Lately, I have been having more fun with horror by bypassing the gloomy Guses out there in favor of the bright and campy. To wit, SHOCK-O-RAMA is one of the greatest new genre films I've seen this year and ROCK N ROLL NIGHTMARE is an uncovered treasure. But if I was hoping for sunshine and lollipops, Brian Paulin is here to knock me back on my keester. Paulin is a serious horror guy and his films do not give you a warm and fuzzy feeling about the world.
BONE SICKNESS marks his most mature and his most gruesome tale to date, starting out very realistic and growing more and more absurd as time wears on. But never once does it put it's tongue in cheek. Not unless one of the cast members is eating it, that is.
The bone sickness of the title refers to the malady experienced by Alex McNetti (Paulin's longtime collaborator Rich George). We're told that as recently as a year before, Alex was in perfect health. Then, his bones began to decay and Alex became bed-ridden. The doctors have no idea what's going on and probably wouldn't help anyway since Alex doesn't have health insurance.
What he does have is a dedicated wife, Kristen (Darya Zabinski) who has gone to extraordinary lengths to wake sure her husband gets well. First, she tried alternative medicines. Then, she turns to a longtime friend, Thomas (Paulin), a morgue attendant who may be dedicated to Alex or may have eyes for Kristen. Thomas has begun concocting remedies based on the ground bones and remains of cadavers. As it turns out, the fresher the cadavers the better. Just how fresh may be part of the puzzle.
At night, however, the dead have begun to rise. Turns out they don't like their remains being used on the living. If the living are going to start eating them, one good turn deserves another.
Paulin's first horror film was AT DAWN THEY SLEEP, an intriguing and original vampire story with as many shortcomings as attributes. He was also responsible for MISTY MUNDAE: MUMMY RAIDER which has the distinction of being perhaps the most disappointing film in Mundae's resume (to be fair, I have not seen the European cut). It became obvious from that second feature that Paulin's heart lie in the gruesome horror and not the nudie parody.
BONE SICKNESS is a more focused work and the story moves along at a good steady clip. The performances are solid, especially Darya Zabinski. Unfortunately, George lays it on way too thick in the film's second half. Paulin has wisely dispensed with the asides from DAWN that interrupted the flow. He has crafted an original zombie story that feels fresh, if one can use that term around all this rotting flesh.
Speaking of which, fans of gore will be happy to know that there is a lot of it on display here. The film is packed with zombies. Hungry, entrail-eating, bone-crunching zombies. The camera never shies away from the grisly set-pieces involving some impressive makeup effects. Scenes of violence are slow and graphic, making FINAL DESTINATION look like CAPTAIN KANGAROO in comparison. Paulin also enjoys using some nauseating sound effects in conjunction with the graphic violence. Be prepared for lots of slurping and over-amplified sounds of the snap, crackle, pop of bone. Reportedly, some of this footage is also new, with around ten gore scenes added for the recent Unearthed Films release.
The gore unfortunately is also one of the drawbacks of the film. It's entertaining and grindhouse fans will certainly get their money's worth. But too many scenes when on for far too long, causing many scenes to devolve into a special effects promo reel. If you've seen two straight minutes of zombies picking their teeth with someone's rib cage, three more can get dull when it does not advance the story.
Also, while Paulin has a more focused story this time around, he still does not know when to stop. The film runs 104 minutes and it's not boring. However, that running time features a lot of added baggage. As if inspired by a RETURN OF THE KING frenzy, Paulin doesn't know when to close this particular chapter. After a little over 80 minutes, the film is pretty much over, folks. The rest seems almost like a segue into another future otherwise unrelated project. It is time that could have been better spent sewing up a few plot holes that left me scratching my head after the whole thing was over. Don't be surprised if you too utter some form of, "But what about...?"
But even with these problems, BONE SICKNESS is worth your dollar. We may be used to zombie movies these days, but none quite so original as this. It's a good earnest horror film that offers a thought-provoking storyline, old school effects and no apologies to anyone.
- Scott W. Davis