During the winter of 1989, one of the hospitals most notable post-mortem identities was taking shape, and it became the set for a small horror movie. While at least one other location in Statesville would be used, the bulk of the movie would be filmed inside the empty hospital.
The story starts with James Thomas Cummins, who graduated from the California Institute of Arts in 1979 after receiving a scholarship from the Walt Disney Company.
Cummins almost immediately was able to get into “the business”, working as an illustrator, special effects artist, and sculptor for various tv shows and movies such as 1982’s “The Thing“, the 1985 reboot of TV’s the “Twilight Zone” and the 1986 Elvira movie. During those years he also did some sculpting for Hasbro toys, but I have been unable to find exactly which toy line he worked on.
Despite these initial successes, Cummins would later in life say he was frustrated by the way his work was being presented on film. In one interview with Suspense magazine, he would say he “grew tired of asking the powers that be for permission to play and create“, and this is what would eventually lead to his venturing out into the world of filmmaking on his own, culminating with “The Boneyard“.
Armed with a small budget, one of his own drawings of a prehistoric poodle as inspiration, a former hospital, and special effects help from Bill Corso, Cummins got to work.
The cast would include such veteran actors as Norman Fell, Phyllis Diller, and Ed Nelson. The casting of Diller, in particular seems to have been an adventure.
As anyone could guess, putting together a movie for the first time was likely a challenge. One that wasn’t helped by the freezing temperatures inside the unheated hospital, problems between actors, and an accidental fire in a portion of the building.
Despite these problems, Cummins managed to get the movie on film, and it was eventually released direct to video in 1991.
Reactions to the movie from critics were not positive. One called it “claustrophobic” and the makeup effects “crude and unconvincing”. But, as can be the case with low-budget horror movies, over the years it has developed a cult following among fans for it’s mix of comedy and horror, and of course for that giant poodle.
Once out of print, today there are several re-releases available, including a Blu-Ray edition with a director’s commentary.
Cummins would never take on creating another movie during his life, but would have several small roles in other films, including in the directors chair.
He would unfortunately contract rheumatic fever shortly after working on a movie called Dark:30, which would lead to several open heart surgeries. This would cause him to slip out of the Hollywood life and he would begin self-publishing books and taking on other creative pursuits.
Cummins died in December, 2000.
The Boneyard leaves behind a mixed legacy for those who worked on it and for the hospital. For most of the actors it was a paycheck at the end of notable careers. For Cummins, it was an attempt to find artistic freedom. For the hospital, maybe just a footnote. But one thing it does provide us with is something exceedingly rare; footage from the inside of Davis shortly after it ceased to be a hospital.
In 2003, on a trip inside the hospital with several other explorers, we came across a left behind script for the movie in the old Women’s Division building near the pediatric entrance. At the time we probably didn’t think very much of it, but one of the other explorers took it to preserve.
Through the years, we lost contact and I had given up on ever seeing or being able to share the script. Until this year when I was able to get in contact with two of the explorers who had been on that trip. As a result, I can now offer up the script in PDF form for anyone interested in this piece of eccentric ephemera. This script will also be available for download from the Internet Archive, and the physical copy will be placed under the care of the Statesville Historical Collection.
I’m also going to include some other material I’ve found while researching the movie.
There’s also still a lot out there online about Cummins and the movie, and I’ll include some links I’ve found to pertinent information as well.
Cummin’s website, which is only available now on the Wayback Machine.
An interview with Cummins from the defunct MyPDFScripts, also from the Wayback Machine.
The website for his Little Doodle project mentioned in the article above, available on the Wayback Machine.
The Statesville Historical Collection has a complete press kit for the movie in their collection, but one would have to see this in person.
For the moment, the film can also be found on Youtube.