Thursday, October 13, 2011

October 11th: Chromeskull: Laid To Rest 2 (2011)

Barely alive after his confrontation with The Girl (Allison Kyler) and Tommy (Thomas Dekker), ChromeSkull (Nick Principe) is taken out of police custody by a mysterious group of people working for him, led by the psychotic Preston (Brian Austin Green). Using metal plates and artificial skin grafts, surgeons manage to reconstruct ChromeSkull's mangled face, while Preston hunts down and guts The Girl in an act of revenge.
Three months later, Detectives King (Owain Yeoman) and Max (Christopher Allen Nelson) are investigating the murders. Tommy, still haunted by the deaths of The Girl and his best friend Anthony (Anthony Fitzgerald), is brought into the investigation by King, who hopes Tommy can help them pinpoint ChromeSkull's base of operations. Preston, convinced ChromeSkull's injuries have rendered him impotent, dons a modified version of his mask, becomes the new ChromeSkull and hunts Tommy.
The news of The Girl's death at Preston's hands, combined with the physical trauma he endured, sends ChromeSkull into a depression but, with the help of his personal assistant Spann (Danielle Harris), he makes a full recovery. Learning of Preston's growing bloodlust and King's investigation, ChromeSkull plots a new killing spree of his own, kidnapping blind teenager Jess (Mimi Michaels) to be his new victim.
As a fan of slasher films, it's become downright depressing to look at the modern crop of slashers, almost all of which are either gritty Platinum Dunes remakes, PG-13 Lifetime movies or cruddy independent films made for five cents. Given that, I always appreciate it when a good one comes out these days and Robert Hall's Laid To Rest is arguably one of the best slashers films in recent memory, alongside Scott Glosserman's Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon.
Delivering on its promise, Laid To Rest is a brutal, unflinching film, sporting the most insanely creative kills in any slasher film and an instantly memorable villain in Nick Principe's ChromeSkull. More than that, however, the original also boasted an intriguing mystery surrounding the identity of The Girl, striking visuals and genuinely likeable characters, especially Bobbi Sue Luther's Girl and Kevin Gage's Tucker. It was a downright shame that Laid To Rest was released Direct-To-Video, despite being far superior to such suckfests as the Friday The 13th remake and Rob Zombie's Halloween II.
Being that I adored Laid To Rest, I was incredibly psyched to see Hall's follow-up; in particular, I was curious to see how ChromeSkull would return after a very final death scene in the original and what would become of the Girl and Tommy. To put it lightly, nothing I write here could possibly articulate how utterly disappointed I am with ChromeSkull: Laid To Rest 2. Not only disappointed, but furious, shocked, outraged, frustrated, confused, pissed off, and downright dumbfounded. I cannot believe how disastrously bad this sequel was.
What I loved about Laid To Rest was its punk rock horror vibe. In this film, however, I kept waiting for Tobin Bell to show up, because this felt like a Saw film in so many ways. First, the story structure; both this and Saw switch back and forth between scenes dealing with the killer and his victims and scenes of the police trying to solve the case. Second, the use of multiple killers; both this and the later Saw films deal with the main killer physically weakened and having to rely on two assistants, one male and one female, to do his work for him. Third, the focus on the killer: Saw is more interested in examining Jigsaw than making us care about the victims and ChromeSkull has the same problem. It's impossible to care about Tommy when we only just met him in the climax of the last film and Jess is just another final girl, albeit a blind one. Hell, ChromeSkull even has a blond-haired wife like Jigsaw.
Coming back to Tommy; I like the fact they brought a character from the original film back, they just used the wrong character. Tommy was barely in Laid To Rest. Furthermore, his role here is totally unnecessary; the whole point is that Preston wants to kill Tommy before the police can get information from him. What does Tommy know? He doesn't know anything the police don't know, not to mention he's just moping around most of the time, doing nothing. Thomas Dekker does what he can, but the script gives him nothing and, consequently, we have no reason to attach ourselves to him as our hero.
