpse in the basement but keep it to themselves after ignoring the vague but vehement warnings from neighborhood weirdoes like the psychic (Pam Grier) with a gorgeous daughter (Katherine Isabelle).
Soon all hell breaks loose as Jimmy Bones comes calling for his killers' souls.
Slick without being absurdly flashy (like last year's "The Cell," for instance), "Bones" pays updated homages to genre staples like the old-school horror films of Hammer Studios and the tongue-in-cheek terror of Sam Raimi, while boasting surprisingly fresh concepts of its own.
Jimmy's body rejuvenates a little with each kill (performed by the demon dog until Bones gets his strength back), and the modest-budget special effects here are far more realistically slimy and creepy than the CGI resurrection in similar scenes from 1999's "The Mummy." The blood is B-movie blood -- extra thick and bright red. But instead of looking cheap, somehow it seems frighteningly alive with its own energy -- especially in the scene with Isabelle unknowingly rolling around on a bed that's slowly filling with the stuff.
In another scene in this house that is apparently a gateway to hell, Bones pushes a revenge victim's face into and out of a supernatural wall writhing with screaming, oil-soaked bodies -- literally giving the guy a glimpse of the perdition he's in for after his imminent death. And my favorite "Bones" innovation is the pool table that bleeds when the ghost takes a switchblade to its felt.
The picture even turns on the camp just at the right moment for comic relief, when Bones starts arguing with the smart-mouthed severed head of an ex-crony he's just caught up with.
Unfortunately, Dickerson doesn't know enough to end this joke after once scene. When two severed heads start cracking wise in the next few minutes, "Bones" loses every wisp of its chilling atmosphere. Then it really hits the skids, going off on a tangent about Jimmy Bones opening a rift between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Next thing you know, people are meandering through a parallel universe.
Why, oh why couldn't "Bones" just stick to its haunted house roots? It was doing fine! In fact, as if to demonstrate what a cut above the genre this film was (up to that point), the best moments actually come in scenes that aren't even trying to spill your popcorn. The double-cross flashback is almost Scorese-like, as Bones' rivals force his bodyguard and girlfriend to stab him with his own knife, so if his body is ever found, everyone's fingerprints will be on the weapon.
Scary movies are rarely as good as the first 3/4 of "Bones." Ironically, they're rarely as bad as the last 1/4 of "Bones." Too bad the story isn't remotely resolved by the time it sours, or you could just walk out after severed head number one and feel as if you'd escaped with your life.