Far from a groundbreaking classic, Knucklebones is a low budget film full of horror puns and clichés that some will hate and others will love. Mitch Wilson makes his directing debut with this supernatural slasher that seems to struggle with the opening sequences but gradually builds momentum in all its B-movie glory. Though there are some shallow plot holes left unexplained and no one in this film is winning an Oscar, the story offers just enough to keep you interested. Finally, what saves this film is the demonic killer, Knucklebones.
Opening in 1944 Nazi Germany, SS officers and German scientists are working on an experiment involving a dark magic ritual from the occult. Entirely unprepared for what they unleash, all facility occupants are murdered at the hands of a monstrous demon. Jumping to the year 1976, the demon is unintentionally summoned for another round of slaughter in a garment factory. Forty years later, a group of five college students explore the factory which has been condemned since the horrific incident four decades prior. Finding a box of human bones and instructions, the party of five draws a pentagram and roll the bones into the center circle while saying a short improvised rhyme. Not taking this ritual seriously and treating it more as a game, this group of friends is startled when the summoning spell works. The demon, Knucklebones, who emerges from one character’s body after her bones begin spontaneously breaking through her skin, begins his killing spree.
Most low budget films such as this one are typically not meant to be thought provoking, but rather simple, fun-filled horror. In many regards, this film accomplishes just that. However, despite its B-movie montage, Knucklebones’ opening scenes are a bit muddled and some elements within the story are left unclear where a simple explanation would have sufficed. Though the opening Nazi scene was attention grabbing and the 1976 garment factory scene serves a purpose for later in the film, this introduction seems to be a disjointed attempt at setting the backstory. Simply having the college students stumble onto some sort of diary and narrate the backstory from its pages while incorporating flashbacks may have been a more fluent and effective approach. This method of setting the stage for what’s to come may have been more time efficient while providing specific details.
One unclear element in the film surrounds Neesa, the film’s protagonist. After committing suicide, Neesa meets Knucklebones in Hell and suddenly wakes up in the hospital. It remains unclear as to whether she thinks this was merely a dream, though it is explained later that she was clinically dead for six minutes. Given that she slit her wrists in the bathtub, how she was saved and brought back to life remains another mystery all on its own.
Neesa’s resurrection isn’t the only plot hole. When summoned, Knucklebones emerges through the body of his first victim. I would not take any issue with this were it not to be problematic for the ending where it becomes essential to know how the first victim is chosen. The story’s explanation for banishing the demon back to Hell serves as another noticeably unexplained event surrounding Knucklebones. Choctaw Bill (Jason Duffy Klemm), the child who unintentionally set the demon loose in 1976, makes an appearance in present day as a homeless man. From him, Neesa learns how to send Knucklebones to Hell. Though Choctaw says he banished the demon in ’76, the film doesn’t explain how he discovered this as a child. It seems the only reason why this character really exists is to add another victim for a brutal killing scene.
Choctaw Bill is not the only character whose primary purpose seems to be increasing the body count. A group of four miscreants randomly decide to raid the garment factory. Instead, they meet a gruesome end in creative, gore filled death scenes at the hands of Knucklebones. Because this is a slightly over-the-top B-movie horror film, these random characters and their simple short-lived purposes work.
Another cliché element to this film that adds to the B-movie approach is the stereotypical characters. You could plainly see these stereotypes that were so well mocked in the 2015 horror comedy film The Final Girls. Travis (Justin Arnold) represents the funny douchebag jock full of puns and sexual one-liners. Representing the materialistic popular snob is Samantha (Katie Bosacki). Kia (Taylor Tippins) is the dumb slutty bimbo, Adam (Cameron Deane Stewart) is the quiet reasonable one and Neesa (Julin) is the innocent outcast and protagonist of the film.
As fun as these overacted roles make the film, the character that truly makes this worth the watch is was the demon, Knucklebones (Tom Zembrod). When summoned, this demon emerges from inside of one unlucky victim as their bones begin to break and bust through their skin. Appearing as a tall monstrous decaying corpse, this demon uses whatever is around him in his bloody rampage. Incorporating dark humor into the film, Knucklebones has several memorable one-liners, including, “Don’t worry, Travis! I’ll only put the tip in,” as the demon puts a chainsaw up the character’s ass.
Knucklebones is far from perfect, opening with a fragmented introduction and leaving several elements to the story unaddressed. However, the B-movie angle offers up creativity and some over-the-top death scenes as victims are dispatched one by one. Thinking too deeply on this one will spoil this film so make some popcorn, sit back and let the bones fall where they may.