The Girl, as played by Bobbi Sue Luther in the original, was a great final girl. The mystery about who she was immediately pulled me into the story and her plight made me really care for her, especially when she finally discovers her past as a prostitute. She's every bit as important to Laid To Rest as ChromeSkull. Unfortunately, Robert Hall seems to disagree. Bobbi Sue Luther is nowhere to be seen; instead, we're left with a bland replacement. To make matters worse, The Girl gets killed really early into the movie and not by ChromeSkull, but Preston. Not only have they robbed us of a strong final girl and not explained more of who she is, they have let us know that the series is no longer interested in dealing with the victims; ChromeSkull is the star and this is going to be his movie.
What's surprising is how little ChromeSkull has to do here. For most of the film's 93 minute running time, ChromeSkull is "ominously" sitting at a computer, watching Preston do his job and listening to Snapp inflate his ego. He's not the fearsome killer from the first film anymore, which is a real shame. ChromeSkull was a fantastic, possibly even iconic villain in Laid To Rest, but is taking a backseat here. Nick Principe is still one scary dude and the film's best scenes are ChromeSkull's scenes; the problem is that he just has nothing to do until the inevitable climax when he jumps back into action.
In his place for most of the movie, we have Preston, played by Brian Austin Green of Beverly Hills 90210 fame. Preston is an accomplice to ChromeSkull who wants to be ChromeSkull, but clearly lacks the skill and motivation that makes ChromeSkull great; he's just a sloppy psychopath who wants to spill blood. Green has a physical presence and looks intense enough to make this character work, yet the problem is the way Preston is written. Nothing about this character makes sense whatsoever. We don't have any understanding of who he is or what his connection to ChromeSkull is. He just pops up out of thin air, calls ChromeSkull "boss" and starts ordering people in black clothes around. It's haphazard screenwriting at its worst.
I have to ask: ChromeSkull, Inc.? WTF!? Why does ChromeSkull have an entire team of businessmen, psychopaths, camera technicians, weapons smiths, mask makers, and surgeons working for him? More importantly, why does ChromeSkull need a corporation helping him? This isn't like Tobin Bell in Saw; Jigsaw was a dying cancer patient and he required Detective Hoffman and Amanda Young to help him, not to mention those films did at least explain their involvement. ChromeSkull, even after his injuries, is physically strong and perfectly capable of killing on his own. By having all these people making his weapons, masks and running his business(?) for him, ChromeSkull is rendered impotent and no longer frightening.
Who's to blame? Robert Hall is definitely the man to point the finger at. Not only is the script poorly constructed and the actors badly directed, but Hall's directing itself is piss-poor. The visuals are poorly shot, a surprising amount of the film is cinema verite and the whole film looks black and murky. The film's budget must've been considerably lower or Hall was just aiming too high, because there's a lot of CGI use in the film and all of it looks abysmally bad. I don't know what happened; maybe Hall just fell into a creative rut or something went horribly wrong on the set. Either way, the finished product looks cheap and amateurish in every way. Did they even have a budget? I'd be shocked if it was more than $1,000,000. Hell, Paranormal Activity cost $15,000 and was shot on a standard handheld camera and that looked better. I could maybe understand if this was made in the late '80s with just a few hundred thousand bucks, but for a film made in 2011? Indefensible. Utterly and completely indefensible.
I give ChromeSkull: Laid To Rest 2 0 out of 5 Stars. Yep, that fricking bad. And once again, I'd like to reiterate just how much of a shame it is. Laid To Rest has its haters, but for my money no slasher film in the last ten years has come close, other than Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. I don't get the hate whatsoever; I fully get the hate on the sequel and boy do I feel it. According to interviews Hall gave on horror websites, there are plans for a third film, possibly a prequel, meaning that he had "franchise" on the brain with this film. For me, I have only one thing on my mind when watching this. Franchise Killer.

Next Up: October 12th: Night of The Demons 3 (1997)

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