Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Black Romance in Horror: Bones (2001)


Why wasn't Bones (2001) a franchise? With a gnarly conclusion and a palatable story, the potential for another horror icon to root for was certainly in the realm of possibility. The likelihood of  declining quality would be inevitable but hey, the 21st century needs an iconic Black villain in horror. The 20th gave us Candyman. We're long overdue.

In retrospect, Bones is most effective in its use of playing with older tropes from the blaxploitation and blaxploitation horror genres, most notably the one of the anti- villain. His (or her) spearheading initiatives for a better Black community is overshadowed by its morally ambiguous execution ("running numbers"), and when clear antagonists destroy what has been built for their own selfish gain, the anti- villain is often granted a very heavy-handed, supernatural revenge. As this stands as the premise of the film, there is a significantly threaded addition of love and family that binds Snoop Dogg's Jimmy Bones to the material world.

In 1979 where the story begins, Jimmy and Pearl (Pam Grier)  are the picture-perfect, lavish 70s couple. There is a natural affection they share that is ignited on screen as simple caresses and intonation have the ability to capture several emotions that imply a relationship deeper than sex or even showmanship. This moment is brief, but tells us a lot about how the story will follow. As their conversation primarily hinges on the affairs of his business plans, Pearl still uses her gift of sight to ascertain that something is not quite right about this appointment. With the confidence and swag only Bones (and Snoop Dogg) can muster gracefully, he assures her of his control, which we soon discover he has absolutely none.

In present day, Pearl acts an older, wiser seer; warning those about the hostile energy that still dwells in Bones' now abandoned home. Without any peace nor closure with Bones to help her fully move on after twenty years, she carries the pain of secrets as Cynthia (Bianca Lawson), a now teen-aged product of the bond she and Jimmy had does not even know the true identity of her father. When Jimmy is resurrected, he offers Pearl a chance at the past once more, only if she joins him in the city of the dead. The scene is quite symbolic: Bones' home a mirage of what it once was, the Pearl's dress and look from '79. It is a time they both strongly feel was cut short, nostalgia making their connection even stronger.

Although their scenes of romantic serenity are a healthy few, they serve the story to add to Bones' depth as a man who still fervently believed he had a life to live. He fought death because that love, in conjunction with revenge, was keeping him bound to the natural world; his blood on Pearl's dress that was ripped and left with his lifeless body.

The love that Bones has for his lady and daughter complicated what was a sufficiently frightening spirit that took on his enemies with a merciless stride. There is a connection that many audiences harbor with characters like Bones. He carries a monstrosity that was magnified by unjust people and a relentlessly unjust system without losing the shreds of his humanity that remain.

It is very important to acknowledge Bones as a homage to an amalgam of familiar tales that transcend the genres they're placed under. However, it also is dependent on a style of storytelling that doesn't feel stale and is enjoyable to watch. Without context, it is evident that Snoop, Grier, and director Ernest Dickerson have an appreciation and knowledge of the horror genre, bringing their talents to the fold that have made them standouts in their professions. Snoop and Grier's chemistry as lovers is an added bonus that while brief, is worth consideration on the topic of Black love translated in horror films.

How is it conceptualized? Why don't we see more of it? How is the Black female materialized as a subject of sexual, romantic, and intellectual desire, particularly in genre films?

The conversation has only tickled the surface.

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