The film opens with this quote:
"The Year is 1970
The most powerful nation on earth wages war against one of the poorest countries - which it finds impossible to defeat.
And in this great affluent nation exists its smallest richest city...
And it is called Beverly Hills"
Lawrence G. Cohen was born in Kingston, New York in 1941. By the time he reached his twenties (easily the most formative time in adulthood), it was the 1960s. But, he didn't become enamored with the wayward hippy movement or the Beat movement. Instead, he quietly learned the craft of film working on television shows like The Fugitive and writing scripts for The Invaders.
In 1970, he began work on his directorial debut, Dial Rat for Terror (Aka Housewife, aka Beverly Hills Nightmare, aka BONE.) It's a wildly daring debut film.
It begins in a swanky Beverly Hills house with Bernadette and Bill arguing about something or other. Bill begins to clean the pool and discovers a rat. As it just so happens, Bone (the amazing Yaphet Kotto) arrives. Bill assumes he's from the pool company and Bone helps him remove the rat, bare-handed. After letting that symbolism sit with you a moment, Cohen brings Bone into the house with Bill and Bernadette, forcing his way into their lives. He demands money, but Bill has none in the house. So, Bone sends him away to get cash and holds Bernadette hostage.
What makes this film, and all of Cohen's work, special is the satirical social underpinnings that keep the audience thinking. Though the plot could be used simply as comedic fodder (see The Ref (1994), it instead becomes social commentary on suburban white America. It looks at the chaos created by the Vietnam War. It exposes the lies and secrets of middle class debt. It does what Cohen does best, it is entertaining exploitation fare with subtext.
Cohen would go on to make Black Caesar, which carries on many of the same themes and ideas present in Bone. He would become famous for great genre films like Q: The Winged Serpent, the brilliant killer baby movie It's Alive, (http://allstarvideo.blogspot.com/2013/06/review-its-alive.html), God Told Me To (http://allstarvideo.blogspot.com/2013/05/review-god-told-me-to.html) and The Stuff.
What's striking to me now, after seeing a number of his films and then going back to his debut, is how self-aware and intellectual his approach to film-making is. He begins the film with a quote about the weakness of American power and then proceeds to put some of its supposedly wealthiest, happiest couples on screen with an intruder that makes them realize their vulnerability. After which, they proceed to dig in the wounds of each others' faults.
What seems so prescient right at this moment about Bone (beyond the idea that our country's power doesn't make us unstoppable) is the extreme exhaustion that Bill and Bernadette seem to exude. Vietnam proved that money is not power. The States can be intimidated. And beaten. And, we can be exhausted easily when we believe we're in the wrong. Bill and Bernadette put on a good show, claiming they gave up their son to the war, but he gave himself up to something else. And, Cohen digs in the wound. Our morale is broken, because we've been wrong for so very long. It's just too bad we didn't learn any lessons from Dial Rat for Terror.