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Ben Nagy reviews ‘Knucklebones’: Leave it to the Nazis to Make a Simple Dice Game Get All Demonic

Stuff goes really wrong when you add a pentagram, a weird rhyme and World War II-era "supernatural warfare" experiments done by the Nazis.

This week’s flick, Knucklebones, starts out in 1944 and while the Nazis failed in getting the Ark of the Covenant years prior because of this meddlesome guy in a fedora who had a bullwhip and then got embarrassed again by the same guy a few years later, they’re putting on steampunk goggles and doing experiments by putting topless blondes in pentagrams and making them shake all about like they’re doing the hokey pokey before turning em into a beast that is impervious to bullets and kills everybody in the lab.

We’re talking the three Bs present and accounted for in the first three minutes of this one with a bunch of Nazis getting slaughtered and their secret experimental lair getting blowed up real good.

Writer/director Mitch Wilson wastes zero time in getting things going. We appreciate that.

Ben Nagy reviews 'Knucklebones': Leave it to the Nazis to Make a Simple Dice Game Get All Demonic 13
Ryan’s about to bequeath a big stuffed elephant to his-soon-to-be-ex-fiancee Neesa (Julin Jean) at a carnival in “Knucklebones.” (Screen capture by reviewer Ben Nagy)

Speaking of time, 70 years later, young couple Neesa (Julin Jean) and her fiancé, Ryan, are at a carnival when he all of a sudden dumps her after winning her a giant stuffed elephant because “college opportunities” or something along those lines, he tells her. His sense of timing leaves something to be desired, especially after bequeathing that big stuffed pachyderm to her. She’s devastated, dismembers the stuffed elephant in her room so that there’s styrofoam pellets all over the place which are murder to clean up, even if you have a five-horsepower turbo-enhanced Shop Vac, and then she slits her wrists in the bathtub, but gets rescued when her mom finds her but not before being mostly dead for six minutes.

This explains the foreshadowing dream sequence that happens where Neesa finds this box with some small bones in it and these girls on the soundtrack are chanting a rhyme talking about some guy named Knucklebones (Tom Zembrod) who’s gonna kill some people because he’s a demon and demons aren’t nice.

Ben Nagy reviews 'Knucklebones': Leave it to the Nazis to Make a Simple Dice Game Get All Demonic 14
Knucklebones (Tom Zembrod) doesn’t leave much left after emerging from a victim. (Screen capture by reviewer Ben Nagy)

Right, I know, sounds a lot like a Freddy Krueger setup, and when Knucksie shows up, he does have the guy with the razor-knived glove’s banter, but he’s meaner and has a proclivity to stick things in places where sharp objects weren’t meant to fit.

But before we get to the part where the skull-faced, pentagram-on-the-forehead killer demon guy starts shish-kebabbing the cast, the mom threatens to make Neesa, who’s out of the hospital now, play some board games. To save her from that fate, her friend Samantha (Katie Bosacki) busts her out of there and they join two guys, Travis and Adam, as well as another girl named Kia on a road trip to go visit a creepy abandoned garment factory off Highway 5 that used to make uniforms for troops and could be haunted. The story is that the factory closed down in the 1970s because a bunch of people got killed while working the graveyard shift, but they were actually making Nazi uniforms there at one point. Also, there’s a Sumerian Yahtzee game hidden in the walls that was what summoned the demon in the opening scene because the Nazis were working on supernatural warfare techniques.

See it all makes sense if you pay attention.

Ben Nagy reviews 'Knucklebones': Leave it to the Nazis to Make a Simple Dice Game Get All Demonic 15
Group Numero Two-o, including Alex, left, (Todd Jenkins, who edited the director’s cut of the flick) shows up at the abandoned garment factory because the director was running out of victims. (Screen capture by reviewer Ben Nagy)

The demon manifests himself, and then another group of folks show up to scavenge the place because Mitch Wilson was already starting to run out of victims pretty quick. The best part about this one is that it follows the first rule of Drive-In Moviemaking: Anybody can die at any time. They do, in nasty, painful practical-effects ways to the demonic Knucklebones.

Ben Nagy reviews 'Knucklebones': Leave it to the Nazis to Make a Simple Dice Game Get All Demonic 16
Ben Nagy reviews 'Knucklebones': Leave it to the Nazis to Make a Simple Dice Game Get All Demonic 17
The importance of Lone Star Beer to the plot of “Knucklebones” is not to be underestimated as Neesa (Julin Jean) learns. (Screen capture by reviewer Ben Nagy).

Best Choice of Beverage: The gang has a case of Lone Star, a certain someone’s beer of choice, as they embark upon their exploration of the factory, and a Lone Star advertisement plays a key role at the end. 

Best Drunken Banter After Consuming These Beverages: When the group mulls time travel, meeting a future self and a certain sexual practice, how special education students are addressed when arriving late and what to call a turtle with no shell.  

Best Use of a Well-Worn Saying: Travis (Justin Arnold) says “That’s what she said” a bunch of times. Knucklebones returns the favor.

Ben Nagy reviews 'Knucklebones': Leave it to the Nazis to Make a Simple Dice Game Get All Demonic 18
Choctaw Bill (Jason Duffy Klemm), survivor of Knucklebones’ 1970s massacre in the factory, has his own unique way of putting things. (Screen capture by reviewer Ben Nagy)

Best Use of Not-Well-Worn Sayings: While on exposition duty, Choctow Bill (Jason Duffy Klemm) tells Adam that he doesn’t know “s— from apple butter” and “I’m the one f—— the bull, you’re the ones holding the horns” and “Time to paint your butts white and run with the antelope. Back up the garbage chute.”

Best Persuasive Techniques: When Kia (Taylor Tippins) tells Travis: “Yeah, you keep saying that and we’re not having sex later” and says “C’mon, pleeeeease” when asked if she REALLY wants to try the demon-summoning ritual and then she calls for a vote, which turns out to 3-2 in favor of summoning the demon.

Best Way to Combat Chronic Constipation, According to Knucklebones: One of the group gets a chainsaw rammed in a very uncomfortable place.

Best Dice, Then Slice: Knucklebones uses a REALLY SHARP halberd to shorten scavenger Bobby and Mely’s aardvarking.

Best Impersonation of a Smore: Andy (Todd Jenkins) gets his face burned off with a blowtorch.

Knucklebones was initially released back in 2016, but Wilson enlisted fellow Texas indy film stalwart Jenkins (no stranger to Screening Room readers as the mastermind behind Cherokee Creek) to recut the flick, add some more scenes and get a director’s cut released complete with a home game version where you can try to summon Knucklebones yourself if you get all five of the knucklebones in the center of the pentagram.

Here’s the commercial for the home game version!

Four stars all the way, doing it the drive-in way.

In the spirit of helping indy creators out, we recommend buying the unrated, uncut Blu-ray straight from the source – i.e., Wilson’s official website for the flick. If you have to stream it, the original 2016 cut is on the Roku Channel and Amazon Prime. But let’s face facts, if you’re a true Mutant, you want to trust the director’s judgment in adding more practical effects and recutting the flick to its present form and make sure you support the creators directly.

Check it out, and I’ll be back with another flick review next week!

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