Knucklebones (2016)

“I love it,” Samantha (Katie Bosacki) says of her new cellphone, “But it feels too big in my hand.”
“That’s what she said,” replies Travis (Justin Arnold), a twinkle in his eye.

“Who wants to go down first?” Samantha asks later, when confronted with a creepy staircase.
“That’s what she said,” replies Travis.

“Hang on guys, I’m coming!”, says Samantha, hoping that her friends don’t get too far ahead.
“That’s what she said,” replies Travis.

Asked why he keeps using the same joke, Travis responds, not unreasonably, “Because it’s funny” – although later, after Travis himself says, “Frankly I thought this was going to be a whole lot harder,” and hears his own joke quoted back at him, he will not be laughing.

There is sexual innuendo running through everyone’s dialogue in Mitch Wilson’s feature debut Knucklebones. After all, Samantha, her best friend Neesa (Julin Jeen), Travis, Kia (Taylor Tippins) and Adam (Cameron Deane Stewart) may have been drawn to this old abandoned garment factory by rumours that a 1970s massacre there left it haunted, but it is clear from the outset that they are there to pair off (“Three girls, two guys,”Travis says, “I’m liking these odds”), even if their numbers do not quite add up. Fortunately a sixth wheel for this party of five will be provided by an unstoppable demon (Tom Zembrod) whom they summon with an ancient ritual, and who is himself rather fond of peppering his brutal slayings with sexual banter. “Don’t worry, I’ll only put the tip in,” the demon promises, before instantly, like some disingenuous jock, giving the lie to his words as he thrusts a purring chainsaw hard into one prone (male) victim’s posterior – and it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this represents some kind of diabolical comeuppance. When ‘Knucklebones’ is summoned, everyone is fucked – and anyone who engages in sex is quickly punished for it, with our antagonist exhibiting a pronounced tendency to go for the gonads in his tool-driven penetrations of either gender.

Texas chainsaw massacre
Texas chainsaw massacre

All of which leads to squirm-inducing stalk-and-slash fun (of a knowing sort) as our hapless co-eds, and several other characters introduced merely as wacky expositors or demon fodder, struggle to escape what is coming to them – but in fact the whole plot has been driven from the outset by the merging of sex and death. After two separate prologues showing a previous demonic slaughter in a Nazi lab (with a topless SS seductress) in 1944, and his reemergence three decades later in the Texan clothing factory, the film shifts its attention to romantic, engaged Neesa. After being unceremoniously dumped at a fair by her fiancé Ryan (Daniel Wallker-Rice), and going home to tear to shreds the giant stuffed pachyderm that had been his parting gift to her (so that there is, quite literally, an elephant in the room), our angry, lovesick heroine slashes her wrists in the bath.

Neesa survives, but only after being clinically dead for six minutes – and in that brief interval, Neesa encounters Knucklebones in an infernal vision. In other words, although this hellish creature originated from Mesopotamia over two millennia ago, and has not yet even been reconjured, he is also already Neesa’s very own personal demon, and an avatar of all the contradictory feelings she harbours about those around her continuing to live their carefree, horny lives while she must suffer grief and betrayal. The relationship that develops, over the course of the film, between fiend and final girl suggests that while demons never die, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. This irrepressible devil, now summoned by Neesa’s own knucklebones, becomes an expression of her erotomaniac rage and desire for vengeance – so that all this demon’s vindictive wisecracks might after all be just what she said…

© Anton Bitel