Among the most malleable of genres, the horror film has long served as a conduit for both incisive social commentary and opportunistic gore. In his 2000 documentary The American Nightmare, writer-director Adam Simon explored both uses of the form, arguing that in the '60s and '70s, a new generation of filmmakers used the horror film to comment on the anger and anxiety accompanying the massive social change around them. To its credit, Bones, which Simon co-wrote with Tim Metcalfe, is likewise grounded in a recognizable socio-economic reality: the disintegration of urban communities caused by the arrival of crack in the late '70s and early '80s. Bones is one of the most class- and race-conscious American horror films since Wes Craven's similarly underachieving The People Under The Stairs, although its savvy does little to obscure its lack of suspense and its failure as a horror film. Set in a decaying ghetto where the everyday horrors of violence, drug abuse, and poverty soon give way to more supernatural terror, Bones stars Khalil Kain and Merwin Mondesir as ambitious middle-class brothers who plan to make their mark with a spooky dance club situated in the ghetto. But the sins of their father are soon visited on the pair, as they learn that the vengeance-minded ghost (Snoop Dogg) of a hustler their father helped kill occupies the building, and poses considerably more of a threat than health inspectors or the city licensing board. From there, the film devolves into a standard exercise in mirthless bloodshed, as Snoop Dogg works his way through his killers with gory but unimaginative zeal. The filmmakers, meanwhile, engage in their own bit of seasonal cinematic grave-robbing, stealing huge chunks from Bram Stoker's Dracula, The Crow, The Haunting, and even Hellraiser III. Even as a blatant sop to the Fangoria crowd, Bones is a distinct failure. Its erratic special effects seem better suited to a direct-to-video cheapie, while corrupt cop Michael T. Weiss' fat-person makeup makes him look uncomfortably like Jiminy Glick. Ace cinematographer turned journeyman director Ernest Dickerson keeps the film looking good, but like its central setting, Bones stands on a fatally faulty foundation.

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