[Review] "Bonehill Road" is the grindsploitation werewolf film to end all grindsploitation werewolf films
(By Matt Konopka) Ever since I was a little horror pup, my number one movie monster has been werewolves. I can’t get enough of the furry, snarling, tail-wagging beasts. Films like The Howling and An American Werewolf in London mesmerized me with their incredible FX work. By the time the mid-90s rolled around, we began seeing fewer and fewer of these monsters on the big screen. Thankfully, the indie scene has kept them alive and well. Enter the latest, Bonehill Road…
…Written/directed by prolific indie-horror filmmaker Todd Sheets (Biker Babes from Beyond the Grave), Bonehill Road follows Emily (Eli DeGeer) and her daughter Eden (Ana Plumberg) as they head out onto the road to escape Emily’s abusive husband, Porter (Aaron Brazier). But when mother and daughter encounter a pack of werewolves on the road, they flee to an old farmhouse, only to find that they’ve stumbled across much worse horrors.
If you’re at all familiar with director Sheets films, then you know that he tends to dabble in the grindsploitation genre, where the kills are gory and shock value is the term of the day. Bonehill Road is the grindsploitation werewolf film to end all grindsploitation werewolf films. Personally, I can’t recall many werewolf films like this, and I’ve seen every major werewolf title you can think of. Sheets mixes that exploitation vibe with an 80s-style display of superb creature FX that goes beyond what you typically see in a film on this kind of budget. Much like Terrifier has satiated the starved-stomachs of horror fans wanting a trip back to the VHS era of horror, Bonehill Road delivers a similar satiation, though in different ways. Bonehill Road does indeed harken back to the times of VHS tapes stacked on Blockbuster shelves, focusing on the gross out effects over scares. Sheets goes for the jugular early and often, and doesn’t give a shit about your queasy stomach, and he does so very effectively.
In being that sort of low-budget, hint of sleaze type horror, there are certain elements in the filmmaking to be expected. The audio quality isn’t great. The lighting and camerawork are at best fine. And the choreography is, at times, unintentionally (or maybe intentionally) laughable. In the beginning of the film, Emily knocks her husband out with a pan to the head, but by filming the entire swing and contact, obviously DeGeer can’t hit the actor full force, so instead she merely gives him a little tap. This is the first, but is far from the last time that Sheets chooses to film a moment in full frame instead of using clever editing to work around “action” shots. These moments are full blown reminders that we are watching a film, and immediately pull the viewer out, if only for a moment.
The acting also has a tendency to pull the audience out of the bloodshed, but again, that’s to be expected. What’s interesting though, is I felt that the cast (which includes horror queen Linnea Quigley), see-sawed between dime-store worthy performances, and moments of real, genuine emotion that, believe it or not, were actually very moving. DeGeer especially stands out in this case. Early on in the film, DeGeer struggles with portraying the fear of an abused woman, but shortly after that, she does a great job as a mother doing everything she can to protect her child, forming an endearing relationship with Emily that makes the audience pray and hope nothing terrible will happen to these two. I found myself caught off guard by their performance together, which no, won’t win any awards, but was effective in getting the right feelings across to the viewer. The same can be said for Douglas Epps (Coen), who is more than efficient at oozing the sort of pheromones that let us know this guy is a creep and probably kicks puppies in the face. Turns out, it’s worse than that.
This is where Bonehill Road really stumbles a bit for me. Once Emily and Eden escape from an initial attack on a lonely, dark road (they escape by foot, no less, despite the fact that the werewolves are running past the screen in the blink of an eye), they happen upon a farm in the middle of nowhere, where they stumble across Coen and a trio of women he is holding captive and torturing (including Quigley). While I’m all for sadistic, eyeball-eating cannibals, Sheets spends too much time playing cat and mouse with our heroines and Coen, while a hungry group of werewolves stands politely outside waiting. Perhaps they’re waiting for the rest of the pack to arrive because they don’t want to start without them, and these are civilized, sophisticated werewolves, but I highly doubt that. The fuckers don’t even know how to break through the glass of car windows, which seems to be a werewolf epidemic going all the way back to the finale in The Howling. While Coen makes for an intriguing villain, and provides a majority of the film’s true terror, it’s a distracting sub-plot that takes the audience on a too long side-trek away from what you likely came for: Werewolves. At one point, Sheets drops an insert shot, showing the road signs to an intersection of “Bonehill Road” and “Wolf Road”. I would’ve preferred Wolf Road.
My obsession with werewolves aside, and despite the distraction, the interactions with Coen and our heroines provides loads of shock and terror that hit at an unexpected, gut-wrenching level. The makeup department may have made the odd mistake of giving every single woman outside of Eden an unsightly, purplish bruise mark around their lips on their right cheeks, but Sheets and his crew absolutely KILL it when it comes to the gore effects. The bloodshed comes suddenly and by the bucket-full, and quite unexpectedly, seeing as how Sheets presents a first act that feels more like an eerie werewolf film. But if that first act was a quiet monster movie, then the second act is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on cocaine. Between a series of gut-spilling, eyeball-munching, boob-ripping visuals, Bonehill Road contains enough vomit-inducing gore to make Ed Gein nauseous.
The creature effects aren’t half bad either (that’s an understatement, they’re awesome as Hell). Sheets and his team clearly poured most if not all of their limited budget into six fantastic werewolf suits that would do Rick Baker (An American Werewolf in London) proud. I think werewolf fans would agree that when it comes to movies representing our favorite hairy creatures, there are two requirements that must be met: Werewolves that are done with practical FX and (hopefully) look good, and a practical FX driven transformation scene. The effects team gets five out of five werewolf thumbs up for their efforts in achieving both of those requirements. If not for the too-long absence of the creatures from the film, it would be easy to say that Sheets does everything right when it comes to a solid werewolf flick. The creatures look great and, when shot in the right lighting, vastly intimidating. The gore is excellent and never held back. Sheets even cleverly fits a full moon into shots whenever he can, if only to remind us that we’re watching a classic style of monster movie, something all too rare these days.
Due to its grindsploitation nature, cheesy quality, and inconsistent plot, Bonehill Road is nowhere near a film for most people. But, gorehounds will find a lot to like, and werewolf fans should have a howling good time and be won over, despite the many flaws, with what is clearly a passion project for Sheets.
Bonehill Road arrives soon on DVD, with VOD coming at a later date. For more information on the film, head over to the Bonehill Road website.
By Matt Konopka