BONE (1972)
Director: Larry Cohen
Blue Underground

As part of Blue Underground's Larry Cohen collection, his directorial debut BONE is the disc of the trio (the other two being Q and GOD TOLD ME TO) that seems the odd man out. It's not a horror film, nor a sci-fi or fantasy film, but is a stark social drama with plenty of black humor and superb performances that still manages to pack a wallop in today's political atmosphere.

Bill Lennox (Andrew Duggan) is a used car salesman, appearing all over television in cheaply shot commercials, but who is still struggling to make ends meet while living in a posh Beverly Hills mansion with his spoiled blonde wife Bernadette (Joyce Van Patten from THE BAD NEWS BEARS). Into their lives walks Bone (Yaphet Kotto, from all sorts of cult flicks like TRUCK TURNER, DRUM, and ALIEN), a black inner-city criminal who removes a dead rat from plugging up their pool drain, then proceeds to hold Bernadette hostage while sending Bill to withdraw his entire savings from the bank. The couple soon discovers surprising changes in their relationship with each other and their individual personalities through the experience, and it all ends in a frenzied plot twist that will leave many viewers reeling.

BONE kicks off as a very dark comedy, with one of Bill's cheesy commercials evolving into a pretty bizarre advertisement for wrecked cars with dead bloody bodies still inside! Yech! The film is consistently funny, with Bernadette taking it upon himself to educate the sexually abnormal Bone so he can rape her more easily (!) and Bill encountering a variety of kooky characters while pondering whether he should bother coming home with the money, including a strange phone booth call reminiscent of Cohen's recent work on PHONE BOOTH. By the finale, the film has taken an even blacker turn, with the characters' changes leaving them broken and battered emotionally and physically, and all of it completely captivating. Cohen has always been an absolutely superb writer, penning some of the most memorable and enticing dialogue in any film, and BONE is no exception, including a cast that delivers their lines with real spirit and dedication. All three leads personify their characters beautifully, with Joyce Van Patten really standing out as a boxed-in rich girl who sees a chance to experience something different and exciting and jumps at the chance. Kotto is a great beefy presence, and the fact that he drifts both in AND out of the film is a good move by Cohen. Andrew Duggan's character is so slimy he almost leaves a trail everywhere he goes. Oscar-nominee Jeannie Berlin (for THE HEARTBREAK KID, shot the same year) leaves a lasting impression as a wild child who cheats and steals her way through life, as she has been cheated her whole life by society. And "Match Game" fans (me included!) will jump at seeing Brett Somers in a rare acting role, as a woman harassing Bill in a bar with X-rays of her dead husband's teeth!

The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of BONE is absolutely superb, with sharp gorgeous colors and absolutely no dirt or grain present whatsoever! The film is very bright and clear, especially considering the film is 30 years old! The mono audio mix is very strong and the all-important dialogue is easy to hear and appreciate.

For a film so obscure and forgotten, Blue Underground has compiled a nice slate of bonus features for the disc. First up is yet another superb audio commentary by the talkative, intelligent Larry Cohen, moderated by BU head honcho Bill Lustig. Cohen discusses at length the controversial beginnings of the film, how it was well-received by critics but not by audiences, and how he directed his very small cast to deliver their best performances. A short featurette, "Jack H. Harris on BONE," highlights an interview with Jack H. Harris, the producer of THE BLOB, EQUINOX, and DARK STAR who also distributed BONE through his Jack H. Harris Enterprises. He discusses picking up the film and its general response by audiences as it played theatres under various titles, to very little success, even with the misleading HOUSEWIFE moniker. The most startling extra is the inclusion of 30 minutes of scenes shot in 16mm during the aborted first shoot of BONE, with Pippa Scott as 'Bernadette' and Neva Patterson as 'X-Ray Lady.' Opening with a scroll written by Larry Cohen explaining the history of the deleted scenes, they are presented in black-and-white and are very scratchy and dirty in some spots. There is sound, but it's often very hard to hear. I wonder where the footage has been this whole time? Some sequences not re-shot for the current BONE include Duggan applying an incredible amount of sunscreen to his face and demolishing large mushrooms in the backyard, as well as extensions to his phone booth scene. The popsicle scene between Kotto and Scott isn't as interesting or well-acted as the film version, with Scott lacking the toughness of Van Patten and Kotto acting more of an abusive monster. Patterson doesn't provide the tongue-in-cheek humor Somers does in the role of the X-ray woman, either. Overall, it's a good thing Cohen started again from scratch, but these are still worth seeing for curiosity's sake.

Two trailers are included: one is the intellectual teaser under the title BONE, with plenty of quotes from positive critical notices (ending with a notice for a one-time showing for Academy Award qualification!), and the other a full-length trailer under the title HOUSEWIFE. I'd still see this flick under the title, even if the preview is very misleading ("Underfed and underloved, she'll try ANYTHING! She has NOTHING TO LOSE! A movie every housewife must see!"). A 30-second radio spot for HOUSEWIFE provides more hard-sell for this film, which would have trouble finding an audience even in today's theatres!

A surprisingly lavish package for an obscure oddity has become the trademark for Blue Underground's cult film acquisitions, and BONE will probably be one of the most overlooked discs of the year simply because the film cannot be categorized and only those familiar with the name Larry Cohen would be interested in picking it up. Well, I am advising all DVD Drive-In readers to pick this disc up and be pleasantly surprised by this dramedy that has been slipping under the radar for too long. One of the nicest surprises of 2003. (Casey Scott)