Bones (2001)
New Line Home Entertainment
Cast: Snoop Dogg, Pam Grier, Michael T. Weiss
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Music Videos, Theatrical Trailer, Biogrpahies, Production Notes

For those who like to get technical when pigeonholing films, it seems that every genre has a series of sub-genres. In the early ’70s, exploitation films gave way to "Blaxploitation" films, which featured predominantly African-American casts. This in turn lead to "Blaxploitation Horror" movies, such as "Blacula", "Blackenstein", and "Ganja and Hess." This trend continued through the ’90s with movies such as "Tales from the Hood" and the creation of a line of home videos from Full Moon solely dedicated to what they dubbed "Urban Horror", with titles such as "Killjoy" and "The Vault". This all brings us to the present, with "Bones", a major studio release which harkens back to its "Blaxploitation Horror" roots, while adding a touch of European cinematic style.

"Bones" deals with a house in an inner-city neighborhood and examines two parallel stories of what transpired in the ominous dwelling. In the present, a group of teenagers from the suburbs — Patrick (Khalil Kain), Bill (Merwin Mondesir), Tia (Katharube Isabelle), and Maurice (Sean Amsing) — buy the old house and decide to turn it into a nightclub. Their enterprise is met with disdain from the locals, who appear to be afraid of the house (which resembles a skull). The most vocal opposition comes from local medium Pearl (Pam Grier). However, Pearl’s daughter Cynthia (Bianca Lawson) is drawn to the house, and decides to help the kids set up their club.

As the group cleans up the house, they learn more about its mysterious past. It seems that a local gangster named Jimmy Bones (Snoop Dogg) lived in the house in the late ’70s. Jimmy ruled the neighborhood and was beloved by everyone. But, he was brutally murdered in the house in 1979 and the neighborhood fell into ruin after that. The kids find a sinister black dog living in the house, and they then discover what appears to be Jimmy Bones’ skeleton in the basement, but that doesn’t deter them from fulfilling their dream of running a disco. Unfortunately, the infusion of youthful energy has brought Jimmy’s restless spirit back from the dead, causing him to rise from his grave and seek revenge on his killers.

In one of the featurettes offered on the "Bones" DVD, director Ernest Dickerson states, "What’s scary is what’s unexplained." Based on that statement, "Bones" must be the scariest movie ever made. While the basic plot is easy to follow, there are many incidental facts that go unexplained in this movie. What is the dog? Is revenge Jimmy’s only motivation for rising from the grave? And was my summation of what caused Jimmy to be resurrected correct? The most important question is, would the inclusion of this information had made "Bones" a better movie? And the answer to that is, yes. As it stands now, "Bones" is very disjointed. The subplot concerning how the neighborhood was affected by Jimmy Bones’ death is very clearly explained and brings an unusually heavy socio-political feel to the film. But, that doesn’t make for a good "popcorn" movie, and the fact that the film attempts humor when it should be at its most frightening doesn’t help either.

Those complaints aside, "Bones" does have some positive aspects, most having to do with the film’s style. Director Ernest Dickerson ("Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight") openly admits to being a fan of EuroHorror and has tried to bring that kind of look to "Bones". The film is filled with roving cameras and strange angles, which give a sense of disorientation. Also, the film has a very dark look, reminiscent of a John Carpenter film, which is contrasted by the kind of colorful lighting one would find in a Dario Argento movie. (There is one scene here which is clearly a nod to "Suspiria".) Also, Dickerson has done a fine job of pacing the film as well. "Bones" is never boring, although the third act is nowhere near as intense as it should be.

"Bones" rolls onto DVD from New Line Home Video as a Platinum Edition. The film is presented in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> and has been <$PS,letterboxed> at 2.35:1. This transfer looks fantastic, showing very little (if any) grain, no distortion, and no overt complications from artifacting or edge-enhancement. There are also on defects from the source print evident. This film has a very dark look and that works very well on this DVD. In even the darkest scenes, the action is still viewable. The black tones on the image look great and contrast nicely with the red, green, and blue lighting effects. Overall, this is an excellent transfer, which borders on being perfect.

Along with the brilliant soundtrack, the "Bones" DVD offers two very impressive soundtracks. The <$DTS,DTS> ES 6.1 audio track sounds fantastic, offering very deep and rich sound that is highly detailed. For example, during the explosion at the 1:04:00 mark, one can clearly hear the blast, the fire, the screams from the crowd, and the breaking glass with incredible clarity. This track offers a good bass response and fine reproduction of the hip-hop soundtrack. The <$DD,Dolby Digital> EX 5.1 track, which is also included on the disc, is very good as well, although the dynamic range and the sound field don’t quite match that of the DTS track. Nonetheless, this track is very good, offering great surround effects, and good bass. White the DTS track is slightly better, both audio tracks hear are loud, well-balanced, and very impressive.

The special features are kicked off with an <$commentary,audio commentary> with director Ernest Dickerson, co-screenwriter Adam Simon, and star Snoop Dogg. While none of the participants are especially dynamic speakers, this is a good and interesting <$commentary,commentary track>. Dickerson and Simon give a fair amount of detail concerning the production of "Bones" and Snoop chimes in occasionally with a comment. The trio is rarely silent and there are some humorous moments here too.

There are two documentaries offered on the DVD. The first is entitled "Digging Up Bones", and is basically a "making-of" featurette. This 24-minute segment offers interviews with the principal crew and some members of the cast. "Digging Up Bones" gives insight into the production design (specifically the design of the house), visual FX, make-up FX (with a look at the making of the "wall of souls"), and also offers some storyboards. The running-time may be a bit long here, as the information becomes redundant, but nonetheless, there are some interesting tidbits here. Of more interest to horror fans is "Urban Gothic", which explores the films which influenced "Bones". In this 19-minute feature, director Ernest Dickerson confesses his love and admiration for the films of Mario Bava, and "Urban Gothic" contains clips from many of Bava’s movies. While it may be difficult to make the leap from Bava to "Bones", this featurette is entertaining. Interestingly, both documentaries offer English subtitles.

Also offered on the disc are 14 deleted and extended scenes. These scenes contain some 22 minutes of footage, some of which is easy to dismiss, but there are a few scenes here which would have helped to flesh out the story in "Bones". There are two music videos for the Snoop Dogg song "Dogg Named Snoop" here — the standard version and a live edition. The theatrical trailer for "Bones" is included here, and has been <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1 and offers Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The extras are rounded out by the Theatrical Press Kit, which offers detailed cast & crew profiles and in-depth production notes.

While "Bones" is certainly a flawed movie, it’s not without its charms. Those of you who want to see this film solely for the presence of Snoop Dogg should know that he isn’t in the film very much. When he is, he does a good job…until he opens his mouth. The first half of the film plays as a haunted house film, while the latter half becomes a hip-hop version of "The Crow". The "Bones" DVD offers the viewer a solid transfer, with a crisp video image and two great audio tracks to choose from.