Written and directed by Mitch Wilson
Starring Julin, Justin Arnold, Cameron Deane Stewart, Todd Jenkins, Summer Moore and Tom Zembrod
A group of bored college students unleash a murderous demon while playing a dice game made from human knucklebones.
Everyone remembers those halcyon days of walking through the video stores and renting the next horror movie on the shelf you’d not seen yet. You could spend hours looking through all the new releases, but the best option was to walk to the slasher section and pick out the VHS with the coolest cover and the most badass name possible. You may find a gem, it might be a bit rubbish, but you’re always going to have a good time. Knucklebones, the feature debut of Mitch Wilson, feels like one of those movies.
In true 80s slasher style, Wilson brings us a new face of fear for the genre in the skeletal Knucklebones, a demon who is summoned by playing a simple dice game (where the dice are made of human knuckle bones) on a pentagram. The Nazis tried it and it backfired, a stupid kid played it in the 70s to a horrible outcome and now a group of dumb teenagers are playing it. But let’s be honest, the actual plot doesn’t matter here. The set-up of Knucklebones isn’t anything new, but then it’s not trying to be.
However, this review is going to be split into two with one half being full or praise and the other with a few criticisms.
What Wilson does really well with Knucklebones is in creating a slasher villain that genuinely could stand toe-to-toe with the greats. He’s essentially the bastard love child of later-franchise-entries Freddy Krueger with his one-liners and Friday the 13th Part VII-era Jason Voorhees in his design. Tom Zembrod, even under heavy prosthetic, really gets across the movement and facial expressions to make Knucklebones feel alive and give him character. Like his creator, he’s clearly influenced by Robert Englund and Kane Hodder – and it pays off.
Wilson’s Knucklebones is his love letter to the slasher genre, and certain elements of it seem lifted straight from the reels of the likes of Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Child’s Play. One of the kills is almost shot for shot the ‘couple in a tent’ death from Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. And in paying tribute to this beloved subgenre, Knucklebones is full of gorgeous, visceral and fantastic practical effects. Not wanting to rest on using a computer to give us blood in 1s and 0s, Wilson and his team use every real-life effect they can to create this crowd-pleasing atmosphere. It’s the sort of movie that, when played in front of the right crowd, will have the audience jumping out of their seats in joy as each gory kill flows with blood and guts.
But here’s where the negatives come in. Is Knucklebones gory fun? Absolutely. Are the effects tremendously entertaining with a good slasher? Correct on both accounts. However, the beats between the notes are pretty lousy. Wilson’s characters aren’t engaging in the slightest, and even our heroine struggles to get support – even though she’s had her heart broken – because she’s so bland. All the dialogue scenes serve no purpose and are just there to fill in the blanks between kills. We’re introduced to these characters, but they’re all just bags of meat waiting to be cut up and put on kebab skewers.
And this isn’t helped by some absolutely diabolical and unforgivable performances from the cast. The singularly named Julin is dreadful for the first two thirds of the movie (but really comes into her own at the end), and she’s the best of a really bad bunch – highlighted by the sheriff Tom Young who gives an all-time horrible performance. If this was a kinder review, you could forgive this and argue that ‘bad acting is a staple part of slasher movies’, but it shouldn’t be. We should strive for better and we, as an audience, should expect better. There are slasher movies out there with good acting, it shouldn’t be a surprise. Knucklebones isn’t one of them.
Really though, they key to Knucklebones is having a good time watching teens getting dispatched off in as a gruesome manner as possible. That’s what Wilson has set out to do, and he’s succeeded. The characters are dreadful, the acting is abhorrent and the plot is non-existent. But one lad gets his tackle cut off, so there’s always that. However, in a sea of directors trying to recreate the magic of VHS rental nostalgia slashers and failing – look at dross like Drive-Thru or Smiley – Knucklebones and Mitch Wilson have set a new benchmark.
Movies like Knucklebones are the reason Flickering Myth has a dual rating system.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth and the co-host of The Flickering Myth Podcast and Scooperhero News. You can follow him on Twitter @ThisisLukeOwen and read his weekly feature The Week in Star Wars.